Brand blackmail or moral duty? Inside the campaign urging advertisers to ditch the Daily Mail
The Daily Mail lost another advertiser earlier this week after lobbying group Stop Funding Hate leaned on stationery company Paperchase to end a promotion it was running in conjunction with the tabloid.
Stop Funding Hate is a group intent on ending what it calls “hate campaigns” from its list of targets: the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express. It encourages brands to pull ad spend and promotions from these news outlets. Recently, it put the heat on John Lewis’ relationship with the Daily Mail in a spoof of the retailer’s 2016 Christmas ad Buster the Boxer.
Does Stop Funding Hate have any right to attempt to defund media outlets in a nation that prides itself in having a free press? Stop Funding Hate director Richard Wilson, who previously worked with Amnesty International, explains to The Drum the modus operandi of the group – a mission to “make media hate unprofitable”.
He states that some publishers create content that alienates or discriminates against vulnerable groups, all part of a profitable business model. Supply meeting demand, or perhaps supply creating demand. It is Wilson and the campaign's responsibility to make brands aware of who they are partnered with, thus creating a climate where hatchet pieces on the vulnerable are no longer a financially viable powerplay. Wilson reminds The Drum that the Daily Mail (and the Sun) were called out by the United Nations for targeting migrants in their coverage in 2016.
Brands can advertise anywhere they want, says Wilson. But he adds that customers should have the power to ensure said brands adhere to certain values, especially those they preach in their own marketing and mission statements.
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“In the case of Paperchase, a large number of customers got in touch to raise concerns about the mismatch between the company's positive, inclusive values, and the values of the Daily Mail – a newspaper which has recently run a series of divisive stories targeting transgender people,” says Wilson.
Are Paperchase customers Daily Mail readers?
So how much of an audience did Paperchase have with the Mail? According to YouGov data, 14% of the company’s customers are likely to read the Daily Mail. In comparison, 9% read the Guardian, a title considered to be the stronger representative of liberal values. On the whole, Paperchase customers are more likely to read broadsheet newspapers than the public average (27% against 15%). In spite of the row, YouGov BrandIndex data findings indicate that Paperchase is generally a well-regarded brand.
Amelia Brophy, head of data products at YouGov, says: “Our data indicates that while Paperchase has been accused of bowing too easily to pressure it has come under from social media to withdraw its adverts, for the large part its customers are not buying the Daily Mail – preferring to access their news from other media forms. That said, it’s unlikely that Paperchase’s customers would have left the brand in any case as our brand tracking data indicates that it is a company with solid consumer perception.”
When asked whether such crusades ran the risk of turning into witch hunts, a model that could be perpetrated across the political spectrum, Stop Funding Hate's Wilson admits that it is important to have a clear criteria of problems to tackle. There is a line for Stop Funding Hate. “This isn't just about content that may be offensive or disagreeable; this is about stuff that crosses a line and puts people at risk.
“Stop Funding Hate is an ethical campaign, not a political one, and we are proud to have had support from across the political spectrum.”
Awakening the Sleeping Giants
The apolitical positioning was echoed by a spokesperson from Sleeping Giants, a super-charged media movement birthed on social media to defund ads running on news outlets with divisive messages. To date, it has diverted some 3,000 advertisers from Breitbart and brought more attention on where brands should invest.
It is a human issue, rather than a political one, according to Sleeping Giants. “We just don’t believe that websites professing to be news sources should purposely shape narratives to disparage people based on their gender, color of their skin or where they came from and still expect advertiser dollars," their spokesperson tells The Drum.
The spokesperson acknowledges the importance of free speech but underlines that it “doesn't entitle outlets like Breitbart to collect ad money from organizations or companies that don’t want to be associated with inflammatory, bigoted rhetoric… especially when their ads are showing up on the site without their knowledge.
“If you're using your platform to spread bigotry to your audience, then you have to be willing to accept that your message may not align with certain companies.”
The virtues of the free market
Rory Sutherland, executive creative director of OgilvyOne, underlines that consumers have an absolute right to refuse to buy any brand for any reason whatsoever. “It would be perfectly sensible for me to shop at Waitrose in the event that they became enthusiastic supporters of Islamic State.”
Shoppers should be able to freely to express their views through their patterns of consumption, a nuance that is “one of the great virtues of competitive free markets,” he says.
Sutherland brands the Stop Funding Hate platform as “perfectly legitimate” but adds: “the fact that Paperchase chooses to prioritise the opinions of a few hundred keyboard warriors (who probably recycle their wrapping paper) over the purchasing power of the Daily's Mail's audience causes me to suspect their grasp of demography may be even hazier than their principles”.
Is responding to consumer sentiment the same as “acquiescing to a kind of media blackmail?” he asks.
“Social media campaigns, when amplified in the media, give the views of a tiny number of virtue-signalling people a volume out of all proportion to their numbers. They are statistically irrelevant outliers, but we allow them to control the moral thermostat.
“This contributes to a climate of fear in which it will be very difficult to do any interesting advertising for fear of the 5,000 hypersensitive people who will choose to be offended by almost anything.”
Sutherland poses a second question: "Where does this all end? If we give in to this kind of pressure will they next threaten to boycott WHSmith for stocking the Daily Mail? Will companies be required to ban employees from reading it?”
He rounds off with an observation. “If right-wing people wanted to play this game too (which interestingly they don't) they could probably just tweak six or seven programmatic algorithms and bankrupt the Guardian overnight.”