A plethora of household name advertisers bought ad space on upstart news channel GB News upon its launch on Sunday, including drinks brands Kopparberg and Grolsch which have since suspended their ads after claiming they did not realise they were advertising on the channel.
Now that a sizeable audience has had a taste of GB News' ‘anti-woke’ talking points, The Drum explores which advertisers bought into the project – and wonders whether they are there to stay.
Firstly, a review of the launch.
The Telegraph, with pulled punches, didn’t exactly take a shine to the broadcast: “Frankly, the sound was often out of sync, one presenter suffered a microphone failure, Sir Alan Sugar disappeared one word into his interview and the sets looked as if they had been hastily cobbled together (which, of course, they have been).”
It still granted the launch four out of five stars, tempered by its potential and the entertainment of its rough edges. The broadcaster clearly has a lot of work to do to reach the standards of the world-leading news organizations it is purporting to combat, but on paper, it has the potential to make an impact.
The broadcaster has a reported annual production budget of only £25m, below that of most of its contemporaries - and this was reflected in the many techinical issues that plagued its early performance and undercut its ability to promote itself.
Media analyst Alex DeGroote believes the channel needs to sort those issues out before it turns off even those advertisers who have already chosen to appear on the channel.
He says: "News advertising itself tends to be related to utilities, price comparison, pensions, lottery, pharma or health products. This reflects the older age demographics of the audience. There will be no big FMCGs [on GB News].
"If the technical hiccups are only short term, that's no problem, If the channel gets a reputation for poor production and poor sound or visuals, then it will impact all aspects of the channel, including advertising."
Despite those flaws, can GB News sustain audiences by pleasing its base and inflaming its boycotters, one wonders? Adam Sherwin, arts and media correspondent at The i, said: “It could become essential viewing for those who both love and hate its agenda.”
GB News estimates a potential reach of 96% of British households via Sky, Freeview, Virgin, and more, and looks to have secured a bedrock of advertisers to keep the lights on – at least for the immediate future.
Before it had even taken to air, GB News had been grappling with an ad boycott for months from pressure group Stop Funding Hate, which is urging marketers to consider whether they want to back a channel that could be the UK's version of Fox News. GB News leaders claim they've no intention of emulating the US broadcaster, although The Telegraph says it should at least learn from its controversial US counterpart's 'glossiness'.
Even without a boycott to contend with, the ad-funded news industry is already facing major challenges.
In spite of these obstacles, GB News launched with major names dominating its ad breaks. But one notable quirk of its debut is that some of the most eye-catching of those launch advertisers – including Kopparberg and Grolsch – have since claimed they had no knowledge they were advertising on the channel. Implausible as that sounds, it is symptomatic of the way modern-day TV ad sales deals are struck.
"If your company buys programmatic advertising from Sky Media, it may be worth checking with them about the risk of your brand ending up on GB News," Stop Funding Hate warned its supporters.
Sky Media, one of the UK’s biggest ad sales houses, is handling linear ad sales and exploring ‘innovative partnerships’. Press Gazette claims Octopus Energy, Ikea, Deliveroo, Starbucks, Bosch, Co-op and WWF were on board for the launch. At 11.20am Monday June 14, Trivago, Flawless hair removal kit, TalkTalk and Age Partnership were four advertisers making up a short break. The next boasted Bupa, the People’s Postcode Lottery, Green Flag and Grolsch.
In a further validation that the Sky Media partnership had secured top brands, over the coming hours they were joined by other major mainstream advertisers including Vodafone, Octopus Energy, Ovo Energy, Co-op, Ikea, LV, Virgin Media, Kellogg’s, Deliveroo, Nivea, Kenco coffee, AA, Premier Inn, American Express, Johnson and Johnson, Wickes, Starbucks, Weetabix, Pfizer, National Lottery, Boomin, Cadbury, Taylors of Harrogate coffee, Amazon, Cazoo, Microsoft, Google, Alpen (Weetabix), Beko Harvestfresh, Pinterest, Ladbrokes and Rana pasta.
Some may review their buys after Nigel Farage’s appearance a mere two hours after Andrew Neil’s intro speech arguably undermined his promise to offer the British public something different, detached from the metropolitan elite. Or Dan Wooton pushing the limits in a tirade against Covid-19 restrictions, accusing the UK of becoming a “bio-security state copying China” - his first monologue which may already attract Ofcom complaints.
Regardless of the brands' own views on the content, they will inevitably face calls to review their advertising in a pressure cooker social media atmosphere which is being fulled by a media culture war.
One advertiser has responded to criticism of appearing on the channel. Octopus Energy founder Greg Jackson tweeted: “Octopus Energy recent commitments: £10,000,000 to build a decarb of heat R&D centre, £5,000,000 to establish the Centre for Net Zero, £108,000 to its BLM fund, £1,000 ad on a right-wing channel. So, 15,108x more on progressive stuff. More soon, but hope perspective helps.”
Jackson showed a willingness to respond to scores of tweets from disappointed customers, all over what he hinted was a mere £1,000 ad spend. While Sky Media refused to comment on its GB News packages, it is clear it has had a lot of buy-in from partners. But were they always aware what media they were getting?
Cider brand Kopparberg claims ignorance when faced with criticism. It tweeted: "We want to make it clear to everyone that our ad ran on this channel without our knowledge or consent. Kopparberg is a drink for everyone and we have immediately suspended our ads from this channel pending further review of its content."
Grolsch followed the next day saying the media was bought "without our knowledge or consent".
The Open University also announced it was pausing its advertising on GB News with immediate effect, noting that: "We’ve not planned or purchased advertising with GB News and are investigating why this has happened."
Vodafone also denied knowledge of its ads appearing on the channel.
Read our latest update: How advertisers inadvertently bought TV ads on GB News - and what it says about media
Some respondents to Kopparberg's tweet were incredulous a brand could lose track of such a buy, unaware a lot of these decisions are automated and/or handled by third parties. The addition of Grolsch suggests there was less clamour for brands to associate themselves alongside GB News than it initially appeared. Either way, some advertisers will no doubt ask their media buyers how they could have been so naive about the probability of flare-ups surrounding a channel that has already been making the headlines long before its launch.
Rebecca Candeland, head of broadcast at Total Media, says: "As it stands, brand safety is an ongoing concern for many brands and the desire to be perceived as adhering to this has never been higher. The immediate and reactive nature of social media has the ability to review both TV and associated brands in real time and there are predictions that GB News will look to capitalise on this - in the same way many US news broadcasters are - by potentially pushing content through video or clip shares on social media."
Despite a rocky launch, GB News cites Barb data and says its 164,400 viewers were higher than BBC News’s 133,000 and Sky News’s 57,000. In the coming months, we’ll see if that audience – and its advertiser base – can be sustained.
Additional reporting from Chris Sutcliffe.