Does the #NOTW boycott aftermath prove there such a thing as activism apathy?

Lara O’Reilly is Marketing Week’s digital and telecoms specialist and here she gives her own view on what companies from Apple to Zynga are up to in the wired world of the web.


Last week the public took to Facebook and Twitter in their droves, urging brands to cease advertising with the News of the World, or else face the wrath of the consumer.

It worked. Brands such as The Co-operative, which originally said it was to continue advertising with the News of the World, quickly backtracked and said it had “listened” to its customers and was to suspend any further promotions with the publication. In their dozens, other major brands also crumbled to consumer pressure and pulled out of the former News International Sunday tabloid.

The same actions cannot be written about of consumers or brands this week.

Despite further allegations about unethical journalism practices occuring at The Sun and The Sunday Times, the Twittersphere and Facebook (-sphere?) are both markedly quieter than a week ago.

Perhaps this is because the fresh allegations refer to a former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who the public voted out of residence at Number 10.

But it did strike me as surprising that the newspapers and brands appearing in those newspapers have yet to receive the same level of backlash from consumers and advertisers, when these allegations involve journalists reporting on the very private issue of Brown’s ill infant child.

It has yet to be proven whether underhand tactics took place to obtain the details about the aforementioned story…

…just as no journalist or private investigator has been charged with hacking into the voicemails of Milly Dowler, relatives of murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and families of servicemen killed in action.

Every advertiser I have caught up with this week, who were quick to cut affiliations with News of the World the week before, has been cagey when I mention reviewing relationships with other News International titles, despite the further accusations. Most say they will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.

And while Twitter is still avalanched with the #notw hashtag, a hush has fallen over the campaign groups who were so vocal last week in the boycotting of the News of the World.

It makes me wonder: can people suffer activism overload? They’ve e-mailed CEOs, they’ve tweeted official brand pages, have they had their fill for the month (those involved in the Arab Spring must be shuddering at the sheer apathy)?

And if that is the case, should organisers of lobbying campaigns try to differentiate their approach in order to maintain the public’s interest?

Logically, it seems the answer to that question is: yes.

I’m not suggesting a boycott of News International newspapers – actually, far from it (News of the World’s closure is a crying shame) – but it has struck me as odd that the News of the World brand boycott campaign last week has not yet leaked into the other titles in the same way.

Perhaps the closure of the News of the World means both consumers and advertisers are a little more wary of immediately denouncing a paper, on seeing the real and destructive power their 140-character boycotts had last week.

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.

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