Should advertisers ‘Stop Funding Hate’?

The campaign, which launched last year, wants to stop brands buying adverts in the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express but faces a struggle convincing marketers of the business case for the move.

You’ve probably seen the ad on Facebook or Twitter. Set to images from big retailers’ Christmas ads, campaign group Stop Funding Hate calls on the likes of John Lewis, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s to stop placing ads in national newspapers such as the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express in order to “stop funding hate”.

The campaign garnered a lot of attention towards the back end of last year, both among consumers and the press. Thousands got behind the campaign, sending out messages of support on Facebook and Twitter, and it made headlines in the national press.

Brands also seemed to be paying attention. The campaign claimed its first success when Lego said it would stop running promotions with the Daily Mail. That was followed by a promise from The Co-operative Group that it would review where it places its ads. A decision on that is expected at The Co-op’s AGM in May.

READ MORE: How brands are responding to the divisive politics of 2016

And just a few days ago online stylist Thread pledged its allegiance to the cause, posting a tweet saying it would not be advertising with the three national newspapers in question.

That the campaign has garnered such coverage is not surprising. While the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express are read by millions, there are millions more who do not read the newspapers and object to some of their editorial, particularly around coverage of migrants and refugees.

That objection goes as high as the UN, with the High Commissioner for Human Rights issuing a damning response to a column in The Sun written by Katie Hopkins that likened refugees to “cockroaches”. The Sun and Daily Mail have also been called out by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance for “unscrupulous press reporting” and for using “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – Opposing Trump means sacrificing sales for brand values

Stop Funding Hate’s co-founder, Richard Wilson, says the issue was brought into sharp focus for him last year due to a “big rise in hate crime”, although he admits his work at NGOs and charities including Amnesty International made him more aware than others about the “wider global issues and the human rights point of view”.

“I had been conscious for a long time of the role elements of the media play in whipping up fears and hostility. A wake-up call for me personally was the 2015 UN statement condemning The Sun for hate speech.

“It was a shock to a lot of people. That language and way of talking about people is the same language used by extremists in areas like Rwanda. It feels like when the UN has to step in and comment that maybe we have become a bit blind to it and this language has become normalised.”

The risks of making advertising a moral issue

Yet not everyone agrees. One of the brands called out in the initial campaign was John Lewis. And it responded with a statement saying: “We fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this issue but we never make an editorial judgement on a particular newspaper.”

The praise for brands in doing the right thing and benefit of that has to work in business terms. People don’t want brands to be morally blind.

Richard Wilson, Stop Funding Hate

This issue of brands influencing editorial content is key to some people’s issues with the campaign. DigitasLBi’s head of creative strategy, Nic Howell, says while he might agree with the campaign’s stance it is entering murky waters. He cites the example of a campaign in the US that aimed to convince brands not to advertise around a TV show featuring Muslim American families. It worked and many pulled their advertising.

Campaigns aiming to influence advertisers have worked in the UK before. For example the News of the World newspaper lost major advertisers including Sainsbury’s and O2 when the phone hacking scandal became public knowledge. That arguably accelerated its closure in 2011.

But News of the World had broken the law. That is not the case in this instance.

Wilson says he sees why some are uncomfortable with the campaign but that he doesn’t see it as a freedom of speech issue. “Freedom of speech belongs to us as individuals. Ad revenue is a business model. We are challenging the way the business model works if it is having a negative effect on people’s lives.”

He adds: “Voltaire said ‘I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’. What he didn’t say was ‘I’ll defend to the death your right to get ad revenue from it’. These are powerful media organisations that have a tendency to challenge any way they operate as a threat to freedom of speech. We value a free and independent press but we want a press that is able to do the job it is supposed to do; less hate speech and more free, open and fair.”

Making the business case

Yet despite this, Wilson admits the campaign will have to start making a business case, not just a moral one, if it wants to see more brands sign up. He says the response to Thread signing up shows the good publicity that can come from making a stand, with many consumers responding to its announcement by saying they would shop more with the brand and recommending it to friends.

“The praise for brands in doing the right thing and benefit of that has to work in business terms,” he explains. “People don’t want brands to be morally blind.”

READ MORE: The risk and rewards of brands taking on Trump

He adds: The reality is the vast majority of people already boycott The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express. There are 65 million people in the country and it is an ever-diminishing group that buy these newspapers.

“We don’t want to pick a fight with people who want to read the Daily Mail. But we want people who don’t and who maybe don’t agree with its editorial standpoint to realise that their money is funding the Daily Mail because they buy brands that advertise in it.”

While the buzz around the campaign has died down since November, Wilson says he sees it as a long-term issue. The group is understandably waiting to see the outcome of The Co-op review but will carry on with the campaign whatever the outcome of that.

“There must be a better way of doing things, to offer brands access to large audiences via publications that are not socially damaging. It is a pretty basic threshold that media outlets need to meet: not getting called out by the UN for hate speech, not engaging in hate speech and inciting discrimination and hostility towards minority groups. That is not a difficult bar.”

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Comments
  • Jason Chastain 8 Feb 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Labeling your political opposition as “hate” is intellectually dishonest. Using such smears to destroy businesses is fascist. But continuing these slanderous narratives aren’t harmless. A recent example in America (as I am American) is a University that claims they fear for their safety if they allow a “Young Republicans Club” on campus… because “Trump is Hitler” and “Republicans are racist” So, suddenly they can censor the opposition on the pretense of “fear” for their safety. See how that works? Gee, all I have to do is call my opposition rapists, then demand they be banned from University for “safety reasons.” If you join these absurd “Stop the Hate” campaigns, you are adding fuel to this false (and morally evil) fire which if you haven’t noticed, is escalating hostility and violence, not bring peace.

  • kevin godfrey 8 Feb 2017 at 4:45 pm

    In essence – yes, but it’s very easy to set yourself up as the tall poppy when positioning to be seen as squeaky clean. There are skeletons in pretty much every cupboard. Here’s a link to a piece I wrote when Stop Funding Hate appeared to claim their first success – Lego
    https://www.buffalo4all.com/single-post/2016/11/18/Tall-Poppies-of-Good-and-Evil-1

    • Jason Chastain 8 Feb 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Kevin, your article presumes that in “looking at oneself first”, one doesn’t want to be a hypocrite… which used to be a fair assumption. In today’s politics, however, there is a great deal of hypocrisy, and (at least from the left in America) they seem to have no shame from that anymore. Several leftist figures, like Bill Maher and even News anchors, publicly asked Obama to “become a sort of benevolent dictator. Just drag us where we need to go.” Now however, they shriek in “fear that Trump will be a tyrant.” I had one Democrat actually complain about Trump’s son Eric taking a vacation, after the Obamas used Tax payer money as an 8 year vacation streak (with 60 person posse at times.) Apologies for my American examples – it’s what I know, not deliberate ego-centrism. But I see very similar (leftist) extremism from my European friends. This very website is nauseous with leftist tripe. Marketing is about driving business, not “social Justice”, open borders, and civil rights activism. The more recent injection of politics into perfectly neutral business environments is a disgrace. Just sell the damn widgets. Don’t go political, because it’s offensive. Unless your shareholders say “Screw it, we’re tired of making money”, then keep it about the features/benefits. I want to know the food tastes great, not that the company “went green.” I want to know that the new Camry is under $23,000, not that they employ a perfect balance of minorities like a McDonald’s commercial. (Okay, I’ll step off my soap box now… New to this site, so rare for me to be able to have a marketing specific rant.)

  • kevin godfrey 11 Feb 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Jason – I think you’ve rather missed the point as the points you make appear to be more politically motivated, esp. given that you seem to equate ethical behaviour/sustainability with ‘leftism’ – indeed you describe this web site as ‘nauseous with leftist tripe’ into which I’d guess you’d bracket the points I make. I believe that the only marketing point you could be remotely said to be making here is that the market is god and that any viewpoint that gainsays this is, to you, repugnant. You’d assert, I’d guess, that the only stance that politics should have on business is laissez-faire. I disagree – not that I think either of us are in danger of changing the other’s view.

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