Whether brands boycott or stick with the News of the World, they face backlash

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As new, more horrifying details emerge about the level of phone hacking that was taking place at the News of the World, the attidues from brands to advertising in the publication is changing at an astonishing pace.

Ford has chosen to suspend its News of the World advertising completely until the outcome of the investigation into hacking at the newspaper has been revealed, while an array of brands from Halifax to Everything Everywhere are mulling their options with the paper.

To follow the latest brands to suspend or review their advertising options with the News of the World, click here.

For Ford to completely shun the News of the World is a risky leap for the car marque to take.

While a boycott is fantastic free publicity for Ford to proudly flag its ethical credentials, it is likely that its advertising spots for News of the World have already been paid for – or at least negotiated. What stops a rival filling that space for a cheaper price?

And, even if the outcome of the investigation into News of the World proves that practices there really were as sickening as the charges alleged against them, will brands like Ford really stay away forever?

Of course, this is not the first time a News International paper has fallen into controversy.

The Sun newspaper was shunned after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 when it claimed that “drunken Liverpool fans” had stolen from the dead.

Brands also distanced themselves from the paper at this time, but it would be arguably unwise for them to never return to the Sun, the most widely circulated UK national newspaper. Sister title, The News of the World’s circulation was at 2,657,232 in May, according to its latest ABC report.

For those brands choosing to suspend their advertising, they need to think now about their potential return campaigns – without risking complaints or even alienating their customer base. When is your re-entry point? When Rebekah Brooks resigns? When more journalists get arrested? When the News of the World prints a front page apology? And do you go back in all guns blazing or run a small quiet campaign in the back of the book?

On the other hand, brands that are choosing to ignore the issue or – as in the case of the Co-operative * – state that they have no plans to withdraw their advertising, also risk the wrath of their consumers.

Our readers have already taken to our comments pages, saying the Co-operative needs to “tread carefully” around the situation, considering its brand is pegged around “taking ethics to the next level”.

As an ethical retailer Co-operative’s stance could in fact open the way for other brands, wary of breaking down their relationships with News of the World and other News International titles, to state they will stick with the paper despite the controversy.

The biggest test for the Sunday tabloid – and brands that advertise with it – will be its ABC report for July, which should determine whether its readers have really chosen to boycott the paper – or whether they couldn’t care less as long as they are still getting their weekly dose of Cheryl Cole in a bikini and a grannie from Wales that grew a cucumber that looked the spitting image of Elvis.

This story will keep on rolling. News of the World advertisers would be wise to set out their stance now, to convince their target audiences that they stand by whichever brand values they set out and continue to watch the story and adapt their plans as it develops.

* UPDATE: The Co-operative Group has reversed its decision to continue advertising with the News of the World and has suspended any further ad spots or promtoions with the newspaper until the investigation is complete.

Click here for further updates.

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