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.
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.
— Thread (@thread) February 2, 2017
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”.
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.”
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.”
Source: Marketing Week
Should advertisers ‘Stop Funding Hate’?