Why 'Stop Funding Hate' Shouldn't Be As Straightforward As That

I read an interesting article in Marketing Week recently with the headline ‘Should advertisers ‘Stop Funding Hate’?’ https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/02/08/advertisers-stop-funding-hate/  and it got me thinking. Initially not about advertising, or brands, or media buying or any of the other topics contained within the article, but about those inverted commas.

The article was specifically about the pressure group http://www.stopfundinghate.org.uk/ but this group has actually seen relatively little coverage since a small burst of popularity and viral sharing in the run up to Christmas. They have enjoyed a modicum of success with Branding success story Lego confirming that they would stop running ads in the Daily Mail, and the Co-op promising to review their ad placement strategy.

Since then, a number of things have happened which have contributed to this underlying and growing counter culture. Firstly, President Trump was inaugurated and has continued, and if anything stepped up, his campaign against ‘fake news’ outlets which he considers to be CNN & MSNBC  (notwithstanding his own team’s use of ‘alternative facts’), and more recently the Times had a front page investigation into the way in which brands are ‘funding terror’ inadvertently by ‘allowing’ their ads to appear alongside content created by terrorist organisations (and through which they would benefit financially as a consequence of the particular payment model employed in the placements).

All of this has the potential to spark a debate, the arguments of which are far greater than I can put down in 700 words, however I think it’s important to draw some lines and clarify some of the differences between these multiple, concurrently occurring themes which are affecting our media, and our advertiser $ spends.

The emergence of the Times investigation certainly highlights a very distinct difference between two concepts of ‘hate’. The irony, in the current climate, of the Times headline about video content which is clearly hateful is that the implication that brands are ‘funding’ this activity is misleading at best and disingenuous at worst. ‘Fake news, if you will. The groups in question are not using YouTube as a revenue generation scheme, they’re using it for propaganda purposes, and the implication that brands are ‘funding’ this, as if they’re gift aiding a donation to a Jihadi Justgiving page is dangerous.

On the other hand, it’s important to define ‘hate’ in the terms in which StopFundingHate clearly see it. The terminology they use is that newspapers like the Sun & the Mail are ‘divisive’ in their editorial, and that they deliberately sensationalise things in order to drive traffic to their websites. Now given that this is largely the way that Newspaper Editors have behaved since William Caxton returned from a holiday in Cologne, and that in the UK we’ve enjoyed one of the most varied and free Presses of any country in the world for centuries, an advocate of the devil might be tempted to argue that their name should really be ‘Stop Funding Articles That I Don’t Agree With’.

You may think that Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins are on a par with pondscum, and it could be argued that some of their narrative is indeed ‘divisive’, however a few things immediately spring to mind: the circulation figures of the Mail, and the Sun suggest that whilst the so called ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ find their invective to be amoral, the ‘man on the street’ evidently doesn’t, which is pretty important to a lot of brands, particularly those selling FMCGs etc to said man on the street. Another thing to be considerate of is whether advertisers really want to operate in an industry where brands are put in between a rock and a hard place of having to choose between a PR storm and having their right to buy advertising space within a free press limited by some titles being strangled by pressure groups.

Brands face the unenviable task of finding the balance between commercial performance of their advertising and media buys, and between the perceived brand damage caused by negative PR, and this raises a broader question of whether advertising and politics should mix... but that’s probably a debate best left for another day.


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