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June 24, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:23am

As biggest brands fail to join GB News ad boycott, the questions campaigners have yet to answer

By Freddy Mayhew

The campaign to boycott brands that advertise with newly launched opinion-led TV channel GB News continues, but apart from troubling the waters of social media it looks to be making little impact.

According to websites dedicated to the boycott, so far about 14 companies have pulled their advertising from GB News, although three of these – Vodafone, Specsavers and – have said they are not actively boycotting the channel.

The market cap of the companies – those which are publicly listed – behind the brands that have pulled advertising is about £93bn in total.

They include Kopparbergs Bryggeri AB (Kopparberg), Beiersdorf AG (Nivea), Asahi Group Holdings (Grolsch), Vodafone Group, Group and Pinterest Inc.

This compares to a market cap in the trillions for the companies behind the brands that continue to advertise on the channel, which include Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.

Stop Funding Hate and Ripples are both campaigning for advertisers to boycott the channel. Ripples’ website for the campaign lists more than 50 companies that advertise on the channel, which it brands “fake news”.

It calls on its supporters to contact these brands and “politely let them know that their brand is being tarnished by association with GB News” and to “put direct pressure on them to drop their advertising”.

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We asked Ripples and Stop Funding Hate to talk to us for this piece.

Ripples describes itself as a “progressive digital campaigning platform” that launched last year. It told Press Gazette: “We’re not currently doing interviews about the campaign.”

The group pointed to a tweet on its official Twitter account in which the group said advertisers hadn’t stopped pulling out of GB News, but were “doing it more quietly, to avoid a right-wing backlash”. This followed reports of brands rowing back on the boycott.

Stop Funding Hate which has targeted right-leaning newspapers for years, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview from Press Gazette. It began its campaign against GB News before the channel had even aired.

Questions Press Gazette would like to ask the groups include:

  • What is their process for deciding that a news channel or news title should be closed down by having advertising withdrawn?
  • Who makes the decision?
  • Is there any scope for appeal?
  • Which coverage exactly on GB News qualifies as “hate” for Stop Funding Hate and “fake news” for Ripples?
  • Are the groups politically motivated? Is there an element of seeking to undermine channels and newspapers which promote political beliefs that are at odds with those of the members of the campaign groups?
  • Are a small minority of Twitter users seeking to dictate what a larger group watches exerting disproportionate pressure on brands?

In a blog for Huffpost UK, published in 2016, Wilson said the campaign’s “ultimate aim is to cancel out the incentives that are driving these papers towards ever-more hostile reporting…”.

But coverage of a story is an editorial decision, and GB News, like all news outfits, is free to choose its angle – albeit within the bounds of Ofcom rules on impartiality.

Rob Keery, marketing manager and agency storyteller at media buying agency Anything Is Possible, said that “whatever one’s personal thoughts about GB News might be, there are no examples of hate speech on the channel to date”.

AIP is a member of the Conscious Advertising Network and said brands pulling out of GB News was “a failure of conscious advertising principles”, including awareness of where your brand is appearing.

He said: “I think it’s a decision that every brand has to make consciously.

“If you do trade on your social and political values, if you are an activist brand and the channel does oppose those values, then it is pretty reasonable to most brands to not want to associate with it.

“They’ve got to balance that against the risk and the benefit of speaking to that channel’s engaged audience and whether it [outweighs] the cost of potentially alienating those people who don’t agree with them.

“There are lots of those clear commercial reasons why a channel like GB News would be fine, would be very attractive to advertisers – slightly older demographic, little bit more disposable income, values are maybe a bit more easily replaceable upon a political or social continuum.

“They know what they are… all of these things can lead to much more decisive purchasing decisions, so there’s obviously benefit for being able to reach that kind of audience.

“The model that’s been trialled for GB News in the US, i.e. Fox News, has shown that audience is worth chasing, that you can profit from reaching them.

“There are loads of brands for whom it will never be the right choice, and there are plenty of others who are going to weigh up the pros and cons and the risks, make the call about how they think their values sit with the value of the GB News audience. I think that’s just fine.”

GB News also declined to comment.

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