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News & Views

Should brands boycott tabloids?

Lego is the first brand to arguably withdraw advertisements from the Daily Mail following pressure from the Stop Funding Hate campaign.

It’s November, which means the department store war for hearts and minds has begun. The battlefield? TV ads.

In the United Kingdom, the John Lewis Christmas ad has become a cultural mainstay, known for pulling on heartstrings with a sentimental narrative accompanied by a maudlin cover of a popular hit. It’s a blueprint which plenty of other brands have embraced; emotional storytelling 101.

But not everyone is happy with this format.

While conspiracy theorists might try to tell you that this year’s John Lewis spot is an allegory for the US presidential election, the real story is that John Lewis and other department stores are being targeted by campaigning group Stop Funding Hate. The organisation is critical of brands which run heartwarming ads and preach love and inclusion at Christmas, while simultaneously advertising in publications which it believes are guilty of inciting hatred and violence.

The Daily Mail, currently the best selling newspaper in the UK, is at the top of this blacklist. It regularly runs controversial headlines, most recently decrying three anti-Brexit judges as “enemies of the people.” (The newspaper’s accompanying online editorial on this story also included some swiftly deleted homophobia.)

Stop Funding Hate was founded earlier this year, in response to a perceived rise in xenophobic and misogynist headlines. “People are becoming more aware that the money they spend could end up supporting publications whose stories, language or portrayal of certain people fuels division,” says a spokesperson for the campaign. “This urgently needs to be addressed. These headlines harm people.”

The group ran a Christmas video encouraging big brands to think about where they advertise, and to consider that goodwill should extend all year round, and to all people. John Lewis responded to the campaign by stating: “We fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter but never make an editorial judgement on a particular newspaper.”

However, toy brand Lego has acquiesced, announcing that it will no longer be advertising with the Daily Mail, with which it has previously run toy giveaways, stating: “The agreement with The Daily Mail has finished and we have no plans to run any promotional activity with the newspaper in the foreseeable future.”

Lego has garnered plenty of positive press due to its decision to cut ties with the Daily Mail — but it is entirely possible that this decision merely coincided with the Stop Funding Hate campaign, rather than being influenced by it. Lego was already coming to the end of its contract with the Daily Mail. Maybe advertisers had taken a view and simply decided that advertising with the newspaper simply wasn’t cost-effective.

If a brand bows to pressure from campaigners, rather than incorporating these concerns and values into its own culture, is that really a win in the long term? Is boycotting and cutting off communication the way to get things done? And will it even remotely change how newspapers like the Daily Mail report on stories?

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