Advertising Virtue?


Why have brands and ad agencies become our moral arbiters.

Self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk has taken control of Twitter in a $44bn (£38bn) deal.

The billionaire says that his goal is to transform Twitter into a force for good in public life, resisting censorship and pushing back against the rolling culture wars that risk fracturing the internet into tribes of far left and far right commentators. Sounds good right?

But, before the ink had dried companies, including General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi, and Pfizer have reportedly paused ads on the platform citing ‘concerns over content moderation’. Advertising firms like Interpublic Group and Havas are advising their clients to do the same.

Omnicom – a global media agency which represents 5,000 clients including McDonald’s, Apple and Pepsi – has also told customers to pause their Twitter promotions over fears of a “serious risk to brand safety”.

Tamara Littleton, chief executive of The Social Element, said she had told her clients to “suspend advertising on Twitter.”

However, this is not the first time this has happened. When GB News launched last year, there was the same furore. Even before the show had aired 1 minute of content popular brands were saying that they would not advertise on the channel.

Once launched more brands boycotted the channel. Ikea said it had “not knowingly” advertised on GB News and that it has “safeguards in place to prevent our advertising from appearing on platforms that are not in line with our humanistic values and vision to side with the many people”.

Why is GB news targeted? Is it a satellite of Russian TV or China? No. GB News is offering an alternative to the oligopoly of BBC, ITV and Sky. The show offers a wide range of diverse opinions from Benjamin Butterworth to Gloria de Piero.

Not once has it proclaimed to be or has actually been the “hate-filled divisive shout-fest” the detractors said it would be.

Another example of the moral police role brands and advertisers seem to have adopted was demonstrated when during the aftermath of the George Floyd protests over 100 companies boycotted Facebook.

Their statement read: “From the monetization of hate speech to discrimination in their algorithms to the proliferation of voter suppression to the silencing of Black voices, Facebook has refused to take responsibility for hate, bias, and discrimination growing on their platforms.”

Currently platforms and news outlets rely on advertising revenue. Therefore, brands and media agencies know how much muscle they have and seem unafraid to use it. It would appear that advertisers can literally hold these platforms to ransom.

This may be the reason why Elon is looking to charge the users making Twitter less reliant on advertisers for revenue.

The age of social media has been a gold mine for advertisers with new agencies, university degrees and whole disciplines dedicated to the task. All their customers in one place segmented by demographics, interests and even browsing history.

Why then are so many brands and agencies concerned that they must not ally themselves with any speech which diverts from the popular orthodoxy. This is speech that needs to be reined in, boycotted and suppressed. How are they deciding what is good or bad? Who is deciding? Why would the content of any news agency or platform be of concern to brands and ad agencies?

Might there be something sinister at play?  What is going on?

Firstly, activist groups know that agencies and brands have influence over the platforms they advertise on. So, they use coordinated attacks to try and force brands to stop spending. They flood brands with messages or start a Twitter pile on.

A few thousand people on Twitter can sound like a lot but in reality, it is nothing.

Winston Churchill famous said, “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile — hoping it will eat him last”. Are brands and ad agencies just looking to appease these activist groups in the hope they don’t get a bad rep?

The three main activist groups are Accountable Tech, Stop Hate for Profit and Stop Funding Hate.

However, scratch away and the surface and you find the real culprits. For example, Accountable Tech is financed by The North Fund, a D.C. non-profit that is controlled by Arabella Advisors. Yes, there are multiple levels of confusion and separation, and this is on purpose. But the relevant outfit here is Arabella Advisors. “Arabella” This is a for-profit “philanthropic consulting company” founded by Clinton confidant Eric Kessler.

The pressure group Stop Funding Hate was founded in 2016 by Richard Wilson, a former corporate fundraising officer for Amnesty International. It strives to stop advertising in newspapers that sell their products based on ‘fear and division’ (they could have been useful during the covid regime, but strangely fell silent as the media consistently pushed fear and division).

Marketing and advertising are disciplines designed to drive awareness, product understanding and sales. It would appear that advertising is no longer about selling products, it is no longer about condiments, razors or chocolate bars.

It would appear that the raison d’etre is now selling ideas and trying to change people’s perceptions of the world. It is called purpose driven advertising and it is becoming a preoccupation with marketing departments everywhere.

Unfortunately, most in the ad world think the activists are ‘right on’. Not only happy to bow to the mob but are actuality members of it.  How did an industry that should be the epitome of capitalism become invaded by doctrines of the far left.

Many people who work in marketing have been to university, and pretty much all of them studied one of the humanities subjects. The domination of universities by the Left, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, is well documented.

It could be this or it could be the industry naturally attracts certain personality types that are predisposed to believe that they are the moral arbitrates. Could these personality types also predispose them to more left-wing opinions?

When Andrew Tenzer researched the ad world, in his excellent white paper ‘The Empathy Delusion’ he found what you might expect.

44% self-identified as being on the left compared against a mainstream average of 25%.

Source: Reach Solutions/house51

Base: Modern Mainstream (n=1,063), Advertising & Marketing(n=199)

Jonathan Haidt has also done a vast amount of research into personality. Creative people tend to have high degree of openness and as he has shown “openness to experience” positively correlates with political liberalism.

In The Righteous Mind, Haidt argues convincingly that Liberals find it more difficult to tolerate alternative points of view because they have narrower moral foundations. They simply don’t see the same relevance for other points of view based on community ethics.

This reveals an advertising and marketing industry who are evangelising different ethical and cultural settings to large swathes of the population but in the process are underpinning a profound disconnect with the people it seeks to influence. They suppress opposing views and only support what they believe are just causes. They also seem to be incapable of understanding how others may not agree.  They seem to be very comfortable in an environment of suppression, cohesion and control

Mark Ritson wrote a column reminding the industry of the first rule of marketing – ‘you are not the customer’.

The evidence and ongoing activism continues to suggest that marketers and ad people find this a hard principle to live by.

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