Published on: December 1, 2016
Yesterday, MNB took note of a Bloomberg
report that Kellogg Co. is pulling all its ads from the website Breitbart News, described as "the right-wing news organization whose former chairman Steve Bannon has been tapped as a top adviser to president-elect Donald Trump." The reason: concerns that the site espouses racist and anti-Semitic views (though Breitbart denies holding such views). Kellogg's said that its goal is to make sure that its ads do not appear on sites holding views that are not aligned with its values; to this point, a third-party company was responsible for placing the ads, and Kellogg's is now taking back some control of those placements.
Breitbart responded to the move with a statement: "Kellogg’s decision to blacklist one of the largest conservative media outlets in America is economic censorship of mainstream conservative political discourse. That is as un-American as it gets.”
I commented, in part:Gee, I can't imagine why a company looking to appeal to a broad spectrum of consumers would be concerned about a website that refers to pundit Bill Kristol as a "renegade Jew" because he did not support Donald Trump, or features stores with headlines such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” or “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage,” or “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women In Tech, They Just Suck At Interviews.”
Look, this is going to get complicated for a lot of CPG and media companies. The CPG companies aren't in the business of offending potential and existing customers, and media companies have to figure out how to navigate some treacherous terrain.
There was a piece in the New York Times the other day that looked at how different media outlets were dealing with the term "alt-right," which some describe as focused on economic nationalism, and others define as a term that "euphemizes and legitimizes the ideologies of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy," as well as "hard-core misogyny."
You can take either view you want. CPG companies have to make choices, and most almost always going to choose a path that they believe will be seen as inclusive ... because not being seen as inclusive by either customers or employees won't be good for business. It is that simple. By this standard, I think Kellogg's made absolutely the right decision. (It was not, no matter what anyone wants to say or think, a "right-or-left" decision. It was a business decision.)
Got a number of responses.
One MNB reader responded:It’s a shame that companies have to kow tow to a few. They set up a fake system of activist and make it feel like it is a large population of people against Breitbart. If anything Breitbart is the pulse of the countries values. They find all the political sludge that out there and exposes it for the American people to see. The activist wouldn’t complain to Kellogg’s if they sponsored some Rapper that degrades women and our country. Where is the FREEDOM of SPEECH? IT’S A DAM SHAME!!
As I said a couple of weeks ago in a slightly different context, if you think that anti-Trump activism is being ginned up by the media and is neither significant nor real, you are making the same mistake the media made in underestimating the kind of visceral discontent that got Trump elected.
MNB reader Tom Herman wrote:This is a very slippery slope that companies seem to be going down. If they want to pull all advertising from all political opinion sites like Brietbart, The Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, BuzzFeed; I’m all for it. When they only target conservative websites, it’s called totalitarianism. I think that these activities are wrong on both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives have more children than liberals, I don’t think it is wise for Kellogg to step into the political arena. Peoples of good faith have very differing political views. There is a time for politics and a time to get away from politics. I don’t attend plays, concerts and sporting events to witness political statements, I go there to get away from them. Do we want every Christian church in America to mount a boycott of every left leaning business in the US. Of course not. This needs to stop, it’s not healthy.
I think that issue is not political views, but what some people would define as hate speech. We talked about this in a different context recently in a story about pro-diversity comments made by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, as well as social media firestorms created by executives at New Balance and GrubHub, and I commented:I do think that we're going to see some corporate executives go out of their way to make pro-diversity statements, to say that they find racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, homophobia or any other sort of intolerance to be totally unacceptable. I would not necessarily view such statements as being overtly political, nor would I go out of my way to identify such corporate cultures as being defiant of anyone or anything.
That said, I think the vast majority of Americans are going to be supportive of people and companies that decry racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, homophobia or any other sort of intolerance. For example, I see very little downside to the marginalization of white supremacist groups that may try to take advantage of election results that I think ultimately had little to do with white supremacy.
And another MNB reader chimed in:Its "values as a company" should be to collect consumer-dollars regardless of the reading-habits of the consumer. Perhaps they should also question whether they want to be "aligned with the values" of the wackos who voted for Bernie Sanders.
And you could cherry-pick headlines from the L. A. TIMES that are equally absurd and inflammatory.
We had a similar discussion about the first point a couple of weeks ago - and I continue to disagree with the notion that a company's only responsibility is to collect money. There is such a thing as the intelligent loss of business - and sometimes that has to do with ethical positions that companies and executives feel they need to make.
From another reader, a different view:You're right -- this is going to be an interesting cycle of action and reaction for marketers. The heavy-handed policies and thin-skinned reactions of the President-elect and his cohorts are taking "you're either with us or against us" to a radioactive level.
It's interesting to note Breitbart's response ... Don't they know they're out of step with the President-elect, who suggested boycotting Hamilton after the VP-elect received a plea for respect and understanding, and with many of his followers, who launched a boycott effort against PepsiCo, after its CEO described the legitimate concerns of many employees following the election? Or are they actually calling out the President and his followers as un-American?
Finally, I finished my commentary yesterday with this final note:Politics have come up a number of times recently on MNB, and I have received emails from some folks suggesting that this is a topic I should avoid. While I understand and appreciate the advice, I think these are entirely legitimate business subjects to discuss here on MNB ... it may not always be safe, but I think being safe is overrated. And if we don't talk about these issues as a community, we run the risk of ignoring or underestimating their import. I'm going to do my best to be fair, but I don't want to shy away from the subject when it seems appropriate to be engaged.
To which MNB reader Jim Veregge responded:Kevin, don’t EVER shy away from making poignant comments on MNB, that’s what many of us depend upon on your website and we’d be disappointed if you didn’t “weigh in” on controversial issues (even though I don’t always agree with your stances).