Over the last week or so a row has broken out between Associated Newspapers and its two titles The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, and Ed Miliband the leader of the Labour Party. For those of you outside the UK the start of the argument was The Daily Mail writing a piece in which they claimed that Miliband’s father Ralph ‘hated Britain.’ Ralph Miliband (who died in 1994) was a well-known and respected sociologist and academic who held Marxist views. He fled to Britain in 1940 from his native Belgium when the Nazis invaded, and subsequently fought for the country in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
Midway through this row Lord Sugar went on Channel 4 to suggest that advertisers should boycott The Mail to ‘teach the paper a lesson’ (I paraphrase) .
I should make clear where I stand. I loathe The Daily Mail. I hate what it stands for; I hate its attitude towards the gay community, towards Muslims, towards working mothers, I hate its ability to instill a sense of fear and mistrust amongst its readers. I won’t take a free copy if I’m offered one on a plane, even if I’ve nothing else to read. I rather approve of The Guardian reader who wrote to her paper on Friday to say she secretly hides copies of The Mail beneath piles of The Guardian in her local newsagent – as she knows that will be the last place anyone will look for them.
So I’m not a fan.
However, whatever I may think of the paper I think it is wrong for any advertiser to boycott any media form because of an editorial opinion it expresses. It’s acceptable to pull ads as a result of a newspaper’s illegal behaviour (as happened when several large advertisers pulled their money from The News of the World), it’s fair enough to exclude a title from your plans because it’s overall stance is dissonant with the values of your brand or organization, but it’s unacceptable to do so just because you disagree with what the paper has to say on a particular topic.
The UK is fortunate to enjoy the benefits of a free press. It’s wrong for anyone to try to stifle any opinion and to impose some form of pressure – be that monetary or political – on those who write and edit our newspapers.
Many years ago my agency’s largest client became very upset with a mainstream TV channel that had screened a documentary in which this advertiser was portrayed in a poor light. We had naturally avoided advertising in that show or anywhere near it. The day after the program aired I took a call from the CMO telling me that the CEO wished to pull all planned expenditure on that channel. I argued strongly against this – and I’m proud to say I won the argument.
The line between advertising and editorial is frequently blurred these days, but there is still a line. Advertisers should stay on their side of that line. Once they cross it they’re weakening the very reason why audiences consume these media forms, which ultimately is as bad for advertisers as for the rest of us. Once the line is crossed it we’re on the way towards saying farewell to a free press.
Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells at Leo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director),
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