Brands need to grow a backbone and stop pandering to the left's virtue signalling

Elliott Haworth
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Kelloggs and Lego have both bowed to pressure from a loud minority (Source: Getty)

On both sides of the pond, a censorious precedent is being set in the name of “brand values”. It’s a petulant reaction to the moral posturing of internet losers.

And I don’t mean “losers” in the perjorative, playground sense – I mean literally, those on the losing side of either Brexit, or the presidential election.

In recent weeks, in the name of “values”, Lego bowed to pressure and ceased business with the Brexit-supporting Daily Mail, while Kellogg’s pulled its ads from the Trump-supporting Breitbart. I’m not defending either of the sites in question, I don’t personally read them. But a lot of people do. And by pulling ads from these publications, it implies a nasty, “Holier Than Thou”, moral superiority. That because of their beliefs, the readers are somehow unworthy of a product.

Those that have pulled ads on political grounds are sticking two fingers up to the majority. It’s a given that pulling ads equates to missed opportunities to reach consumers – in the case of Breitbart, some 17m people.

But in our egg-shell societies, divisions run deep, and are only exacerbated when a brand’s “values” alienate half the nation.

The campaigns to purge adverts from Breitbart and the Daily Mail, (Sleeping Giants and #StopFundingHate respectively) are a product of the social media filter bubble. That is, personal views reflected through social algorithms to create an echo chamber of confirmation bias. These attempted advertising boycotts are but tragic groupthink by a minority of jaundiced losers. Their views are not representative of wider society.

If I were Kellogg’s or Lego, I’d be looking for a magnet to fix my moral compass. Being harangued by the virtue signalling of armchair slacktivists is no reason to pull an advert.

It’s a given that brands should care about public perception, and certainly don’t want negative associations. But pandering to the desires of spiteful minority pressure groups is a two sided coin. On one side of the virtue coin, you’re pleasing the vocal keyboard warriors who will give you the most grief. On the other, you’re questioning the morality, intelligence and judgement of a much wider audience.

Social media campaigns questioning your principles are intimidating for brands – it’s easiest to go into damage control and pander to he who speaks loudest. When faced with #StopFundingHate, John Lewis offered a masterclass in handling virtuous trolls: “We fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this issue but we never make an editorial judgement on a particular newspaper.”

It’s as simple as that. Think like Abraham Lincoln: “you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

Pandering to one side or another will inevitably end in more than just hurt feelings. Publically questioning the editorial values of a publication does the same to its readership.

If you’re going to have brand values, a good place to start is empathy. If your values don’t stretch as far as comprehending differing opinions, then good luck to you.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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