SubScribe: Should've asked what would be on the front Google+

Thursday 8 September 2016

Should've asked what would be on the front

If you have a brand strong enough to warrant trade-marking the first word of your catchphrase, you presumably care a lot about it and where it is seen. That involves choosing carefully where and when to advertise.
Yesterday Specsavers took a Page 1 slot in the Daily Express and a further full page inside to promote a hearing aid offer. It was the company's first front-page ad in the paper - certainly for the past couple of years - and the promotion did not appear in any other national paper, so it seems to have been targeted at the Express's ageing readership.

But by last night, it was Specsavers rather than Express readers who were the target. The appearance of the ad under a story headlined "New migrant rush to Britain" prompted a Twitter challenge from the Stop Funding Hate campaign:

The post was widely retweeted and as the day wore on, Specsavers came under pressure to respond. To its credit, its social media team decided to engage.

That provoked a mini avalanche of tweets about its "short-sighted" approach, the need for it to "focus" and how there were "none so blind that will not see". Several people said they would take their custom elsewhere - but probably too few to make a difference to the company's profits.

Stop Funding Hate is trying to counter what it sees as excessive anti-foreigner press coverage by urging advertisers to abandon the Sun, Mail and Express - which it sees as the biggest "offenders".
Boycotts are a traditional and sometimes effective way to persuade organisations, and even countries, to change their outlooks and behaviour.
But they are also fraught: if you choose not to buy clothes made in Bangladesh sweatshops, you may hope to improve conditions for the workers, but you may also risk denying those same workers their only source of income.
And information is precious. Should pressure groups or advertisers be seeking to influence which stories are covered and how they are treated?

Take the Daily Mail, for example. A couple of weeks ago it published a list of products containing microbeads. It urged readers not to buy them in an effort to persuade the manufacturers to stop using the beads. It would not, however, take kindly to anyone who suggested boycotting its own product to persuade it to stop writing about immigration.
For a start, there is strong evidence that the microbeads damage wildlife (and they are to be banned), while there is only circumstantial evidence that newspaper coverage of immigration is damaging community relations.

SubScribe would contend that the level of hostility towards foreigners, particularly in the Express, is dangerous and that the papers should desist. Immigration may be the issue most frequently mentioned as causing concern by voters questioned for opinion polls, but it is not the only issue. People also worry about the economy, law and order, the health service, defence, poverty, housing and education, yet these issues do not get anywhere near the same space.  A little more variety in the news diet would be desirable.
But how can this be achieved without bringing accusations of censorship? Answers on a postcard please.

For the time being, let's consider the relationship between advertising and editorial.
Last year Peter Oborne loudly resigned from the Daily Telegraph because of its failure to cover the HSBC tax avoidance story that dominated the news agenda for a week. The paper rejected the suggestion that its news judgment had been informed by the fear of losing a high-spending advertiser, but its denials were not universally believed. It was generally accepted that it would be a Bad Thing if any paper were so influenced.

Yet isn't that exactly what campaigns such as Stop Funding Hate are advocating? That advertisers threaten to withdraw their custom to secure the suppression of what one title regards as news?
Not quite.

As SubScribe wrote at the time of the Oborne resignation, advertisers cannot stipulate what editorial appears on the pages alongside their material. But they can make an educated guess about the sorts of stories that will feature in any given part of the paper - and decide accordingly whether to take the space. M&S is unlikely to buy an ad for its "dine with wine" packages that might land on a story about famine in Africa. Conversations will take place.

Yesterday's Daily Express was the 51st to lead on migration out of 214 papers so far this year - so Specsavers should have known that there was a one in four chance that its advertisement would appear under such a story.
If the company was uncomfortable with the Express's attitude to foreigners and thought that one-in-four risk too great, it could have bought its ad on the basis that it would not run if migration featured on the same page.

That would not be unusual - advertisers are free to pull their custom if they feel that the surrounding material would harm their image. Disasters have a habit of leading to a flurry of ads being dropped - businesses don't like to seem insensitive - while others, detailing rescue efforts, pour in.

It will be interesting to see where, if at all, that Specsavers ad appears next and whether the company continues to spend with the Express after last night's Twitter chorus. It will doubtless be weighing up the good publicity that would probably follow a decision to take its ball home against the possibility of attracting a million potential hearing aid customers through the Express.

Richard Wilson, who is leading the Stop Funding Hate campaign, obviously hopes it will have a change of heart:

Specsavers’ brand association with the Daily Express just doesn’t sit right. But there’s also a chance now to do something good - something that will send a strong signal that the demonisation and scaremongering have to stop. We hope that Specsavers will now listen to their customers, do the right thing, and suspend their advertising with the Daily Express.
Wilson accepts that there may be questions about the potential threat to editorial freedom from his campaign, but adds

Editorial is already being influenced and skewed -  massively -  by the fact that writing disproportionately negative stories about migrants and other demonised groups is currently a good way of selling papers.
Advertisers benefit from these headlines because they mean they get a wider circulation for their messages. The overriding aim of our campaign is to try to cancel out that perverse market incentive. We aren't asking Specsavers to lean on the Express and pressure them to change their content. We're asking them to stop making us complicit.
We're asking them (and others) to walk away, and let the market do the rest.

It's a fine distinction. 

SubScribe was on the fence on this one. But this afternoon the Express published a story on its website headlined "Sore losers in the Remain camp will hijack the PROMS with thousands of EU flags". The language of the text was the usual fare: 

“Sore losers” who cannot get over the fact Britain voted to leave the European Union are planning to hijack the Last Night of the Proms – arguably the most British night of the year.
Bitter Remain supporters are raising money to buy thousands of EU flags so they can hand them out to Prom-goers in a bid to stir-up support for the Brussels bloc.

The sneering attitude is one thing, but in the middle of the piece is an online poll in which readers are invited to vote on whether the flags should be banned. As it happens, that poll has been hijacked, too. So that instead of the usual 98% backing the desired answer, it is currently showing 78% against,

It's hard to have qualms about censorship when the publication whose freedom you're inclined to protect wants to ban a flag.

So just in case you felt like joining in, here's the link to the poll:


  1. Very few things could make me go to the Express website...
    The good news is that now 79% of people have voted to not ban the EU flag from the Proms

  2. As a result of this article, I too went to the Express website. Now, please excuse me. I have to go and disinfect my computer and then gouge out my eyes with a rusty spoon.