Two Southwest Colorado-based companies are joining an increasing number of businesses choosing to remove their ads from the controversial website Breitbart News.
In November, a Twitter account called Sleeping Giants began alerting companies that their advertising was appearing on Breitbart News, which has been accused of publishing racist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic content.
“We are trying to stop racist websites by stopping their ad dollars,” the Sleeping Giants profile says. “Many companies don’t even know it’s happening. It’s time to tell them.”
Within months, more than 1,130 companies fled the publication formerly headed by President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon.
According to Sleeping Giant’s Twitter account, which has more than 58,300 followers, consumers are asked to go to Breitbart News, take a screenshot of an ad next to the network’s content, then Tweet to the company to notify them about their ad placements.
Most companies are unaware their ads are on the site, Sleeping Giants says, because advertising often is purchased in what’s known as a “media buy,” in which an automated system spreads ads across the internet. According to eMarketer, U.S. companies spend $22 billion a year on this service.
Such was the case with Purgatory Resort, about 30 miles north of Durango, which purchases digital advertising through an agency that targets skiers and other demographics, said spokeswoman Kim Oyler.
“Purgatory does not condone or encourage violence, racism, or any other kind of discrimination,” Oyler said. “Purgatory as a business is interested in creating positive experiences at our resort for our customers. ... We did indeed remove Breitbart from our media buy recently, and we do not plan to advertise with them in the future.”
For Osprey Packs, based in Cortez, the situation is more complicated, said spokeswoman Kami York-Feirn. The outdoor retailer purchases its ad buys from Amazon, the main target of Sleeping Giants in recent weeks. Amazon has not removed Breitbart News from its marketing package.
Osprey’s marketing arm in Seattle continues to work with Amazon to have its ads not appear on Breitbart News, which came to the company’s attention in early February, York-Feirn said.
“I think we all agree Breitbart News does not fit our company outlook,” she said. “We don’t want a political stance right now, but seeing our ads show up there doesn’t fit our message. So, we’re asking to take it down.”
Breitbart News could not be reached for comment Monday. Breitbart has maintained its site condemns racism and bigotry, and told Bloomberg in November the network “continues to experience exceptional growth,” at a time when Sleeping Giant’s campaign was less than a month old.
Now that the list has exponentially grown, it’s unclear if Breitbart News has been financially impacted. The network has claimed it has 45 million monthly conservative readers.
Just a day after Kellogg announced it would remove ads from the publication on Nov. 29, 2016, Breitbart called for a boycott of its products.
“If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table,” Editor-in-Chief Alexander Marlow wrote at the time. “We are fearless advocates for traditional American values, perhaps most important among them is freedom of speech.”
Past Breitbart News headlines many critics regard as controversial or offensive include:
“Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”“Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet.”“DATA: Young Muslims in the West are a ticking time bomb.”“Science proves it: Fat shaming works.”And on Monday, Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos came under heavy fire when video surface of him seemingly defending pedophilia in a January interview. Yiannopoulus was subsequently disinvited from speaking at a Conservative Political Action Committee event and lost a book deal with Simon & Schuster.
The Sleeping Giants founder, who has chosen to remain anonymous, told The New York Times last month: “We’re focused on Breitbart News right now because they’re the biggest fish. It’s scary to say it, but maybe companies will have to be the standard-bearers for morals right now.”
Asking advertisers and consumers to abstain from companies that don’t align with their worldview is not a new tactic, evidenced by past efforts from conservative groups such as Christian Leaders for Responsible Television and the American Family Association.
Yet Sleeping Giant’s campaign highlights increasing divisiveness under the Trump administration as some U.S. consumers push businesses – which generally stay out of national issues because of the risk of alienating segments of the population – to take a political stance.
“What we see now is a heightened awareness of the divide of things in the country, and you see that people want to make sure that brands are related to their values,” Eric Weisberg, who works at the advertising agency Doner, told The New York Times in January.
According to a study by Global Strategy Group, 56 percent of Americans surveyed say corporations should take a stance on political or cultural issues, 80 percent want them to take action, and another 89 percent believe companies can influence social change.
And since Trump – who has also threatened boycotts and criticized companies, such as when Nordstrom Rack announced it would no longer sell his daughter’s products because of declining sales – took office, this new form of digital, consumer activism is becoming a new normal.
“In the old normal, it would have cost little to stand up against neo-Nazi slogans,” New York Times opinion writer Pagan Kennedy wrote in January. “This struggle is about much more than ads on Breitbart News – it’s about using corporations as shields to protect vulnerable people from bullying and hate crimes.”
Other companies that have blocked unintentional advertising on Breitbart News include Allstate, Bed Bath and Beyond, BMW, BP, Gore-Tex, H&R Block, Hulu, Nestle, Patagonia, Petsmart, REI, Rolling Stone, Twitter, U.S. Bank and Visa.