Ditching Breitbart: It's going to cost them

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Photo by mtchlra (2013)
Photo by mtchlra (2013)

Values-based decision-making without cultural perspective is a dangerous pursuit, writes the founder of New Heartland Group.

Since Kellogg’s and others announced they would pull their advertising from Breitbart.com, a petition to boycott the company dubbed #DumpKelloggs has more than 233,000 signatures, and counting. It’s trending on Twitter and many, many news sites.

Consumers from an overlooked cultural segment I call the New Heartland are responding, and thousands are coming out for Breitbart. That’s due in part to the fact that Breitbart has 45 million readers and that it’s viewed by many as an unfettered source of news in a leftist media environment.

End result: brands that make these knee jerk decisions will feel the pain measured in perception and sales.

Key to this is timing. Kellogg’s decided to back out because the news site’s content conflicts with their values. Certainly, this article is not in defense of Breitbart, but what any common-sense person should ask is, "If Kellogg’s is truly so against Breitbart, why didn’t they do this much, much sooner? Why now?" 

In Kellogg’s defense, they stated that they advertise on lots of websites, "so occasionally something is inadvertently missed. We learned from consumers that ads were placed on Breitbart.com and decided to discontinue advertising there." So, they were in a tough spot, but I’d love to know how many complaining consumers it took to force them to change course. Or was it internal pressure in addition to customers

Regardless, the vast majority of consumers living in the New Heartland, which includes the Midwest, Southwest and Southeast, will see this as elitist posturing. It’s the same unresearched thinking that had so many number crunchers, pundits and marketers reeling after the election.

Big brands take note. Talking to New Heartlanders about values is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Values like faith (not religion), community, and family are front and center for New Heartlanders. The most successful companies’ values map back to their customers’ values—not just those of the people who work in the marketing department. Living up to those values includes knowing where your ads are being placed so you don’t end up in situations like this.

In an effort to address the issue, they made a mistake that’s common when small groups of people have to solve a problem in a bubble. The result is the appearance that they’re projecting their values onto the company they work for, and expecting the market to agree.

Well, a big chunk of the market couldn’t disagree more.

This is the part of the equation Kellogg’s, Allstate, Warby Parker, EarthLink, TubeMogul, Rocket Fuel and others are getting wrong by vocally pulling their ads and ad networks from Breitbart.

After all, what constitutes a brand? The consumers who built it or the C-suite marketing decision-makers?

—Paul Jankowski is founder and chief brand strategist at Nashville-based, New Heartland Group.

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