Last week we made a prediction about boycotts with a difference — those conducted by big brands by withholding their ads that support now-controversial media outlets.
This weekend (after we made our prediction), the New York Times wrote about Fox News’ top-rated personality, Bill O’Reilly, host of the $100 million-generating “The O’Reilly Factor,” in an article with the headline, “Bill O’Reilly Thrives at Fox News, Even as Harassment Settlements Add Up.” He’s been sued multiple times and has paid out more than $13 million to settle cases — and there are new allegations him.
Although the Times reports that O’Reilly “denies the claims have merit,” this time something’s different because advertisers are pulling their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor,” according to a Times article, “Fox Losing More Advertisers After Sexual Harassment Claims Against O’Reilly.” As of Wednesday, nearly three dozen companies had decided to pull their ads.
According to HuffPost, what’s going on this time is:
The O’Reilly boycott seems to have accelerated more quickly, both in terms of advertisers taking the initiative ― some announcing their decisions on social media ― and in terms of sustained coverage online, which wasn’t as much of a factor in 2009, much less 2004.
Here’s another article about the situation: “Advertisers want their Google ads off offensive content” (that appeared in the Boston Globe courtesy of the New York Times).
Social media is playing a role, allowing people to vent about controversies that a decade ago might not have lasted past the initial news cycle. Now, the news covers the outrage — that becomes the news.
But that’s not the only reason.
We’ve had pervasive social media for the last five years but what we think is happening may be that Americans on all sides are already upset (again, this is across the political spectrum) and now more easily and quickly express their outrage. And that’s something brands have to take seriously.
So we think top brands will be more responsive to avoid controversies that don’t play well to their customers. (Talking to you, Pepsi and Kendall Jenner.) In some ways, these are preemptive boycotts: brands boycott to avoid contact or relationships that will anger their customers so as to prevent a consumer boycott.
There will be some brands that will decide to take on the controversy, much the way some small companies take a risk by purchasing an ad during the Super Bowl. But we do expect these preemptive boycotts to continue.