Freedom of speech vs #dontfundhate

One of my lingering niggles from 2016 is the response of some to the #dontfundhate campaign. From social media updates to actual articles in the advertising trade press, some seem to think that #dontfundhate equates to bullying, and is an attack on freedom of speech.

I find that kind of thinking dangerous. It puts freedom of speech on a tyrannical  pedestal above the usual rules of truth and responsibility.  I shouldn’t be surprised in an apparently “post truth” era, but what people seem to have missed is that we’re also in a “post responsibility” era. Because people have always lied. That is no new thing, but there was always the hope they would be held to account for it. In 2016 it became brutally clear that this is no longer the case. Under the shield of “freedom of speech” lies are being sold as fact, while those that can rebuke those lies are branded traitors, mocked or ignored.

What does this matter to advertisers? Let’s face it, advertising doesn’t have the best reputation for truth telling. But advertisers are held to greater account than our press (in the UK anyway) and, even more disturbingly, our politicians. If a brand were to run as dishonest a campaign as, let’s use the elephant in room, the Brexiters did, the activity would have been pulled and the advertiser called to account.  Advertisers are required to be more honest than our media or leaders, because their words impact how we spend our money. Apparently what we think and believe does not require as much protection as our urges to spend. Money trumps minds.

So advertisers are familiar with the concept there are consequences to being dishonest or misleading. Also many brands have very strict guidelines about where their advertising can  appear. This became a growing preoccupation with the rise of the internet. The obvious restriction being no advertising in porn sites. This is something that is so serious for many brands, they’d be liable to move their media business if they felt that their agency could not deliver these safeguards.  Why do you think Facebook is so worried about the female nipple appearing on their site, but can be slower to deal with sites that fuel hate or violence? Because the nipple could cost them money.

#dontfundhate knows this. They know they aren’t asking advertisers to adopt a new behaviour. They are asking them to rethink the parameters they’re already working within. They are asking them to take even more responsibility for the content they run next to, because it feels these days that no one else is. This is not bullying. This is a much needed moment of re-appraisal. A journey their media agencies should be helping them take, unswayed by the restrictions of agency level annual media owner deals. After all, there have never been more opportunities to reach audiences. Using established channels that regularly spout hate and lies, just because they provide big audiences, is lazy planning.

This isn’t advertisers telling the media what they can and can’t say. They can say what they want, but advertisers can spend their money where they want too. And if they look at a newspaper or a website and are appalled by the content, why would they spend their money there? After all, we live in a society that protects our money more than our minds. Everyone may have the right to a platform, but they don’t have the right to have it funded by others.

As brands are being held more accountable by socially connected audiences (yes I see the irony) there is an increasing focus on corporate social responsibility. I’ve really noticed this in the conversations I’ve had with clients across the last 5-10 years. However, this can’t be some random tack-on to the regular marketing mix.  It needs to be the filter through which all external communications are judged. This should not just be about what you say, but also about where you say it.

There is a reason so many people (yes, many of them on twitter) are so fed up with seeing Nigel Farage on the BBC. It’s because they’ve paid for his platform through the licence fee. A fee they’ve had no choice but to pay. However, they do have a choice about where the rest of their money goes, and if they don’t like where an advertiser is investing their marketing budget, it’s time for people to exercise their own freedom of choice and shop elsewhere.

2 thoughts on “Freedom of speech vs #dontfundhate

    • Good for you. I’ve many companies I boycott for various reasons (many because of the use of non-sustainable palm oil). This year is the year I make sure they know why I’m doing it. Not sure my silent protest is working 😁


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