Kellogg Co. is between a rock and a hard place. On Nov. 29 the cereal giant announced it was pulling advertising from Breitbart, the right-wing news outlet that rocketed to wider recognition after its executive chair Steve Bannon was tapped for the position of senior counselor to president-elect Donald Trump.
The campaign #StopFundingHate has asked brands to pull their ads from Breitbart on the basis that it voices racist and bigoted views, and under that microscope EarthLink, Allstate and others have ditched it as an advertising partner. Kellogg's spokesperson Kris Charles, as quoted in Bloomberg, said the site is not "aligned with our values as a company." It's important to note that Kellogg's may not have chosen to advertise on Breitbart in the first place; in many cases, brands work with ad-serving companies that display the ads across a wide range of websites. As the Bloomberg article points out, one of those companies, AppNexus, barred Breitbart on the basis of hate-speech rule violations.
But Kellogg's may have been the last straw for Breitbart, which, in a post headlined "#DUMPKELLOGGS: BREAKFAST BRAND BLACKLISTS BREITBART, DECLARES HATE FOR 45,000,000 READERS,"
- makes the case that Breitbart's views are in fact mainstream (seemingly based on the finding that it was the most-engaged publisher of political content on Facebook in May/June 2016)
- calls Kellogg's "an out-of-touch corporation embracing false left-wing narratives"
- introduces a #DumpKelloggs petition urging its "highly perceptive, highly loyal readers" not to buy the brand's products
- declares war, internet style, by logging off with a simple "Kellogg's: #WAR"
Rhetoric aside, fair enough. You can't have it both ways: If you refuse to do business with a media outlet out of fear that people will read an ideology into it, you have to expect that people will read the opposite ideology into that refusal. Kellogg's is probably wishing that it had never advertised on Breitbart in the first place and avoided the furor entirely, which is probably the lesson here for marketers: Vet in advance and don't trust an ad-serving tool blindly.
There's another lesson for the more Machiavellian communicators out there in the way Breitbart continues to work its way from the fringe into the mainstream by framing the issue as radical left versus regular folks. It wants to become a more central part of the American conservative's life, and this kind of wedge serves as a foothold in that particular climb.
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