Ethics Is Shaping Up To Be The Top Brand Challenge

Whatever the year ahead holds, there will be one theme that emerges -- ethics. Brands in the U.S. rapidly need to decide whether to back Trump, oppose him or just keep quiet and hope it all goes away.

Over here we have the groundswell of support for #StopFundingHate. I've seen a major piece of research that I cannot reference because it hasn't been published yet, but it confirms what we are all seeing. In a time of unprecedented change in which the UK prepared to split with Brussels against a background of a continuing migrant crisis and Trump's "alternative facts," consumers are looking to brands to demonstrate ethics. 

For many years, The Daily Mail has been pumping out stories warning how migrants are responsible for pretty much all that ails you, but now brands are beginning to listen to the calls to pull their advertising from the paper. Where it gets a little murky is exactly which papers are hateful, because while the Daily Mail is the number one target, The Sun is often trotted out as another that brands should be avoiding.

Thread, an online grooming advice service, was probably unknown to most people on Twitter until it tweeted a decision to pull ads from the paper. I seriously question whether it had ever put a dime into the Daily Mail, but it certainly got a big bang of exposure over the past couple of days for one tweet saying that it wasn't going to advertise with the paper. On a more serious note, however, Lego has joined the campaign. With #StopFundingHate daily naming and shaming anyone who advertises with the Daily Mail, it can only be a matter of time before more join. From what i can see, the campaigners currently appear to be targeting Virgin Media.

You have to feel a little sorry for brands that have probably not scrutinised their media plan and most definitely don't know what a tabloid is going to carry on its front page further down the line on the day its big new campaign launches. Nevertheless, this is something they will have to consider. The problem then becomes, what happens when another paper runs something that is considered hateful? What if it actually turns out to be accurate? Is it then an attack on free speech? Does a campaign to stop hate speech ever become too prescriptive and mean that a paper might have to think twice about criticising a third party for fear of being labelled offensive?

It's a minefield that brands are going to negotiate in the year ahead. For me, the best advice is to act ethically. You can't be held responsible for the editorial a paper runs on a particular day, but if you think your customers disapprove of the Daily Mail, then consider ditching it.

Most of all, if you think of your brand as a person, it is increasingly important that it is one that people admire because it stands up for good things -- diversity, gender equality, good training and a devotion to "giving back" to the community. 

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