News of the World flight of the advertisers can be replicated by any pressure group
News International’s surprise decision to close the News of the World has meant the natural life of a consumer campaign was stopped in its tracks. We will now never know whether advertisers’ decision to abandon it this weekend would have led to a more permanent distancing, or was merely a temporary response to a public outrage that may have lost its currency over time.
The early, speedy success of the campaign has been attributed to the Twitter users who consulted lists of the paper’s major advertisers and tweeted versions of “dear @advertiser, will you be reconsidering your advertising spend with #notw given that we now know they hacked Milly Dowler’s phone”. Registering their feelings was as easy as pressing control + C, control + V. And indeed most advertisers who pulled the plug cited the contact they had received from customers, proving that advertisers’ values don’t exist in abstract, but are like a mirror, reflecting the views of the society in which they operate.
The News of the World’s flight of the advertisers differs from that of celebrity endorsements gone wrong, where sponsors linked to scandal-afflicted individuals such as Kate Moss and Tiger Woods will more likely cite brand image incompatibility than direct customer contact as the reason for their P45s. In 2009, Associated Newspapers’ Mail Online division removed ads accompanying a column by Jan Moir on the death of Stephen Gately, following a public outcry about her comments, which were judged homophobic. However, the closest comparison comes courtesy of the US television networks.
Here, the loss of advertisers’ support is a fast-track to cancellation. But it’s not just the Twitterati who can form a fast-mobilising ethics police. As MTV’s recent dropping of the Americanised version of teen drama Skins indicates, Christian lobby groups retain plenty of edge when it comes to orchestrated campaigns to impose (their) principles on the creative industries, via the seemingly easy manipulation of advertising dollars. News of the World campaigners took a stance against illegal activities that any right-thinking person would also deem horribly unethical. But it follows their victories in persuading advertisers may be replicated by any well-supported group hostile to political philosophies or lifestyles, legal or otherwise, with which they disagree.