Howard Dean Lends Voice to Consumer Activist Group Hitting Breitbart in the Wallet - And It's Working

If the votes don't get their attention, hit them in the wallet. That's the strategy of Sleeping Giants, a new online consumer movement whose goal is getting corporations, schools, and non-profits to pull their advertising for Breitbart News. Since almost the day after the election, a group of activists has been visiting Breitbart, the white nationalist media outlet run by Trump advisor Steve Bannon, taking screen shots of major companies' ads, and sharing the ads with the company on Twitter through the @slpng_giants account, essentially shaming them into removal. They then encourage other concerned activists to do the same on their own accounts.


So far, the tactic has, acording to a recent New York Times report, encouraged nearly 400 companies, including 3M, Zappos, Patagonia, Warby Parker, and most notably Kelloggs to pull their ads. Kelloggs faced a backlash of its own from formerly cereal-loving Breitbart readers, but has on balance gotten some of its best PR in years, with thousands vowing to make all Kelloggs donations to soup kitchens

Because most of their advertising is handled by third-party services many of these companies had no idea that their ads were appearing on a hate-filled site, because they don't ask questions of the services. They use programmatic ads, "the kind of advertising that is bought with little human oversight," as the the Times explains. In fact, "the activists’ back-and-forth with companies reveals a fog of confusion surrounding online advertising. Many organizations have no idea that their ads may end up next to content they find abhorrent." Cost and reach are the primary concerns, and too often, as long as the ads are bringing in a good return, companies aren't questioning where said return comes from. That is, until a  group offers such simple instructions for informing said companies, that anyone with internet connection can do it. 

Also fortunately for the companies with a conscience, it's just as easy to block Breitbart from ad buys as it is to ignore them, according to Joshua Zeitz, vice president of corporate communications at the ad-tech company AppNexus. So simple, in fact, that AppNexus, one of those third party firms itself, has banned it from their own advertising marketplace.

After removal, the official Sleeping Giants accounts then posts and congratulates companies and organizations when they finally pull their ads.

Howard Dean even got in on the excitement this weekend, telling his followers: 

Despite AppNexus's own willingness to get ahead of their customers by banning Breitbart, many of the companies who banned their ads were still reluctant to speak about it on record. According to the Times, this might have something to do with Breitbart's presence in the White House; "In the old normal, it would have cost little to stand up against neo-Nazi slogans. But in the new normal, doing so might involve angering key players in the White House, including the president-elect, Donald J. Trump, who has hired the former editor of Breitbart as his senior adviser," the Times says. The Sleeping Giants remained undeterred however, emphasizing that Breitbart is only the beginning of a campaign that will show corporations that decency is good for business. As the Sleeping Giants founder (who chose to remain anonymous) put it, "“It’s scary to say it, but maybe companies will have to be the standard-bearers for morals right now." 

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