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Hey folks, Nandini here. Claire is on vacation this week, so I have free rein on the newsletter. So I’m going to talk about Fox News. (Sorry for any grammar mistakes - she usually catches those.)
Last week, I obtained a copy of a secret sales deck Fox News has been using to hang on to their increasingly skittish advertisers. It’s a lot of fun, not just because we’re not supposed to see it…but also because I’m featured in it!
At Sleeping Giants, I helped lead an effort that led to the cancellation of The O’Reilly Factor - the highest rated news show on cable at the time - and went on to lose his successor Tucker Carlson nearly every single one of his advertisers. If you connect the dots, you might conclude (as I have) that they are running Tucker Carlson Tonight at this point purely out of spite.
The effect of our coalition work has had such a chilling effect at Fox News HQ that the New York Times learned last year that Fox News has a 3-person SWAT team dedicated to tracking and discrediting us.
There is one thing to note here: Fox News does not answer to advertisers because Fox News does not need advertiser dollars to survive. They enjoy fixed revenues no matter what they do because they have successfully negotiated cable fees at 2-3x the rate of networks like CNN and MSNBC. That means every household with cable in America pays them a $2/month “tax” whether or not they watch Fox News, which amounts to $1.8 billion in guaranteed revenue.
So no, they don’t actually need advertisers.
However, they do need legitimacy… and advertisers represent legitimacy. When advertisers flee a toxic TV show to protect their reputations, new advertisers don’t come in to replace them. And once you lose legitimacy, you are NewsMax.
Fox News depends on the legitimacy of their advertisers to maintain their own position as a “conservative” news channel — rather than an outright disinformation outlet. It is with the support of global brands like Proctor & Gamble, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and General Motors, that they’re able to retain that legitimacy.
Which begs the question: Fox News needs advertisers, but do advertisers need Fox News?
March is a critical time for Fox News, as their annual upfronts - where they sell ~80% of their advertising spots for the year - begin. And nothing says “we’re a healthy and safe place to advertise” like a sales deck pleading with advertisers to ignore three (3) Twitter accounts.
But if you’re still on the fence, here are the questions I’d ask.
1. Can we establish a difference between Fox News and Breitbart?
For advertisers around the world, having Breitbart on the universal blocklist is a no-brainer. Dozens of ad exchanges have dropped the site and ad agencies have it blocked across their clients by default.
The reason is obvious and uncontested: Breitbart’s bigoted, misogynist and white supremacist rhetoric is globally understood to be unsafe and inappropriate for brands. So if that’s the standard we’ve set, here’s what’s happened at Fox News…
Over the last 12 months, Fox News hosts and their guests have suggested the COVID-19 death toll would be less than the 2018 flu season, claimed the virus is a fraud invented by China, claimed that Dr.Fauci is responsible for COVID-19, discouraged wearing masks, called BLM protestors “poison”, defended QAnon conspiracy theorists, fueled vaccine skepticism, claimed that Democrats are behind a “chilling, Orwellian” effort to silence opposition, accused voting systems company Smartmatic of election rigging, claimed that “antifa” was behind the Capitol Hill insurrection, claimed the “corrupt, stolen” election was financed by George Soros, and cast doubt on the election results nearly 800 times.
Last week alone Tucker Carlson:
I’m squinting real hard and I can’t tell the difference. Can you?
2. How long will you be able to differentiate between Fox “News” and “Opinion”?
If all of the above could happen in 12 months, think about what could happen over the next 12. We have learned in off-the-record conversations with marketing leaders and agency execs, that advertisers feel uncomfortable leaving Fox News — and so they have struck a compromise. They’re moving their ads from the controversial evening “opinion” shows and pushing them up to the less scrutinized daytime slots.
The differentiation has worked in the past. But as Tucker Carlson and co.’s advertisers dry up, it won’t be long before the public turns its eye towards advertisers supporting Fox News as an entity. And speaking from experience, it does not take too long to turn an outlet into a toxic hotspot.
What will you do then?
3. How will advertising on Fox News affect your other brand investments?
The louder you are about your brand values, the harder the fall. For a multinational corporation like Proctor & Gamble to lean this heavily on brand while also being one of Fox News’s biggest advertisers?
I just don’t recommend it. From the perspective of an activist, all I see here is fodder for a campaign that undermines Proctor & Gamble’s own brand. A crisis of their own making, if you ask me.
I know that we live in an unpredictable media landscape, but your advertising choices shouldn’t be a “risk” you’re willing to take. Your should not be secretly hoping that your ads are seen enough for your product to sell but *not so much* that your logo ends up going viral on Twitter atop Tucker Carlson’s quizzical face.
Your brand association is an association, for better and for worse. It should be a decision you approach intentionally and strategically. It should be something you’re able to own up to and justify to the public if and when that association is called into question. For those of you building long-term and legacy brands, you should be gaming out scenarios at least ten steps down the road.
When it comes to the Fox News Dilemma, I’m not going to tell you what to do here. Your brand is yours to protect. All I can do is show you the difference between having an advertising strategy and living on a prayer.
Thanks for reading!