For any business rebuilding itself and looking to grow in very competitive markets, using advertising to attract new customers is really important. But some Co-op members are concerned about where our brand is advertised. They’ve asked us to think carefully about the media we support through our advertising investment. Until recently these concerns have mostly centred around three popular newspapers whose views some find disagreeable and damaging. More recently we’ve seen concerns raised about advertising on YouTube which risks our brand appearing alongside grossly inappropriate content, including extremist videos.
We intend to tackle both issues in a way that protects our brand, our members and our customers but also recognises the importance of a free press and the commercial importance of advertising – print and digital – to growing our membership and our businesses.
We don’t have all the answers but here’s what we are doing:
Until we are satisfied that our digital advertising will only ever appear next to appropriate content, we have suspended paid advertising with YouTube. We’ve seen the ‘advertiser safeguards‘ Google has published and we’ll watch to see how these work before we decide whether or not to reinstate advertising with them.
When the Stop Funding Hate campaign appealed to us to stop advertising in a small number of newspapers we also took that request seriously. We launched an internal audit of our activity, analysed its payback, and talked to our members about it at a National Members’ Council meeting. It’s a less straight-forward issue. Many people buy these papers at the Co-op and some of them will be our members. Advertising in these papers also drives sales which are important to our businesses.
We know we can’t sit on the fence and in any case that’s not the Co-op Way. So we committed to do two things to reflect our values and support our business. Things that recognise the diversity of our members and customers, that don’t suppress the freedom of the press, which is a fundamental part of a democracy, that support the growth of our businesses, but crucially challenge those views expressed in print which we and many of our members believe are incompatible with our values of equality, solidarity, self-help and openness.
Firstly we decided to use our contacts with publishers at every level to make the case for change. To tell them how our members felt and why the stories they have published challenge the relationship we have with them. We’ve already had meetings with senior executives at the Daily Mail and The Sun, and the discussions will continue.
Secondly we decided to look at using our advertising in these titles to tell their millions of readers about some of the things our Co-op is doing to tackle issues that we feel strongly about, such as modern slavery or water poverty in Africa and promoting Fairtrade programmes in developing countries. If we want to campaign for change, we believe it is better to engage and challenge, than to walk away. And we will keep at it.
Finally, we also recognise that the speed at which technology is changing the advertising market means we can address a problem today only to see another emerge tomorrow. So, we are also extending the ongoing review of our advertising policies, which we kicked off earlier in the year, to look at all the platforms we use and others we don’t but perhaps could.
We know what we’re doing won’t satisfy everybody and we know we will have to watch closely to see if what we are doing has any impact. We believe, for now, it strikes the right balance between doing the right thing for those who need a voice and the right thing for our 4.3m members and our businesses.
President National Members’ Council