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I was told recently that 2016 is the Chinese year of the Fire Monkey, and by all accounts, this particular primate is a cheeky rascal up to no end of mischief.  Regardless of whether you put any great sway in astrology, it certainly has been a year so far of some remarkable and momentous change.  With ‘Brexit meaning Brexit’ and Trump promising to ‘make America great again’, many believe the centre ground of global politics just took a big step to the right.

How this is playing out in the tabloid media is very interesting, with many feeling this political shift is being reflected on our front pages, particularly regarding the Brexit centre stage issues of immigration and refugees.   It has been reported that last year the Daily Express was named by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a statement condemning “decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion” by the UK media. In June, hate crime experts at the University of Leicester warned that “the recent spate of hate incidents… has been fuelled and legitimised by politicians and by the media.”

Clearly tabloids have never been shy of upsetting people or a good libel scrap in the courts but the new battles aren’t going to be fought by lawyers; more likely by marketers.  What we’re seeing is campaign groups looking to influence change by highlighting brand integrity and it’s potentially a game changer.

Two high profile examples demonstrate how maintaining a check and balance on the media is more likely to be influenced by maintaining the brand integrity of its advertisers, than via any press regulation.

The Stop Funding Hate campaign was created in July 2016 and has quickly built an 186,000-strong fan base on Facebook and 56,000 followers on Twitter.  It believes many media outlets, including the Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Sun have been running "hate campaigns" in their coverage of migration, race and religion; possibly in the belief that it will appeal to the post Brexit vote shift.  In response, Stop Funding Hate has created a social media campaign that urges brands to pull advertising, suggesting that in doing so it would not negatively impact their brand integrity and value.

And it has achieved some success, claiming a victory in the news that Lego has pulled out of a promotional deal with the Daily Mail as a direct result of its lobbying. Now, the campaign is hoping to increase pressure on retailers John Lewis and Co-op, as well as supermarket chains Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Iceland. It has also ‘brandjammed’ John Lewis by creating an alternative version of their ubiquitous Christmas advert in an attempt to put the spotlight on public opinion and lever more pressure.

In parallel, Match of the Day host and ‘National Treasure’, Gary Lineker, has also raised concerns over the editorial positions of the tabloids regarding immigration. He has put pressure on Walkers to pull out of advertising with those publications.

Walkers and John Lewis have both said their advertising approach will not be determined by the editorial stances of individual newspapers but they clearly won’t be happy about being brought into the public debate now, or in the future, on such a negative issue.

This is an interesting time for the media and the people power transferred through social media. Clearly there are battles still to be played out and we will watch to see which direction it takes.

Mike Conway headshot

Mike Conway is a director at Camargue