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The Great Breakfast Cereal Feud

By Steve Smith

Who knew the next battle in the aftermath of a presidential election that established new lows in American politics would be fought at the breakfast table? Have we now entered into a whole new low in advertising? Will we now see an environment in which brands are punished by “fringe” elements for making basic, responsible brand management and marketing stewardship decisions?

Since former Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon’s appointment as one of the president-elect’s top advisers, scrutiny of the “conservative news” website has intensified.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Breitbart News is now asking its readers to boycott Kellogg Co. after the cereal maker said it would no longer advertise on the website.

In a post on Breitbart News on Wednesday, the publication called on readers to sign a #DumpKelloggs petition against the manufacturer, whose brands include Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies and Cheez-It.

This week Kellogg said it would pull its ads from Breitbart News after consumers notified the manufacturer that its products were appearing on the site. A company spokesperson told the Associated Press, “We regularly work with our media buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with our values as a company.”

Instead of leaving it alone, according to the WSJ story, Breitbart fought back like a seventh grade bully. “Boycotting Breitbart News for presenting mainstream American ideas is an act of discrimination and intense prejudice,” Alexander Marlow, Breitbart News editor-in-chief, said in the Breitbart News article.

The questions are many. Is this action justified? Is Kellogg asking consumers to “boycott” Breitbart News? Are they telling people to reject the hard-right site? Seems to me they are merely managing their brands in a responsible manner, steering them away from associations that could have damaging long-term consequences. Consumers are perfectly justified in questioning why the breakfast cereal brands they buy for their families were advertised on a website that’s been associated with white supremacy, among other nasty things.

This is clearly a negative by-product of the algorithm-based advertising world we’re living in. Can brands be absolutely certain of all the places where their ads are appearing? And should this be the way media conducts itself? I’m not aware of any “mainstream” media outlet that would say, “Choose not to run your ads here, and we’ll promote a boycott of your products.” And further, could this kind of nastiness eventually become the norm?

My advice to Breitbart: Don’t fuck with Tony the Tiger!

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