In November 2016, a then-anonymous social media account called Sleeping Giants (I’m a co-founder) began an unusual campaign: tweeting at brands whose ads were appearing on Breitbart.
Each tweet featured a screenshot of the ad sitting next to outrageous headlines, such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture,” and each tweet carried a variation of the same message: “Hey, do you know your ad is supporting racism and bigotry online?”
A few weeks into the campaign, on Nov. 30, Kellogg’s announced it would be blacklisting Breitbart from its ad buy. That was a tipping point both for brands and for social-media-savvy consumers.
It was the start of something big
The Sleeping Giants campaign snowballed virtually overnight as hundreds, then thousands, of followers joined. Tweeting screenshots is easy—and, obviously, no brand wants to be caught alongside racist, misogynist, or white-supremacist rhetoric.
https://t.co/4TYRUOj9sv – THE SG UPDATED CONFIRMED LIST pic.twitter.com/xQXQsozZth
— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) December 8, 2016
Today, with the support of 300,000 Giants across Twitter and Facebook, over 4,000 advertisers have blacklisted Breitbart. (The official Confirmed List is public.) The results are tangible: Breitbart has lost 90% of its advertisers.
In the process of the Sleeping Giants campaign, a scandal of epic proportions in the advertising world was uncovered: We discovered that Google AdSense and Facebook Audience Network were programmatically serving ads on sites with racist, misogynist, or white-supremacist rhetoric.
Most marketing teams have discovered their problematic programmatic ad placements through disappointed customers who were taking part in social media campaigns.