Starting today, a mobile billboard bearing the words: "Amazon, Stop Funding Bigotry. Please Pull Your Ads From Breitbart" will begin driving around Amazon's Seattle headquarters in an effort to get the e-commerce giant to join an online ad boycott of the pro-Trump news site.
The ad campaign is funded by the anonymous marketing collective Sleeping Giants. Since the 2016 election, the group has been waging a campaign against Breitbart on Facebook and Twitter. The group's main concern centers around the programmatic advertising market, which uses software and algorithms, rather than humans, to purchase digital ads. Sleeping Giants believes this makes it easy for companies to advertise on controversial sites without knowing it. So far, Sleeping Giants has convinced 2,250 companies to sever their ad relationship with Breitbart — the advocacy campaign has been largely credited as the reason for a reported 90% drop in the number of brands advertising on Breitbart's website. A viral petition on the activism site sumofus.org titled “Amazon: Stop Investing in Hate” also amassed over 589,000 signatures this spring.
But despite this pressure, Sleeping Giants has one big holdout: Amazon. "We haven't heard from anybody in eight months of calls and emails," an anonymous Sleeping Giants founder told BuzzFeed News. "We've even spoken to people who have shows on Amazon's streaming service and they've approached people at the Amazon about the Breitbart situation and still we've heard nothing."
The pressure is also coming from inside Amazon. In April, BuzzFeed News reported that a petition opposing Amazon's continued advertising on Breitbart had amassed 564 employee signatures. Attached were testimonials from concerned employees about the company running ads on a website that "regularly publishes hateful and bigoted content." The petition was mostly met with silence from Amazon, although Senior Vice President Jeff Blackburn told employees at an all-hands meeting in March that "we have our eyes on it." While Amazon doesn’t have a direct relationship with Breitbart, the company does select the exchanges through which it buys ads, and presumably has some say in how they are targeted.
Sleeping Giants said that Amazon's silence is the reason for the billboards. "The crux of the problem is that they're so unresponsive," the Sleeping Giants founder said. "If they aren't going to pull them it is their choice but they owe customers a reason."
Although Sleeping Giants understands that convincing the commerce giant to pull ads is an uphill battle, the group feels the billboards will raise awareness among people who don't spend most of their time online.
"This is a first for us — taking the cause onto the actual streets," a Sleeping Giants member said. "It's one thing to hammer away at things on Twitter and Facebook but it's another to get it out into the real world and let them know the problem we have."
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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