By now, dear reader, you should already be well aware of the chameleon-like nature of the contemporary left, and its penchant for rapidly adopting and spreading new lingo in order to impose its desires on the world.
A few months ago, we covered the growth of the phrase “stochastic terrorism,” which dates back to the early 2010s. Use of the term has exploded in the past few years as a means to label all anti-left speech as “violence” on the grounds that it “inspires” violent action by others.
Similarly, after the combined victories of Donald Trump and Brexit in 2016, a shell-shocked ruling class elevated to center stage buzzwords like “misinformation” and “disinformation” — terms that previously could only be found in obscure national security and academic contexts. The powers-that-be also elevated the now-ubiquitous phrase “fake news” almost overnight after Trump’s win as an excuse for Hillary Clinton’s defeat—Wikipedia editors first created a page for “fake news” on January 15, 2017.
Today, we shall turn to “brand safety”: another less famous but arguably far more significant and relevant entry in the list of left-wing conceptual neologisms. Despite its name, “brand safety” as currently practiced is not about protecting brands. It is a tactic: a method of engineering censorship under the the flimsy excuse of practicing corporate prudence.
Like stochastic terrorism, brand safety isn’t a completely new concept; it has existed in marketing circles for some time. But just like fake news or stochastic terror, “brand safety” has become a buzzword. The term has absolutely erupted in popularity in just the last few years. The Wikipedia page for “brand safety” was only created in April 2019. The page itself is brief and thinly-sourced. At the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group for websites hosting online ads, the page for Brand Safety is only a few years old and only included the thinnest gruel of content as of late 2020.
A cursory look online reveals that the concept of “brand safety” is absolutely everywhere now—principally in the context of attacking and threatening Elon Musk for loosening censorship on Twitter.
Disgraced former water bottle salesman and current head of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt has also adopted “brand safety” lingo as of late.
The idea of “brand safety” is that companies advertising online should be careful to ensure that their ads don’t appear in the “wrong” venues and next to the “wrong” speech or “wrongthink,” which would in theory tarnish their brands. Of course, with today’s internet, where most ads flow through just a few conduits like Google and Facebook, and where ads are algorithmically targeted at individual persons, the concept of most ads being associated with a website at all is fairly ridiculous.
But brand safety has nonetheless exploded as a concept. Why? For the same reason that both “misinformation” and “stochastic terrorism” took off: because the trope of “Brand Safety” offers a handy justification for what left-wing actors wanted to do anyway—censor and silence their political enemies.
The “stochastic terrorism” justification for censorship relies on hysterical allegations of violence. If a person says anything against the left, then they might “radicalize” somebody else and provoke a bombing or mass shooting. With “brand safety,” things are more subtle. The claim is that brands will be badly “damaged” if they appear on “harmful” websites or TV channels, and so to protect themselves companies should block ads on these platforms, starving them of revenue.
Of course, most of the core ideas of “brand safety” are fake or, at least, greatly overblown.
In the past, brands like Coca-Cola never seemed concerned that their logo might appear in photographs in slums the whole world over—in fact, more exposure only seemed to help the brand.
Besides, conservatives themselves represent a massive audience that skews older and therefore has a lot of disposable income at hand. Conservatives buy cars, drink soda, and buy shoes, as Michael Jordan once quipped.
Consider also the recurring trope of the “Twitter lynch mob.” If a brand is suddenly attacked by a seemingly vast and organic mob of angry Twitter users, that should scare them, right? Well, not exactly.
Prior to Elon Musk’s purchase, roughly 22% of American adults said they used Twitter. But all users are not created equal. Pew explains:
The median user tweets just twice each month, but a small cohort of extremely active Twitter users posts with much greater regularity. As a result, much of the content posted by Americans on Twitter reflects a small number of authors. The 10% of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80% of all tweets created by U.S. users.
Individuals who are among the top 10% most active tweeters also differ from those who tweet rarely in ways that go beyond the volume of content they produce. Compared with other U.S. adults on Twitter, they are much more likely to be women and more likely to say they regularly tweet about politics.
Which companies advertise the most on Facebook? Do you know? Does anyone you know know?
Heck, let’s make it easier: which companies were targeted the hardest by the pressure campaign to keep advertisers off of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News television show?
The first major ad boycott of Tucker Carlson hit in late 2018, after Carlson pointed out the obvious fact that third world immigration “makes our own country poorer, and dirtier and more divided” (critics were obsessed with the word ‘dirtier,’ though in context Tucker was referring mostly to litter, pollution, and environmental damage). After a week of sustained pressure from “brand safety” racketeers to get the show canceled, many of Carlson’s advertisers dropped advertising on the show. The Huffington Post kept lists of which advertisers backed away and which did not.
Without looking, can you guess which of the following brands disavowed Carlson, and which did not?
- John Deere
- Red Lobster
- Farmers Insurance
- Pacific Life Insurance
Chances are not a single person reading this remembers.
By the way, the answer is as follows: Red Lobster, Ancestry, and Pacific Life publicly disavowed Tucker at the time. Mitsubishi, Farmers, and John Deere kept advertising. As to Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Fidelity — those companies weren’t even Tucker advertisers. We just picked them at random to add to the list. But did you know that?
Even one boycott of a single company is hard to sustain for a long time. The idea that millions of people are monitoring dozens or hundreds of brands that advertise on websites they don’t read and channels they don’t watch is farcical. Tracking such things is a passion of a few sad, lonely web addicts.
That’s the real extent of actual “brand safety.” Almost no-one can remember which platforms major national brands advertise with. Even public “brand safety” campaigns are blips, forgotten the moment the actual campaigners move on to threatening and extorting another target.
Yet right now, an entire industry is coming into being, based on the idea of “monitoring” or “assisting” in brand safety.
So-called “brand safety” professionals present themselves as “experts” in managing the reputations of companies and organizations, and protecting them from the backlash of being associated with harmful entities. But this actually reverses the reality. The chief sources of this “backlash” are the brand safety experts themselves, and the organizations and consultancies they have founded are not so different from a mafia that runs a protection racket.
The archetypal representative of this cottage industry is Nandini Jammi.
Jammi started her career at a name Revolver readers are likely familiar with: Sleeping Giants.
Created in the wake of the 2016 election, Sleeping Giants had a simple modus operandi: find speech it didn’t like, and then relentlessly harass any advertisers linked to that speech in an effort to deplatform it. Sleeping Giants successfully got thousands of companies to stop advertising on Breitbart. It spearheaded Twitter campaigns to cut off advertisements for Tucker Carlson Tonight and other Fox News programs. By its own admission, Sleeping Giants memed the idea of “brand safety” into being when nobody even cared before.
Along the way, Sleeping Giants benefited from a large number of sympathetic and even fawning portrayals in other outlets. At one point, The Washington Post gushed over Sleeping Giants not in its news or even entertainment sections, but in its style section.
The name “Sleeping Giants” is meant to imply a vast horde of ordinary people, normally quiet, but driven to powerful and irresistible action when roused. But in reality, Sleeping Giants was barely anything at all. It was a handful of people with an active Twitter account that attracted a large number of angry #Resistance followers. And as soon as even one person stepped away, the entire edifice crumbled.
In summer 2020, Nandini Jammi acrimoniously split from Sleeping Giants, publicly blasting its innovative founder Matt Rivitz and complaining that she wasn’t getting enough credit for the group’s “success”—and, of course, that this was somehow due to racism and sexism.
Jammi’s ungrateful tell-all departure story is pretty hilarious and entertaining to read:
After I spoke to the New York Times reporter, Matt called me, furious that I had dared to shade him on Instagram. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and I remember what he said perfectly:
- “This is a betrayal. This is worse than anything that Breitbart could do. This is worse than being doxxed by The Daily Caller.”
- “I’m older than you and I know more people than you. I’ve been working for like 20 years, and I used to work at an ad agency. I’m sorry you’re not getting the jobs you want. I’m sorry you don’t have the connections I have.”
- “You’re such a pain in the ass. Every three months, like clockwork, you call me wanting something. No one does this to me, not my wife, not my business partner, not my friends.”
- “Everything I do is for the movement. What about you? You’re in it for the glory aren’t you?”
…I felt worthless. I ended up apologizing to him for what I had done, and got him off the phone. I figured he would call me and apologize to me in the next few days or weeks. He didn’t call me again for 7 months, until January 2020.
Blah blah blah blah. Jammi goes on for more almost twenty-five hundred words about her hurt feelings and tormented relationship with the mastermind behind Sleeping Giants.
Jammi, meanwhile, has moved on, and in the process taken “brand safety” to its natural endpoint: a racket.