In the wake of the Kellogg Co.’s decision to pull it’s ads from Breitbart News, the website has declared “war” on the cereal brand. True to its word, Breitbart has posted no fewer than nine articles about Kellogg’s and an online petition in the course of three days. The move is unusual editorial policy for a news outlet — traditionally, advertising and editorial content are separated in order to prevent the appearance that companies can buy favorable coverage.

In the case of a website, this divide should be even simpler: web ads from services such as the one Kellogg’s was using when its ads appeared on Breitbart send automated, targeted ad across a network of client websites. Whether an ad appears on a page depends on the individual user visiting that page. As a result, unlike a newspaper ad buy, which involves a direct relationship between the newspaper and the advertiser, websites feature ads from a wide range of companies. This means that in many cases, a site is likely unaware of the complete range of ads shown on its site.  It was only after Kellogg’s declared that the site was not aligned with its values as a company that Breitbart went on the offensive.

There are some questions about the move. One question involves the legality of Breitbart’s call for a boycott as it may equate to unfair business practices. Another has to do with the information surrounding Breitbart’s many claims of the company being “leftist” given that Kellogg’s political donation history this year leans Republican. To be sure, Breitbart’s attacks have focused more on the activities of the Kellogg Foundation than the cereal company itself. The Kellogg Foundation’s stated areas of focus are “educated kids,” “healthy kids,” “secure families,” “community and civic engagement,” and “racial equity.” Breitbart’s main issue with the Kellogg Foundation is its support of #BlackLivesMatter.

In the end, though, will a boycott of Kellogg’s work? There’s nothing wrong with a boycott — many consumers choose to vote with their dollars and support or reject companies and products that do not, as Kellogg’s says, align with their values. Often, boycotts — especially when they are rooted in divisive political issues — simply spark “buycotts,” leading consumers to offset any potential damage. A recent example is that of Penzey’s Spices, which claims its year-over-year sales are up significantly since it issued a strong statement about President-elect Trump’s voters.

Time will tell. Does Breitbart’s call for a boycott make sense? Is it just giving Kellogg’s free advertising and spurring opponents to stock up on Corn Flakes? Or will Breitbart’s most fervent followers manage to have a large impact on the $26.5 billion company?

photo by Mike Mozart

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