Recent visitors to Breitbart.com have been inundated with ads for products at the site's official store, like the tasteful “RINO Hunter Jumbo Coffee Cup.” But one thing that has been noticeably absent from President Donald Trump’s loyal “alt-right” media hub this year: ads from big-name companies.
“A recent check of the Breitbart site showed there are few if any ads for large consumer brands,” Fortune recently confirmed. “Most of the advertising appears to consist of ads for diet supplements and conservative newsletters, among other things.”
Breitbart staffers concede the ad boycott has hurt business. “People inside Breitbart say while the website may in fact be profitable, it is also suffering from a business standpoint with advertising dollars shrinking significantly,” Fox Business reported last month.
So it’s official: Breitbart now has a Glenn Beck and a Rush Limbaugh problem. Its unapologetically offensive content has driven away hundreds and hundreds of advertisers, according to a tally kept by the group Sleeping Giants. And based on Beck and Limbaugh’s previous boycott struggles, it’s probably safe to predict those advertisers are never coming back.
To recap: Following Trump’s November victory and Breitbart’s emergence as the center for the hateful “alt-right” movement, an online crowd-sourcing campaign led in part by Sleeping Giants began contacting companies whose products were popping up in ads on Breitbart -- ads surrounded by odious content -- and the site’s equally hateful online community. (One former Breitbart editor called the site’s comments section a “cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”)
When contacted by progressive activists, companies seemed unaware that their ads were running on Breitbart.
Why? CNET explained:
Most online ad placement services use “programmatic advertising,” which targets people instead of websites. That's why when you're online shopping for something like shoes, you may see an ad for those shoes across various sites you visit. With programmatic advertising, those shoes seemingly walk in your footsteps around the internet.
Previously, companies and ad agencies made sure their programmatic ads didn’t appear on porn sites, for instance. But they hadn’t made provisions to keep their ads off race-baiting, homophobic, “alt-right” sites like Breitbart.
For lots of companies, the decision to ditch Breitbart was apparently an easy one. “We determined that the site violates our hate speech prohibition,” an AppNexus spokesman told The Los Angeles Times.
Progressive groups that have been involved in the boycott efforts – including Avaaz, MoveOn, Ultraviolet, and SumOfUs – have recently focused their attention on Amazon and Google, two companies that continue to maintain relationships with the conservative site.
Here’s the bottom line: Breitbart’s online traffic has undeniably surged as the site has ridden the right-wing Trump wave, but that traffic isn’t being monetized. Breitbart’s recent rise in popularity is not only not attracting more advertisers, it’s running concurrent with a mass exodus of advertisers.
Note that Breitbart recently surpassed ESPN.com in terms of reader traffic. But does anyone think Breitbart, facing a reported 1,200-company ad boycott, is banking more ad revenue that ESPN.com? I certainly don’t. And I’m not alone.
“[P]eople inside the publication say the divergence between its web traffic and its ad revenues is fairly significant,” according to Fox Business.
It’s worth noting that Breitbart’s response to the ad boycott has shifted over time. One of the first high-profile advertisers to pull out from Breitbart was Kellogg’s, which announced its exit in November. (Breitbart wasn’t “aligned” with Kellogg’s' values, according to the company.)
Breitbart quickly swung into action, loudly denouncing the food giant by issuing a declaration of “war” against the “un-American” company and introducing the #DumpKelloggs rallying cry.
But as hundreds of additional advertisers followed Kellogg’s lead and bolted, it became clear that Breitbart’s initial defiant strategy didn’t work. Today, executives are noticeably mum about the sweeping ad boycott.
And the bad news for Breitbart? Once a flood of advertisers decides to leave offensive, right-wing media outlets, those advertisers rarely return.
Just ask Beck and Limbaugh.
Beck lost his Fox News show because the cable channel simply couldn’t find advertisers willing to support the wildly offensive host. (Especially after Beck called President Barack Obama a “racist” who “has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”) Fox News found out that having a show like Beck’s that attracted 2 million viewers was great. Having a show with 2 million viewers that couldn’t land advertisers didn’t make sense.
Limbaugh has also watched as hundreds of radio advertisers fled his program and wrecked his business model. Madison Avenue’s rejection of Limbaugh was sparked by the AM talker’s days-long sexist meltdown over Sandra Fluke in 2012. Unable to land advertisers, Limbaugh was soon demoted in major radio markets such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis, where he was shipped off to weaker, underperforming stations.
Today, the larger question for Breitbart is, how much does this matter? Because here’s the truth about Breitbart: It behaves more like an “alt-right” think tank, or a super PAC, than a news organization. And like lots of purely partisan conservative entities, Breitbart is privately funded by rich ideologues, with a mission to drive a political agenda, not to publish journalism.
Robert Mercer has reportedly given Breitbart “at least $10 million.” Mercer is a billionaire hedge fund manager, and he and his family’s foundation (which is headed by his daughter Rebekah) have emerged as key Trump allies who have given millions of dollars to far-right causes in recent years, causes like the Heritage Foundation, Citizens United, the Media Research Center, and the Cato Institute. Note that there's no record of the Mercers doling out millions of dollars to nonpartisan journalism enterprises. They dole out millions to purely partisan, right-wing political operations.
In truth, there’s little indication that without rich donors Breitbart could survive in the marketplace as an advertising-driven entity. Like the New York Post and other conservative outlets with failed business models, Breitbart needs the support of deep-pocketed ideologues to stay afloat.
So for now, Breitbart relies on people like Mercer to pay the bills, while more than a thousand advertisers insist they want nothing to do with the “alt-right” site.