Sleeping Giants has spent the last four months letting advertisers know that their products are being sold next to articles with headlines like, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” and “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?”
This ragtag group of anonymous marketers has convinced 1,600 advertisers to move their ad buys away from the right-wing media site Breitbart, where those headlines appeared, in the last 16 weeks.
And that’s because a lot of these companies don’t know they’re advertising on Breitbart in the first place.
Due to the magic of targeted, programmatic advertising, companies can now buy advertising on ad distribution networks—which can show up almost anywhere on the web, including on hate sites. Sleeping Giants found a solution, if a grueling one: Reach out to each company individually and tell them to blacklist Breitbart in their buy with their digital advertising distributor.
“We’ve learned a tone to this thing. We try keep it as friendly as possible,” said the founder of Sleeping Giants, who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity. “I mean, it’s hard to argue with the results at this point.”
Each day, it seems like a new, big sponsor is dropping its ads from Breitbart. First it was Kellogg’s. Then BMW. Then Visa, Lyft, HP, and T-Mobile. On Monday it was UGG, the furry (and some might say hideous) shoe company.
Sleeping Giants slayed its biggest dragon last month when, after three months of lobbying, Uber pulled all of its banners from Breitbart for good on Feb. 4. The campaign targeted the company and its CEO directly, then praised and plugged the service for days once it confirmed its big money pullout.
But there’s one even bigger holdout. And that holdout is dragging other retailers’ products onto Breitbart along with it.
“It’s Amazon,” said Sleeping Giants’ creator. “They don’t budge. They’re not budging. There hasn’t been one response from anyone.”
He means it. Sleeping Giants directed its 100,000-plus person community on Facebook and Twitter to send emails, to tweet at the company, or get in touch in any way they know how.
“Even if you call [Amazon’s switchboard], they’ll disconnect,” said the Sleeping Giants spokesperson. “Once they hear Breitbart, they’ll say, ‘Sorry, we can’t say anything,’ then hang up.”
The Daily Beast had the same trouble hearing back from Amazon about Sleeping Giants or its ads on Breitbart. Efforts to reach out to the company about the initiative were ignored.
“We’ve had people reach out to people personally, high up within the company. Nothing,” the Sleeping Giants founder said. “I think if we at least knew where they were coming from, we could make an educated decision. It’s frustrating.”
If it were just Amazon selling Kindles and Prime memberships, that would be one thing. But the company runs an ad network of its own, de facto enlisting every product on its website that might interest its customers.
That means if, say, you’re in the market for a vacuum, an Amazon ad for a Dyson Big Ball might show up next to an article titled “World Health Organization Report: Trannies 49 Xs Higher HIV Rate,” another Breitbart headline special.
That was until this week.
That’s when Sleeping Giants started a new initiative: All-out war with Amazon.
“We understand they’re caught in the middle right now,” said the Giants’ spokesman. “But I also think Amazon has enough money to do whatever the hell they want to do.”
Amazon is the most valuable retailer in the world, trading at more than $847 a share. Its silence is particularly deafening since the company signed a letter coming out against Donald Trump’s failed travel ban. Amazon and Expedia (which is owned by The Daily Beast’s parent company, IAC) were witnesses in the Washington state lawsuit that unanimously killed Trump’s unconstitutional executive order.
“There’s no way they don’t know. At the height of things, between calls, emails, web chats and tweets, they were getting 10,000 requests from [the Sleeping Giants community] a day,” said its creator.
“Starting today, we’re turning up the heat on Amazon.com,” the group declared Saturday.
And guess what? It seems to be working.
As of late Monday night, Dyson reportedly pulled its ads from Amazon, according to Sleeping Giants.
“I can confirm we’ve reached out to our partners at Amazon to ensure these ads are taken down,” said a Dyson spokesperson.
Amazon carries almost every major brand a person can think of. It’s going to be a slog. But Sleeping Giants hopes the relentless bureaucracy of phone calls from distributors and customers, plus some slightly less effective targeted advertising, might eventually do the trick.
It worked with other major ad platforms. A leaked memo from the company Omnicom, obtained by BuzzFeed News, said all of its Fortune 500 companies requested a Breitbart blackout.
Breitbart didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.
Amazon is the lone big holdout. If nothing else, Sleeping Giants just wants to find out why.
“As a company with consumers and employees and vendors across the country from different backgrounds and religions and nationalities, we would hope that they would feel differently about advertising on a site that denigrates people from women to the gay community to Muslims,” said Sleeping Giants. “We just hope they would reconsider.”