*Update 25th March* Since writing this two days ago it has been read by thousands of people, been featured on several blogs, I’ve given interviews, many hundreds of people have tweeted about it, and I’ve received some very nice compliments from a few. Thanks to everyone who agrees that this is an important issue.
Yesterday I read an article by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. It’s basic premise was that because Japan was rich and they were our enemies in the Second World War we shouldn’t be offering them our support (financial or emotional) in their time of need. We shouldn’t have them in our thoughts and we shouldn’t send them any aid. In the past I’ve made no secret of my dislike of the Daily Mail, but I felt this was a step too far. It was blatantly racist, reactionary, and deeply offensive to entire population of Japan, not a single one of whom isn’t experiencing pain right now.
My friend John noticed that your advertising ran alongside Littlejohn’s piece, and suggested we tweet you to let you know how much we found this distasteful. Especially given that we both spend large amounts of money with your company. In fact, Tesco receive the vast majority of mine and my girlfriend’s weekly shopping budget. I’m not here to make a rash threat about boycotting your stores, but as someone who spends a large amount of my hard earned money every week with you I feel I have the right to voice my concerns about where you advertise.
So I tweeted you.
My tweet was picked up on by many people, retweeted and forwarded on Twitter by about 100 people, so I’m sure your inbox was brimming full when you next logged in, which you did to send a tweet a few hours later. But I was disappointed that your tweet wasn’t a reply to me or the people who had retweeted me or independently contacted you. It was to talk about something you’re doing in California. So, I read back through your tweets and noticed a member of your family was ill. I’m sorry to hear this. I hope to hear they return to full health very soon. Unless of course an ancestor of theirs did something to an ancestor of mine, in which case I couldn’t care less. Or at least that would be my position if I were Richard Littlejohn.
Then I noticed this tweet.
You have staff in Japan?! And your following tweets show that you care about them. Your company is sending support to Japan. You’re one of the good guys, Philip. So why do you continue to advertise with the Daily Mail?
I run a company too. I know what it’s like juggling ethics and your bottom line. It’s not always easy. And I’m sure that advertising with the Daily Mail is an efficient means of reaching many of your target demographic. If it’s true what i’ve read, 1 in 5 pounds spent by Joe Public in the UK are spent at one of your stores. And this inevitably gives you a huge amount of power, both financially and politically. But, as someone wiser than me once said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. I’m sure you have a huge Corporate Social Responsibility department who are tasked with making sure that you do right in the eyes of the communities in which you build stores. And i’d like to believe that the people who work in that department do so with huge sincerity and without the cynical approach of just keeping the local populace quiet. They do it because they believe that a company of your size has the opportunity, or indeed the responsibility, to make the world a better place. But I think that the issue of your advertising with the Daily Mail goes above and beyond moral and social responsibility.
It’s actually about what is right.
Philip, I don’t want you to think that this is an issue of Guardian readers against Daily Mail readers, Tories against Labour, wishy washy liberals versus uncaring conservatives. For all I know you may be a Conservative-voting, Daily Mail reader yourself. This is about the fact that huge amounts of your company’s money is being paid to a newspaper that gives a mouthpiece to someone who is either purposely being offensive to many, many millions of people in order to improve his notoriety (and therefore ad revenue and paypacket), or who genuinely believes in the divisive words he writes.
It saddens me to say it but, like Tesco, Richard Littlejohn and the Daily Mail have real power. Their words are read by millions of people a day. Most of them are normal working people who are just honestly looking for a bit of news to accompany them on their teabreak. They read these words out of habit. But when these words are drip fed day after day, week after week, they inevitably become part of their psyche and daily thought-processes. They start to believe what they read.
The problem is that the words of the Daily Mail are often the words of hate. They are words that are designed to make their readership angry, fearful, and full of distrust and dislike for people they don’t know or understand. They make their readers believe that the nice Polish family that moved in next door are here to steal their jobs and live off their taxes. Or they twist medical facts to make their own sensationalist headlines that cause untold (and unfounded) health worries. They make young girls think that they’re too fat and they should aspire to a size zero lifestyle. They make you believe that everything causes cancer. They tell us to be scared of Islam, homosexuality and gypsies.
The Daily Mail makes Britain a more scared, less inclusive, more segregated, more hate-filled society. By giving them part of your advertising budget you are actively supporting homophobia, racism, sexism, and many other prejudices that are casually reeled off in its pages.
Do you want Tesco, the biggest retailer in our country, to be aligned with homophobia, racism and sexism? Is that the kind of company that you, or indeed any of us, want to be at the forefront of British business?
I’d like to think that the biggest retailer in the UK (and the third biggest in the world) is a company staffed by good people who will stand up for what’s right. And as the CEO I would like to think that you would be a role model for your staff and other businesses that aspire to be as successful as Tesco. Being successful and doing the right thing aren’t always mutually exclusive.
Please, Philip. Rethink your advertising strategy and don’t spend your money with companies whose sole mission is to scare, divide, and anger.