There seems to be a boycott epidemic going on in this country. From Georgia’s election laws resulting in companies and sports teams leaving the state to conservative business owners finding their businesses banned, the left seems to be in a boycotting frenzy. What sparked this sudden phenomenon? Why, over the past few years, are we suddenly seeing so many cancel culture campaigns? Nandini Jammi and her former company, Sleeping Giants, might be a good place to start looking for answers.
Nandini Jammi and Sleeping Giants
In 2016, Jammi co-founded the ad company Sleeping Giants to pressure advertisers to stay clear of certain companies, especially conservative businesses. Her website touts her accomplishments with the company as: “the award winning social media campaign that successfully urged advertisers to block Breitbart.com from their media buy.” It further states: “At Sleeping Giants, she led campaigns that convinced advertisers to flee Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, Tucker Carlson Tonight and the Ingraham Angle. She also convinced tech companies to suspend Alex Jones’ Infowars, Proud Boys and dozens of other high-profile extremist groups.”
Woke companies, worried about offending their customers, jumped on the Sleeping Giants bandwagon to make sure they were only advertising with other woke businesses. Disney, for example, with its “Stories Matter” program, was concerned enough to create a council of near a dozen groups to lecture executives in monthly meetings on how to handle racially insensitive material from its archive. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey donated $10 million to the Center for Antiracist Research, and Purdue University paid “whiteness studies” scholar Robin DiAngelo $7,000 for a two-hour virtual event, according to The Epoch Times.
Jammi’s website further congratulates her efforts:
“As the cofounder of a social media campaign called Sleeping Giants, Jammi had perfected the art of pressuring advertisers to stop funding websites that peddle hateful content. In 2017, Sleeping Giants attained national notoriety when its viral protests on Facebook and Twitter helped cause a 90 percent drop in Breitbart News’ ad revenue—kneecapping one of the most important and inflammatory right-wing publications of the 2016 election.”
Not everyone agrees with this approach, however. Dan Granger, CEO of Oxford Road, which is an ad agency that launched Lyft and Hulu, to name a few brands, said media monitors such as Sleeping Giant are “all stick, no carrot. And I think that they’re making the problem of polarization in this country worse, whether or not there is merit behind the claims that they make.”
One prime example of the kind of work Sleeping Giants is the boycott of Facebook by the NAACP and other left-leaning groups because CEO, Mark Zuckerberg decided they would not censor former President Trump’s posts that criticized the riots after the death of George Floyd. Obviously, this was before Trump was banished from Facebook for good. Approximately 1,000 companies pulled ads from Facebook, including Coca-Cola. Sharyl Attkisson, a former reporter for CBS News, explained:
“Advertising boycotts can be very effective. We’ve seen where the news has become an almost entirely managed commodity, that the special interests and propagandists have successfully been able to co-opt in the past 15, 20 years—and particularly using the internet in the past four to five years in a way that has not been done before.
“I think we’re in an information war and people want to be sure to control what others say and think and do.”
But then something happened and Jammi changed tactics, realizing that her method of business was actually hurting not only advertisers but news as well.
According to her website, Jammi remembers “the moment she learned she was accidentally destroying the news industry.” This epiphany occurred during the pandemic when companies were slashing their ad campaign funding. Other businesses started advertising that if a company wanted to avoid Sleeping Giant’s boycott list, then to do business with them. Suddenly, marketers were using branding tools such as keyword blockers to make sure their ads did not end up on a page or site with “controversial” topics.
Concerned that there would be retribution if an ad appeared next to content someone might find offensive, keyword blacklists were utilized. Some of the high-profile keywords included “shootings,” “raising the minimum wage,” and, of course, “Trump.” In January 2020, The Guardian reported that the keyword blacklists were “ballooning in some cases as many as 3,000 or 4,000 words, blocking ads from many different stories.” After the report, keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID,” and “virus” were added to the list. Between February and June 2020, publications lost $1.3 billion in ad revenue.
Jammi admitted her part in the mess: “As keyword blacklisting ‘coronavirus’ continues to decimate the news industry, I have had the sinking feeling that Sleeping Giants (a campaign which I co-run) has something to do with it.” Jammi had been so successful in making companies and advertisers scared of not only what they were trying to promote, but also who they were advertising with, that fear was now directing advertising and the news.
She had done her job so well that corporations were afraid of ending up a target of Sleeping Giants and other activist organizations that popped up with their own lists of companies to avoid. Julián Villanueva, a digital marketing professor at IESE Business School in Spain, wrote about the website ethicalconsumer.org which reportedly targets big companies for specific practices:
“The site contains a list of initiatives to persuade ‘ethical consumers’ to stop purchasing from brands like Air France for shipping monkeys to laboratories; Amazon, for avoiding taxes; Bluefin Tuna, for fishing endangered species; or Caterpillar, for selling bulldozers to Israel, as these will be used to destroy Palestinian houses. All of these are accusations that might have to be proven, but that many people believe instantly.”
Also last year, Jammi – claiming a difference of opinion with her partner – left Sleeping Giants and started another business, Check My Ads, and released a list of 51 media outlets that she recommended were safe to advertise on. Some of these include Vox.com, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. There was not a single conservative publication or media source on her list. The Wall Street Journal, the largest publication, didn’t make her safe list either.
But then she started noticing that her favored outlets were also being hurt by boycott advocates and Jammi had a change of direction. “Check My Ads” is supposed to serve as protection for companies. She claims it provides “brand safety training that empowers marketers to protect their brands … We help you identify where your dollars are going and to align your media buy with your values.”
Critics, however, consider this shift from boycotting queen to protector a “pure protection racket,” saying it is “a growing field of progressive groups and personalities exploiting cancel culture for both political gain and personal profit,” as The Epoch Times puts it. To some, had Jammi not been so successful in her boycott campaigns then there wouldn’t be a need for her “protection” now. There are those that argue she created the trouble and now comes in riding a white horse to save the day.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.