Nandini Jammi knows that individual voices can lead to huge changes. In November 2016, shortly after Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election, Nandini posted an article on Medium titled PPC Marketers: Don’t Wait For Permission To Blacklist Breitbart News.
After looking at the Breitbart far-right news website, the first thing Nandini saw was an ad for Old Navy, the U.S. clothing brand. Nandini explains: "I was looking around and thinking, why was no one else saying something?"
At the same time, Matt Rivitz had started tweeting under the Sleeping Giants handle to expose big brands advertising on Breitbart. Nandini joined forces with Matt as Founding Organizer of Sleeping Giants, and they have since grown into a change-making community of over 300,000 followers, or “Giants”.
75% fewer readers.— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) July 3, 2019
90% less ad revenue.
0% of former influence.
Goodnight, “platform for the alt-right.”https://t.co/4BQ6tInXQz
Nandini and Matt began their work anonymously, but in mid-2018 they shared their identities and opened up about their lessons learned with the press, starting with The New York Times.
Ahead of Turing Fest 2019, we caught up with Nandini to hear about the Sleeping Giants story so far...
Though it’s a lot of work, Sleeping Giants is a volunteer effort. Nandini’s day job is working as a copywriter and messaging strategist for SaaS, tech and B2B companies. This has given Nandini many of the insights needed for the campaign to take off.
"I know who to talk to in an organisation about these problems," explains Nandini. "It’s taught me the language I need to use when I frame a problem for a CMO or a VP of Marketing. I know how to press those buttons and get them to react quickly. As far as building a strong story, I definitely understand the value of sticking to the message."
"Our message has been the same from day one," says Nandini. "We’ve grown and are working on much more than just Breitbart now, but the focus has always been that bigotry and hate should not be profitable."
Nandini emphasises that Sleeping Giants isn't about politics. "It’s not a political message because we don’t tolerate it from any side of the political spectrum," says Nandini.
We obviously believe that you’re entitled to your conservative views or your liberal views. But if hate or bigotry or divisive language are part of how you make your point... you’re free to make that point, but you’re not entitled to make ad money off it. You’re not entitled to payments or to work with other businesses to make your money. And other businesses, on the other hand, shouldn’t be taking a cut and profiting either.
Sleeping Giants isn’t a boycotting campaign either. From the beginning, their focus has been on raising awareness, Nandini explains. "We always ask, ‘Did you know?’ And then, ‘Now that you have this information in front of you, what do you intend to do with it?’"
Because brands are heavily invested in their reputations, this approach has been extremely effective. "Brand equity is something that can be taken away from you in moments," says Nandini. "What we do is put the information out there and give them a chance to respond and act on it. We’ve found that more often than not, brands want to do the right thing."
"If you're a brand marketer, paid advertising has always been an opportunity to reach a larger audience and acquire new customers," says Nandini. "What normal person could even imagine their brand appearing on white nationalist sites? That’s not something marketers should have to think about."
But right now, Google and Facebook aren't taking responsibility:
When you sign up for ads, these two companies promise you that they will not put you on objectionable content. They promise to keep your brand safe. While they have exclusion rules for content around gambling, violence and porn, they don't have rules for extremism and white nationalism. What they’ve been doing is putting brands at risk, and brands don’t know about it… all we do as a company is turn on our ads.
Until Facebook and Google step up their game, brands need to actively monitor where their ads are being placed. "I think right now brands need to be auditing their own ads and even looking into creating whitelists, so they can control their ad placements," says Nandini. "They shouldn’t have to do it. Over 4100 brands have added Breitbart to their blacklist, which is a pretty damning statement. It is proof that companies don't want to be associated with hate speech or bigotry."
"This is a new era in which consumers talk back to brands and define your brand for you in many senses", says Nandini. "So if you’re going to say you care about diversity and inclusion and it turns out you’re funding a neo-Nazi group in Germany, that’s what your brand really stands for in the eyes of consumers. You’re the guys who talk about diversity and inclusion but you also fund Nazis. Noted."
"Something has to change," says Nandini. "It’s 2019. It shouldn't be up to a band of volunteers on social media to inform brands about their poor media buying choices."
It’s free labour for brands we’re putting in, it’s free labour for Google and Facebook who have billions of dollars and choose not to do their job. Why does it take a journalist or volunteer to point out a white supremacist or piece of content or page to see that page down?
Going forward, Google and Facebook must develop zero tolerance over hate speech in order for the landscape to change. Nandini explains: "They need to clearly define what extremism and hate speech are — for themselves and for brands. These decisions can't be made behind closed doors."
"I don’t think Sleeping Giants would be what it is if we went in all the directions that people wanted us to," explains Nandini. "One thing we’ve done really well is stick to our original mission. Working on making hate speech unprofitable keeps us busy."
Hey y’all, reporting from @Mastercard’s shareholder meeting where they cut my mic while I asked them if they’re aware neo-Nazi groups are raising funds in MasterCard’s network.— Nandini Jammi (@nandoodles) June 25, 2019
Hope I did you proud!! pic.twitter.com/OjEXXwq8yY
Nandini shared with us how powerful it is to have such a strong group of people behind your mission and backing your decisions:
Our community really gets what we’re about, and they’re behind us 100%. A couple of years ago, we actually threw out a question to our community saying, 'We’re a little bit stuck on an issue and don’t know whether to pursue it or not. What do you guys think?' They overwhelmingly said no, it feels out of the scope of our mission. Let’s stay focused. It felt really great to know our community had our back. Sleeping Giants wouldn’t be what it is without our community. It would just be a couple of people sending out emails. We consider ourselves a reflection of our community. We just want to do right by our members and make this whole thing worth their while.