IKEA, Nivea and Grolsch pull ads from GB News days after launch

A number of companies are pulling advertising from GB News just days after Britain’s newest and most controversial TV channel launched with a self-professed mission to fight “cancel culture.”

Swedish furniture giant IKEA, skin cream maker Nivea and brewer Grolsch are among brands that have either pulled or paused advertising on the channel.

GB News’ launch has been marred by technical issues, but it already appears to be living up to its aggressively “anti-woke” positioning. The channel has styled itself as a pro-British alternative to broadcasters, such as the BBC, that its backers views as elite and excessively liberal.

Cancel culture refers to the public shaming and ostracism of people deemed to have spoken or acted in an objectionable manner. Right-leaning commentators argue that the practice is being used to silence people that hold opposing political views.

Several firms, including IKEA, said that their ads ran on the channel without their knowledge due to the automated nature of media buying algorithms.

IKEA was quick to suspend advertising, suggesting on Twitter earlier this week that GB News did not align with the company’s “humanistic values.”

It said in a second statement on Thursday that the decision to withdraw ads was “taken at great speed.”

“As a newly launched channel, we recognize that it is simply too soon to make an informed decision as to whether advertising there is in line with our advertising policy and brand guidelines,” a spokesperson for IKEA UK and Ireland said, adding that the company will decide on its future approach “in due course.”

Grolsch said members of the public had queried the appearance of one of its ads on GB News. “We have ceased any further appearances of the Grolsch advert on this channel as we look to understand with our media partners how this happened,” the company added in a statement.

Sky Media, the ad sales arm of Sky, sells advertising space for GB News and about 130 other channels. Most TV advertising is sold by targeting certain audiences rather than specific channels, so brands won’t necessarily know which channels or programs feature their ads — as was the case with Nivea, according to the company.

The German brand said that, in line with its typical approach to new channels and publications, it had paused advertising with GB News while it assesses whether it provides “high quality consumer engagement.” The company will review the decision in three months.

Stop Funding Hate said cider maker Kopparberg, OVO Energy, Octopus Energy and The Open University have also halted ads. The campaigners had been calling for an advertising boycott before GB News launched.

“Within days of launching, GB News commentators have attacked the England football team over their anti-racism stance, and aired dangerous claims about Covid-19. It’s no surprise that so many reputable brands are stepping away, and refusing to align with this,” Stop Funding Hate’s director Richard Wilson told CNN Business on Wednesday.

Greg Jackson, the CEO of UK-based Octopus Energy, said in a letter to customers posted to Twitter that the company has stopped running ads on GB News, but could resume advertising in future. “We will monitor it, and only advertise if it proves to be genuinely balanced,” he added.

Facebook, Google, Amazon, Starbucks and American Express have also advertised on the channel, according to Stop Funding Hate. CNN Business has reached out to the companies for comment.

GB News did not provide a comment for this story.

A loss of advertising revenue could hamper the new channel, which media experts have said may struggle to find an audience. Rupert Murdoch recently scrapped plans for a UK network earlier this year, saying it didn’t make financial sense.

GB News has secured £60 million ($84.6 million) from investors including Discovery — which has agreed to a merger with CNN parent WarnerMedia — and the hedge fund titan Paul Marshall. GB News chairman Andrew Neil has emphasized that the network wants to make money by its third or fourth year and could then expand into other national markets in Spain or eastern Europe.

A British Fox News?

Neil has pushed back against the notion that the upstart channel amounts to a British Fox News, a network he views as having a “hard right disinformation fake news conspiracy agenda.”

Still, it will try to emulate the format of partisan US cable news outlets, with a focus on big personalities that stalwarts BBC, Sky News and ITV have historically avoided.

Within hours of launching, the network interviewed former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who panned the name Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, chose for their newborn daughter. Harry and Meghan have become prime targets in Britain’s culture wars for their vocal stance on issues such as racism within media and parts of the Royal Family.

In one of his “Woke Watch” segments this week, Neil suggested the National Trust, a UK heritage conservation charity, had drifted into “wokeness” for producing a report in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests that outlined the organization’s historic ties to the slave trade and colonialism.

“We will puncture the pomposity of our elites in politics, business, media and academia and expose their growing promotion of ‘cancel culture’ for the threat to free speech and democracy that it is,” Neil said in his opening monologue on Sunday.

GB News has also tackled topics such as menopause, child marriage and rising anti-semitism, and interviewed opposition Labour Party lawmaker Barry Gardiner about the government’s approach to child refugees, who he said were being prevented from accessing “legal and safe routes” to enter the United Kingdom.

— Julia Horowitz contributed reporting

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