The GB News television channel launched this week, it is backed from pro-Brexit tycoons with a mission to produce “anti-woke” US-style news content in much the same manor as Fox News in the USA. Fox has poisoned the political discourse in the US and is being used as a means to actively undermine democracy there, this is not something I want to see in the UK.
Therefore I was some what alarmed to fine that my energy supplier, Octopus Energy, was advertising with GB News. The reason I choose to buy my energy from Octopus is because they are widely seen to be an ethical supplier of green energy, so to see them listed as advertisers with a TV channel who employ Climate Change deniers as “news presenters” felt very wrong. My immediate reaction was to email them with a polite but firm message to say that this was not acceptable.
About half an hour later I received the following reply:
Thanks for getting in touch about this.
First – thank you for being a customer. One tweet made it truly clear why this topic matters to you.
@Nigel1934 said “…we, as customers of @OctopusEnergy invest personally in them. We pay more for our energy because we believe in them and what they do. It’s an emotional commitment that @g__j benefits from. But like all emotional commitments, it comes with baggage.”
He’s right. Whilst Octopus is always excellent value (and fairly unbeatable long term for many customers) you can usually get a better deal from a company who chooses to sell at prices below cost. We know that Octopus customers are here for more.
People have chosen us because of the work we do to drive down carbon in the UK and around the world, and to relentlessly push for cheaper access to energy for all households. They like our values and what we stand for. That’s why, among the dozens of brands who advertised on GB News, Octopus were most commonly singled out for criticism.
First – let me be clear – Octopus didn’t choose that slot. The way we buy advertising is to agree a spend level with a network (like ITV or Sky) and then they sprinkle the ads across channels and programmes to get the cheapest coverage.
Octopus fights for the world we believe in – our core mission needs radical change to energy systems – and other aspects of society like transport and how we heat our homes. This needs us to be able to reach out to people who we don’t agree with as well as those we do.
So news channels in particular are important. In the UK, Ofcom regulates them too. They are required to be balanced and impartial. So despite the trailing of “Fox News of the UK” this may not transpire.
When it comes to where we advertise, we have a very clear policy:
We do not advertise on platforms whose primary purpose is the distribution of hate.
And if this is breached by any platform – we pull our advertising – as we’ve done several times when StopFundingHate has highlighted to us (we’ve blogged about it here: https://octopus.energy/blog/digital-advertising/)
This is the first time we’ve seen the launch of a new TV channel, and it’s clear that we need a way to handle this circumstance. From now, we are asking networks not to air our ads on new channels until we’ve seen their output for a period of time, and can be sure they’re not breaching our policy.
As such, we’re not currently running ads on GB News. We will monitor it, and only advertise if it proves to be genuinely balanced.
Allow me to add more context. This is a very tricky area for businesses, especially ones with a moral compass. Hate speech is endemic on twitter, and facebook’s fake news problem has probably been instrumental in damaging democracies. Yet we – and other brands – and campaigning organisations – still use the platforms. This is troubling for many of us – and some of the Octopus team have asked me about this before.
We choose to use them through some combination of pragmatism (it helps achieve our higher goals) and the ability to convince ourselves that this is the greater good. Where we draw the line is not obvious.
Energy is political. Politicians define policies which directly impact how energy is generated, distributed, used and charged. Unlike many companies, we cannot stay outside politics – we need to work with politicians and policy makers of all stripes to effect change on a massive scale.
But we cannot be a political football. The furore about (unintended) ads gave GB News much sought-after publicity, and the divide caused by piling onto organisations allowed people on both sides to seek victory.
Climate change is the single biggest threat to our society, indeed our planet, and we need to work with news organisations across the spectrum to create change. You’ll see us work with The Guardian but also The Sun. With The Times, The Telegraph and The Observer, with the BBC and with Sky. And so many more. We need to work with those who naturally agree with us, and reach out to those who don’t. And we find that increasingly Green Energy is a less divisive topic – almost everyone wants a better world for their kids. We need to help show how we can get there quicker and cheaper than people think. And for the few who still don’t believe in climate change we need to help find ways to bring them round.
Octopus has been more successful than most because we span divides, and we need to continue to do so to ensure that our most important focus is delivered – a relentless drive to make energy cheaper and greener, globally – to combat climate change faster than people thought possible. Entrenchment and polarisation may not be the best ways of achieving this.
By being a customer, you are backing a company which has done more than most and at bigger scale – deploying vast sums of investor money, often with no sight to profit – to drive positive change. And for that we can all be proud.
Thank you for caring so much and I’m sorry that we gave you cause to question us. I hope this helps, as we have so much more to do.
CEO & Founder
PS – I’d also like to express my thanks and apologies to our incredible team. Maddie and others who look after social media have been inundated, and the marketing team (including Rebecca on maternity leave) have been under tremendous pressure getting to the bottom of it and sorting through the sometimes very painful messages. I know that so many people mean well, but it’s brutal for the teams and I want to recognise that too.
PPS. Thanks for your time, and for reading this far. I genuinely appreciate that you took the time to tell me about what matters to you.
Greg from Octopus Energy