GB News, the television channel that launched this week with backing from pro-Brexit tycoons and a mission to produce “anti-woke” US-style news content, is facing an advertiser backlash after big consumer brands including Ikea, Nivea and Grolsch said they would pull their adverts from the network.
Fronted by a clutch of familiar names including the former BBC and Sky presenters Andrew Neil and Kirsty Gallacher, GB News, which launched on Sunday evening, is pitching itself as an alternative to the mainstream media with a focus on generating opinion and controversy, rather than original reporting.
However, activists are already calling for boycotts of brands that advertise on the channel, on the grounds that they believe it is hoping to monetise divisive political issues and to push the boundaries of UK TV news regulations, which require politically balanced broadcasts.
The channel is broadcast on television and online across Great Britain, as well as in other parts of the United Kingdom such as Northern Ireland.
Ikea, the Dutch beer brand Grolsch and the Swedish cider maker Kopparberg said they had suspended adverts because of concerns the channel’s content would go against their aim to be inclusive. Nivea said it would review its position in three months. The brands said they had not been aware their adverts were being aired on the channel.
The Open University, which is publicly funded, also said it had paused advertising on GB News. It said on Twitter that it had not planned or purchased advertising on GB News, and added that it was investigating why it had happened. Kopparberg said it also had not been aware the channel would air its spots.
Octopus Energy’s founder, Greg Jackson, published a letter to customers on Tuesday evening that said it had asked its agencies to suspend advertising on GB News. “We’re not currently running ads on GB News,” he wrote. “We will monitor it, and only advertise if it proves to be genuinely balanced.”
He added that the “furore” over the channel’s launch “gave GB News much sought-after publicity” as well as adding to division.
Some of the channel’s financial backers have supported prominent rightwing causes and campaign groups, while some GB News programmes are presented by journalists with outspoken views on issues generally associated with rightwing politics. The former Brexit party leader Nigel Farage was one of the first guests on the channel’s opening night.
The channel was launched by Neil, who chairs the Spectator magazine and presents a show called Woke Watch, which aims to highlight examples of “political correctness” gone mad.
Advertising slots on GB News are marketed by Sky Media, the advertising sales arm of Sky Group, which represents about 130 other channels, more than any other company in the UK. A company spokesman declined to comment.
Companies advertising on television tend to hire media-buying agencies to buy slots on their behalf, according to audience categories such as age and income, rather than targeting specific channels. This means that companies often do not have advance knowledge of where exactly their adverts will be broadcast.
A television industry source said advertiser boycotts of entire channels were very rare. Instead, they tended to happen in relation to particularly sensitive programmes or with editorial content criticising companies.
The source said that the actions of a small number of advertisers were unlikely to make a significant difference to GB News’s finances. This is because media agencies tend to buy large blocks on behalf of multiple clients, meaning they could simply fill the vacated slots with adverts for other clients.
“I don’t think it will touch the sides,” the source said.
Sweden’s Ikea, which is the world’s largest furniture retailer, said it had not knowingly advertised on GB News.
In a statement Ikea said: “We have safeguards in place to prevent our advertising from appearing on platforms that are not in line with our humanistic values. We are in the process of investigating how this may have occurred to ensure it won’t happen again in future, and have suspended paid display advertising in the meantime.”
Grolsch, which is owned by Japan’s Asahi, said in a statement that it “prides itself on core values of inclusion and openness to all people, and we want to be clear that we do not associate ourselves with any platforms or outlets that go against these values”.
“We will do everything we possibly can to ensure Grolsch does not appear on this channel again,” the statement said.
Nivea said its policy is to wait a few months after a new channel has launched before allowing advertising. Nivea said it would review its suspension of adverts on GB News after three months. The skincare company’s owner is German multinational Beiersdorf, which also owns brands including plaster maker Elastoplast.
Kopparberg revealed its decision to remove its adverts from GB News on Monday in response to a Twitter user who listed advertisers on the channel.
The firm said: “We want to make it clear to everyone that our ad ran on this channel without our knowledge or consent. Kopparberg is a drink for everyone and we have immediately suspended our ads from this channel pending further review of its content.”
GB News was approached for comment.