John Banks is gone and unlikely to be heard on radio again after getting his marching orders from MediaWorks’ new boss, Cam Wallace. But the dust is taking time to settle.

While barely a week has passed since Banks failed to challenge a caller who described Māori as having “stone age culture” and then, himself, suggesting that brown people will end up “coming through people’s bathroom windows”, one of country’s biggest advertisers has made it clear that punishment will be swift and severe for media companies that don’t live up to its ethical standards.

Vodafone has released a new version of its ethical advertising policy which it says was revised in the wake of the Banks incident. It includes having lists of “approved /preferred partners “ (media platforms) as well as lists of platforms it won’t advertise on.

The telco says it will use technology to monitor media and make sure they are aligned to its brand values.

Vodafone’s marketing lead, Delina Shields, told staff in an internal blog post, “If we really want to stand up for our values and beliefs, we need to take action, and in this case it involved walking away from advertising with Magic Talk as well as starting a review of our advertising approach more broadly.”

The review was prioritised by executives and a week later the company has made it clear where it stands.

“We don’t condone racism, bigotry or sexism, and therefore we will not support, or have our brand associated with, content, activity, editorial, or advertising that, in our opinion, is: Indecent, vulgar, profane, or offensive.”

Vodafone says advertising will also be withdrawn from channels that advocate hate or violence against any individual, group, race, or organisation or make personal attacks on individuals or a group.

Shields indicated that an earlier decision by the company to apply the Treaty of Waitangi across all its decision making was a strong driver in the advertising review.

“We are clear in our commitment to honouring the principles of Te Tīriti o Waitangi, which for us means developing meaningful, enduring and mutually beneficial relationships with Māori as tangata whenua….”

The policy anticipates that there will be grey areas and there could be hiccups in its application.

“We believe in the importance of freedom of expression, and understand that different people may interpret different concepts in different ways. We also believe that freedom of expression means freedom of choice as to where we advertise.

“We have kept this Ethical Advertising Policy principles-focused on purpose. While it is tempting to provide a prescriptive list of who and where we might focus our investment, we are realistic in that society is very complex, that many advertising platforms can change their approach to societal issues on a day-to-day basis and there is a lot of grey and subjective areas. “

Talkback radio may have prompted the review but stations like The Rock that regularly veer towards what some would see as vulgarity and sexism in its effort to target a younger male audience must raise plenty of questions.

The Rock is currently running a video on its website under the headline below:

‘UFC fighter shits herself during fight, ends up rolling around in poop’

Then there is the question of whether transgression by one brand in a media company’s stable rules out all its brands. For instance, if Magic Talk or The Rock contravenes Vodafone’s policy does it withdraw all MediaWorks’ advertising? Will the more benign brands like The Breeze and The Sound be ruled out?

Interestingly, Vodafone has also made the rules tougher for itself and says it won’t punish media companies just because they report something its executives don’t like.

“Vodafone or its agents must not threaten to withdraw advertising from those who criticise Vodafone editorially. Similarly, advertising spending must never be used as leverage to try to influence editorial opinion on public policy matters where Vodafone’s views differ from those of the media outlet in question. “

The speed at which companies like Vodafone, Kiwibank, Trade Me and Spark withdrew their advertising from Magic Talk had a lot to do with the immediate reaction of social media users.

Monitoring of social media meant the advertisers learnt very quickly of Banks’ racist comments and by responding almost immediately on the same platforms any negative impacts on their own brands were quickly mitigated before the “network effect” made the criticism hard to contain.

A quick response usually elicits brand enhancing praise.

Vodafone says it was able to quickly gather up its executives and make a decision after it saw a comment on social media.

Kiwibank’s General Manager, Brand and Marketing, Simon Hofmann, said the decision to withdraw its advertising was so obvious that it did not need to be made at the top level

“Ironically that day, our executive team was on a Te Ao Māori offsite day at Ōrākei Marae in Tāmaki Makaurau.

“There was no ambiguity to this situation. Removing our advertising was a decision we could make very quickly because it was so clearly misaligned with Kiwibank’s purpose and values. Our teams were able to make the right decision swiftly without the need for further discussion up or through the business – when it’s against the core of who you are it’s an easy decision-making process.”

Most major corporates have some advertising policies, or at least guidelines, in place but the speed of consumer reaction will have sent a mini shockwave through many marketing departments. Even those with robust systems in place are likely to looking at how quickly they can respond to a John Banks’ type incident.

“We already have a strong set of brand principles and brand safety measures in place around where we show up and we manage exceptions on an ongoing basis. But we’re interested in seeing what Vodafone is doing and are always learning and evolving,” said Hofmann.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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