“The allegations are disturbing,” a Mercedes spokeswoman, Donna Boland, said in a blunt statement after the company pulled its “O’Reilly Factor” ads. “Given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.”
Lost revenue is one matter and tarnished reputation another. If the financial fallout from the O’Reilly backlash was relatively minor — many advertisers simply shifted their spending to other Fox News programs — it was difficult to ignore the public image of at least 50 major brands withdrawing support from the network’s most popular host.
Companies are “a bit on edge about how they engage and react in this moment,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, an online racial justice group that encouraged its million-plus members to protest Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior.
“On the one hand, they’re trying to reach a broad audience, and on the other, they’re trying to maintain a loyal consumer base and loyal employees,” he said in an interview. “Placing their brands next to figures or platforms that don’t have to adhere to the same standards their employees do can often lead to problems.”
Numerous social-media-savvy groups are capitalizing on that to potent effect, both to expose where advertisers are placing their ads and to mobilize people into registering their concerns. The online boycott campaign #GrabYourWallet, aimed at brands tied to President Trump, has pressured companies like Nordstrom and T.J. Maxx to stop carrying products connected to Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.
Uber, the popular ride-sharing app, came under fire after accusations that it tried to profit from a protest against President Trump’s executive order barring refugees and immigrants from certain countries from entering the United States. A trending hashtag, #DeleteUber, prompted thousands of users to dump the app; Uber’s chief executive later stepped down from a position on Mr. Trump’s economic advisory council.
In interviews, leaders of the online campaign to topple Mr. O’Reilly said they believed that while Fox News management would stand behind its star anchor, the network might be vulnerable to other pressures. Shareholders and the executives at its multinational parent company, 21st Century Fox, could be more attuned to the consequences of a large-scale advertising strike.
“You need to be able to mobilize supporters to mount enough public pressure that they feel they need to respond,” Angelo Carusone, the president of the liberal website Media Matters and a veteran of…