Neflix’s Stand in Saudi Arabia

It seems that every time my Google alert for “brand strategy” goes off, I see a brand taking a stand on some issue. Some stands don’t make sense, others do, and sometimes when you expect a brand to take a stand, they don’t. A perfect example of a missed opportunity is what happened recently with Netflix in Saudi Arabia. If you haven’t heard, Netflix pulled an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” in which Minhaj denounced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an overt critic of the kingdom and crown prince.¹

Not surprisingly, the decision to pull was met with significant backlash from human rights groups advocating for a more open, transparent and tolerant kingdom. It is well known that since 2017 when the prince was named heir to the throne, many activists, writers and moderate religious leaders have been jailed. In response to the backlash, Netflix released a statement saying, “We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal demand from the government — and to comply with local law.” Ah, and there’s the rub.

How is it that Netflix can be a supporter of artistic freedom yet remove this episode, especially in the belief-driven buying culture we live in today? The consumer mindset has been shifting for many years. Now more than ever, and despite age, income or geography, two-thirds of all consumers buy and boycott brands based on values for which they stand. Further, a recent report published by Edelman reveals that brands are being trusted more and more in society. Today, business are more trusted than governments and are expected to take the lead in change; consumers believe brands can do more to solve social ills than governments can and over half believe that it’s actually easier to get brands to address these social problems than it is to get governments to take action.²

Brands, take note…Netflix missed a low-hanging-fruit opportunity to live what it preaches, to gain positive sentiment and support from its customers. Remember that your values become the guideposts for how you should act, and what stands you should take. They’re never for sale. Brands managers, take a stand to keep true to your ethos, even if it means some loss, because your customers are expecting you to get into the ring.


¹ Netflix criticized for yanking comedian’s episode in Saudi –
² 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer –

Mike Maio
January 8, 2019 By Mike Maio