Facebook Ad Boycotts: What You Need to Know & What it Means for Advertisers

Facebook Ad Boycotts: What You Need to Know & What it Means for Advertisers

Jul 8, 2020 • 5 min

The #StopHateForProfit campaign, which has amassed over 1000 signees in the past few weeks, asks businesses to suspend advertising with tech giant Facebook, in response to Facebook’s “inaction against violent and misleading messages” regarding the upcoming 2020 election, the coronavirus pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Companies like Best Buy, Unilever, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Ford and Honda are among the many to have dropped the platform from their advertising strategies.

Despite many large brands pledging to drop Facebook, as well as its other social network platform Instagram, for the rest of the year, is this a sustainable long-term strategy? Will other social media platforms like Twitter be impacted? Is it truly a brand safety issue or a PR spin? And where has ad spend gone up to compensate? We review the advertising implications that this boycott brings up industry-wide.

What is the consumer impact of the boycott?

Nearly 70% of consumers in a Google consumer survey were either not aware of the boycott or uncertain about how they felt.

Advertisers have maintained one main concern and motivator for joining the campaign: brand safety.

“[Advertisers] don’t want their brands next to hate language, but this takes it a level further because of the social activism component,” Nancy Smith president and CEO of Analytic Partners, told Marketing Dive in an interview. “I do think of this as being more of a watershed moment because of that, versus the YouTube challenges several years ago which were really about brand safety.”

However, there’s skepticism that these boycotts will not incite lasting change from Facebook if brands intend to return to advertising on the platform when the next news cycle hits.

Data from Search Engine Land

The other half of the question is: What is the business impact of closing off Facebook as a advertising channel?

Are the Advertising Boycotts a Watershed Moment for Brands and Advertisers?

Coupled with the social justice movements and polarizing 2020 presidential campaign, it can’t be ignored that the push to stop paid promotions on social media is expected to be a turning point for raising brands and businesses’ accountability for corporate social responsibility.

While this trend has already seen a rise in the last few years, it really hits home in 2020 amidst the economic and social turmoil. In fact, Aline Santos, the executive vice president of global marketing and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Unilever, one of the biggest global advertising spenders, emphasized that their decision to stop ad spend on social media platforms “at least” until the end of the year. She told The Drum:

“We are not part of the Facebook boycott, the relationship that we have with all social media is very long term… We don’t want our brands to be part of the very toxic conversation that is going on in the newsfeed of social media. It is not anything particular to one company or another, it’s just we don’t want our brands in a toxic environment.”

The changing relationship with social media is ushering in a recurring concern of brand safety on the platforms. With Instagram on pace to overtake Twitter as the primary news source, particularly for younger users, the lifestyle-oriented platform may need to up its brand safety regulations in order to alleviate brand concerns.


Image Courtesy of eMarketer

It really boils down to two parts: social media platforms are going to have to get better at policing their content and brands will require brand-safe platforms to air their campaigns. However, it gets complicated in that the “clickability” and shock factor of content is what makes users stay on the platform longer, allowing more air time for brands. Finding this balance will be key to social media advertising in the future.

Did Facebook’s Brand Safety Audit Make a Difference?

Despite years of prompting, Facebook recently shared that its “partner and content monetization policies and the brand safety controls we make available to advertisers” will be reviewed by the Media Rating Council (MRC), a nonprofit that certifies the reliability of audience measurement services.

While Facebook has disclosed that “in-stream, Instant Articles or Audience Network,” will be reviewed in the audit, per their website announcement, there was no mention of any of the company’s other products being included in review (ie. Instagram). And although Facebook has not explicitly stated that the audit is directly related to the boycott, the announcement comes at a time when it would be most beneficial to persuade the quickly growing list of boycotters to stay on the platform.

Despite no brands having publicly announced, there is some skepticism on the effectiveness of the boycott and it seems inevitable that brands will return to advertise on the platform, leaving the only remaining question to be: when?

Brands are pausing ad spend, but what about owned media on the platform? Where is ad spend being redirected?

Starbucks, which hasn’t officially joined the #StopHateForProfit boycott, promised to halt all paid advertising on social media but will continue to post its social media channels without paid promotion, for example.

Mentioned earlier, Unilever paused all ad spend on social media “at least” until the end of the year. The phrasing suggests, as one of the world’s top advertisers by media spend, has considerably realigned its budgetary priorities, as it intends to retain its planned investments for 2020 by reallocating social media dollars to other channels. Similarly, many large brands are promising to maintain their planned media investment budget in the US for 2020 but are redirecting the ad spend to other media channels.

Facebook has long been a “safe” choice in terms of ad spend since it hits a large target audience. But brand affinity has been harmed with the unregulated hate speech and misinformation that are causing brands to blacklist the platform from their media strategies. Brands like Levi, Patagonia and North Face have announced that they will focus their marketing strategies on Google and TikTok instead.

Even though brands like Unilever have sworn off all social media ad spend, this approach doesn’t consider small and medium sized businesses, who make up the majority of Facebook’s ad spend.

Is Facebook too big to fail?

Almost 76% of Facebook’s advertising revenue comes from small- and medium-sized businesses — the kind that are unlikely to be in a position to take a month off advertising on this platform — according to research from Deutsche Bank.

Analysts predict that the boycott will likely not detrimentally impact the tech giant’s nearly $70 billion ad revenue. In order to place more pressure on Facebook to change, “it would likely take a far broader advertising boycott over a longer period of time to materially impact Facebook’s ad revenue,” according to analysts at Stifel, a St. Louis-based investment banking firm.

Yet, this will be a moment where brands start looking to reach the social media audience off of a social media platform, making transitions made into digital, like OTT promising alternatives.

Image Courtesy of the WSJ

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