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  • Quynh Nguyen

Update: Is it Brand Safe to Advertise on Facebook Now the Boycott's Over?

In July 2020 the #StopHateForProfit Facebook Ad Boycott Campaign took off, and we shared that the one-month hiatus from Facebook advertising was unlikely to incite enough financial strain for the social media tech giant to change advertising and user data privacy practices. With the start of August 2020, and the conclusion of the formal one-month boycott, brands are re-evaluating if it is brand safe to resume advertising on the platform.


Last week, top tech CEOs in the ad space testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust. The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google were questioned regarding user data privacy concerns, just a few days before the President's statement about his prospective TikTok ban.


In this context, what are the factors to consider regarding reigniting advertising campaigns on Facebook, through the lenses of brand safety, user privacy concerns, and consumer sentiment?


Is Facebook Addressing these Brand-Safety Concerns?


Social media giant Facebook has been boycotted by a number of large brands for generally relaxed policies when it comes to censoring or fact-checking posts, comments, and ad content, and several negative headlines over the years when it comes to user privacy.


Facebook has agreed to undergo a review by the Media Rating Council (MRC), a nonprofit that certifies the reliability of audience measurement services. Under this review, the MRC will cover Facebook's Content Monetization, Brand Safety Tools and Practices.

  • An evaluation of the development and enforcement of Partner Monetization Policies

  • An evaluation of the development and enforcement of Content Monetization Policies and how these policies enforce the 4A’s/Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) Brand Suitability Framework, and comply with MRC’s Standards for Brand Safety

  • An assessment of ability to apply brand safety controls to ads shown within publisher content such as in-stream, Instant Articles or Audience Network

  • A determination of the accuracy of available reporting in these areas

The review will be posted mid-August, and will communicate a plan for further marketplace updates thereafter. Facebook also posts its own internal audits for its users, the most recent released in May 2020. The company has also announced that it will now release updated versions every quarter.


With that said, has the boycott actually incentivized Facebook to make meaningful change to policy? It would seem unlikely.


Despite over 1000 large brands pledging to boycott Facebook ads in July, 76% of Facebook’s advertising revenue comes from small- and medium-sized businesses, who were unlikely to be in a position to take a month off advertising on this platform, especially during COVID-19.


During the congressional hearing last week, Mark Zuckerberg stated that it was "wrong to assume that [Facebook] was dependent on few large advertisers" and that the tech giant has actually seen its revenue grow.


What Has the Brand Response Been?


August 1 marked the unofficial end date to the advertising and marketing boycott of Facebook. Most of the brands involved will now reanimate their marketing on the platform.


In a new survey conducted in July, Digiday found that 41% of respondents will return at the end of the July boycott, while 26% will spend again by the end of the third quarter and 13% by the end of full-year 2020. Others will wait for more action from Facebook, with 17% of respondents saying they won’t advertise on the platform until it makes meaningful changes.


In other words, 83% of the brands involved in the boycott have stated they plan to return to Facebook advertising relatively soon, regardless of whether the platform makes additional changes to policy, which begs the obvious question of how much this boycott was actually about brand safety vs. just being a pr tactic to generate headlines.


Should Brands Start Advertising on Facebook Again?


Advertisers want a commitment from the platform to give them more control over what their content appears next to, and to be able to opt out of appearing near hateful content (i.e. to solve the adjacency problem that has been an issue with advertising on myriad platforms for years now).


For large brands that can afford the revenue stream loss and lessened brand exposure on social media platforms, continuing to boycott the platform is doable. Brands like Ben & Jerry's, Chipotle and Eddie Bauer have announced that they will remain off the platform while others like the North Face are returning. Ringleader Unilever announced last month that it has completely staved off social media advertising for “at least” the remainder of 2020, in efforts they claim completely unrelated to the boycott.

The main concern for brands deciding to stay off the platform is brand safety unease by being placed around misinformation and strong political comments on the platform.


How Do Consumers Feel About the Boycott?


At the start of the boycott in early July, less than a third of consumers were aware of the campaign. According to a recent study, 53% of Facebook users were unaware of the advertisement boycott as of July 23rd; however, a majority of respondents had strong opinions on how their sentiment has changed while using the social platform. The study showcases that most commonly, respondents are finding Facebook less enjoyable over the past three months.


The top contributing factors to why social media users are not enjoying Facebook were:

  • The presence of fake news (75%)

  • Political debates (69%)

  • Hate speech (64%)

  • Debates/posts regarding social movements (63%)

Representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Color of Change and other groups met with Zuckerburg in early July to discuss their 10 demands with Facebook’s leaders on Tuesday to help prevent vitriol and hate from spreading on its site. Those included Facebook hiring a top executive with a civil rights background, submitting to regular independent audits and updating its community standards, according to a statement from the Free Press advocacy group, whose co-chief executive, Jessica J. González, was on the call.


Zuckerberg agreed to hire a civil rights position, but did not come to a resolution on most other requests, representatives of the groups said.


Did Brands Receive Backlash By Not Participating?


At the start of the boycott, advertisers worried about negative press if they didn’t participate. However, the brands that continued to advertise on Facebook didn’t hear much in the way of consumer backlash. One executive said that the majority of the brands he works with continued to advertise on the platform, and did so with little negative attention. 

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