As brands boycott Facebook, will their own websites and apps become new and improved “safe” places?
This is the second article in a two-part series on brands boycotting Facebook as part of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign led by U.S. civil rights groups. For the first article, click here.
Nine years ago business consultant Jeremiah Owyang was standing at the front of a meeting room on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris.
“You’ve spent millions of dollars on your corporate websites,” he said during an intimate gathering of Publicis Groupe advertising executives and their clients. “Why are you sending all your customers to Facebook?”
His comments seemed counterintuitive, controversial even. A decade ago, a corporate Facebook page was deemed critically necessary, or, as the French say, de rigueur. But looking back, his comments were prescient. It’s as if he foresaw the danger of handing over a corporate brand to someone else.
Indeed, in the last few weeks, more than 1,200 small businesses and big brands—from Disney and Danone to Microsoft and Unilever—have stopped advertising on the social network because it is failing to curtail the presence of hate speech.
The July boycott is part of Stop Hate for Profit, an anti-Facebook initiative led by organizations including the NAACP, Free Press, Sleeping Giant, and the Anti-Defamation League.
“The organizations and advertisers that make up the #StopHateForProfit coalition have a list of 10 demands on our website,” says Free Press Senior Director of Strategy and Communications Timothy Karr. “These include hiring a C-Suite level executive with civil rights expertise to evaluate company products and policies with regard to discrimination, bias and hate.”
The coalition touts the boycott’s success as it urges Facebook to take action in a “Dear Mark” video.
“…you are still giving these hate groups the biggest platform they’ve ever had,” the narrator says. “Advertisers want no part of it, but you put their ads next to this hateful content. You are profiting from hate. Your business model rewards division.”
Stop Hate for Profit organizers, Karr says, will “soon” announce next steps for their anti-Facebook campaign, which could include an extension of the boycott.
As the News Media Alliance urges businesses to buy ads on professional news sites, where fact-based information can be trusted, advertising executives are sharing their views from an agency and brand perspective.
“We at SOCIALDEVIANT realize this is a sensitive and timely issue, and we stand by the brands taking a brave stance,” writes SOCIALDEVIANT Content Planner Graham Spector in #StopHateforProfit: What You Need to Know. “We realize that you’ll be making an independent decision based on what is best for you and your business, but if you’re able to participate, we recommend taking a stand.” The Chicago agency supports the boycott as do most of its clients.
However many people don’t understand the difference between paid and organic posts; as such, brands that decide to stop advertising on Facebook need to state their position plainly.
“With the amount of major global brands joining the boycott at a rapid pace, it is only a matter of time before the issue is escalated and yet again addressed,” Spector writes. “Until then, we advise that if your brand is inclined to participate in this boycott, do not stay silent about it.”
Spector also has a word of caution for agency clients: Reducing paid advertising will hurt brand engagement, impressions, and traffic to their websites.
The boycott is yet another milestone in a years-long industry debate on whether Facebook is a safe place for brands and the public.
In December, Velocitize published “The Politics of Facebook and Twitter Ads” featuring the views of several industry executives including Danielle Wiley, CEO of San Francisco-based Sway Group, and Richard Pinder, CEO of London-based Rankin, the London creative agency launched in September by fashion photographer and filmmaker John Rankin Waddell.
At the time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to take money for political ads known to include false information was causing a high degree of consternation among ad executives, including Sway and Pinder. Currently, there are rumblings that Facebook may, at last, stop running fake political ads.
Pinder—who told Velocitize last year that “when truth is lost, audiences part company with media companies, with brands, with everyone”—says brands have been pushed into a corner.
“Brands don’t do things unless they feel like they have to. Let’s be honest. Maybe Patagonia does,” he says, referring to the apparel company’s social activism. Patagonia, which has joined the boycott, is legendary in ad circles for its 2011 “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad in The New York Times highlighting the environmental crisis.
“But interestingly, brands have to consider their spending because they’ve got budget problems,” Pinder says. “That means they can say they are pulling money out for [social justice reasons] and it saves budget. And they’ll deny saying that.”
For her part, Sway Group’s Wiley canceled paid Facebook campaigns only to resurrect them for August.
“While I have issues with Facebook and how they operate, and agree with the intent behind the boycott, we have all these influencers who have put so much time and effort into following the rules…and now they are getting pummeled,” she says.
The Facebook boycott also applies to Facebook-owned Instagram, home to many social influencers who make money by posting on behalf of brands.
Sway Group has a client in the vitamin sector that is “part of a much larger holding company,” Wiley says. Her agency had hired Instagram influencers to post about the vitamin in July; cutting the campaign meant a loss of monthly income for the influencers, who run their Instagram accounts like a small business.
Although Facebook has done nothing to assuage advertisers, the vitamin brand is restarting paid advertising in August with multiple pieces of sponsored content. It is also buying Facebook “boosts”—ads that promote existing posts from a business page and help expand reach beyond the people who already like the page.
As the ad industry awaits Stop Hate for Profit’s plans, the Financial Times is reporting that “Publicis, the world’s third-biggest advertising group by sales, has predicted that big brands will continue their boycott to press Facebook to root out hate speech but said it was too soon to tell whether the campaign would succeed.”
In the FT interview, Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun said, “I don’t see it quieting down because I can see the determination of our clients to make things change.”
Amidst the turmoil, a London-based app developer is hoping to grow its flock.
Disciple Media, which makes apps for clients ranging from personal trainers to The Rolling Stones, has been running a Google Ads campaign for several weeks. A search for “Facebook boycott” yielded a paid ad with the message: “Don’t Just Boycott Facebook—Create Something Better.”
“The best way for brands to move forward is to create a safe environment and nurture loyalty instead of chasing eyeballs, which has been going on for the last decade,” Pavel Gertsberg, the company’s head of marketing, says. “If you’re serious about your community, you can’t have a third party dictating your relationship with someone else.”
Image source: Alessio Jacona via Wikimedia Commons.