Facebook and advertisers are locked in an image war, and advertisers are winning

mark zuckerberg

  • Major advertisers like Unilever, Verizon, and Honda said they
    would halt ads on Facebook after civil rights groups called on the
    social platform to better police hate speech and
  • The moves by big brands is unlikely to make a big dent in
    Facebook’s $70 billion advertising business since most of its
    advertisers are small to midsize marketers.
  • Meanwhile, these boycott statements are temporary and vaguely
    written, which could make it easier for brands to resume spending
    after July while winning goodwill in the meantime.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Friday, a
parade of advertisers
including Unilever, Honda America, and
Coke said they would temporarily quit Facebook, citing hate speech
on the platform.

They joined nearly 100 advertisers like
The North Face,
Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, that have
responded to the call to boycott Facebook.

Facebook has faced pressure before for letting toxic content
spread, but there are differences this time. The boycott grew out
of a widespread movement against police brutality that has
employees calling on their employers to take a stand. Company
boards are now getting involved as well, marketing veteran Rishad
Tobaccowala said. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has
called for advertisers
to use their power to hold Facebook

But most experts agree: Facebook’s $70 billion ad business will
be just fine, at least for now.

Take Unilever. The packaged goods giant is one of the world’s
biggest advertisers but only spent $42.4 million on Facebook ads in
the US last year, according to data from analytics firm Pathmatics

cited by The New York Times.

Most of Facebook’s advertising comes from small companies that
can’t afford to turn off the channel. Smaller brands that join the
boycott could risk losing up to 80% of their monthly revenue, said
Devin Whitaker, director of performance marketing at ad agency Good

Meanwhile, advertisers like Coke can come off looking virtuous
by pulling their ads with statements that increasingly upped the

“There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place
for racism on social media,” Coca-Cola CEO and Chairman, James
in saying it would pause ads not just on Facebook but all
social platforms.

“It’s a good PR move,” said Jonathan Mendez, a longtime ad tech
entrepreneur and now adviser to Telephónica. “There’s a
sensitivity for brands around social causes, and brands want to be
on the side that’s good. There’s very little margin for error. Part
of the natural outgrowth of that strategy is a need to become more
sensitive. That’s why they’re coming out against Facebook.”

Plus, a lot of advertisers spend less in the summer and in an
election year anyway because sales are slow and there’s so much
noise to break through.

Also, the boycotts are temporary and follow carefully scripted
language, which enables the companies to resume advertising in a
few weeks or when their CMOs’ vague conditions are met.

Honda America said it would stop advertising on Facebook and
Instagram “for the month of July.” Verizon said it was “pausing our
advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that
makes us comfortable” but didn’t give specifics.

“It would be great if Verizon would say what an ‘acceptable
solution’ was,” Mendez said.

Not everyone has publicly joined the boycott, either. Top
advertiser Procter & Gamble told Business Insider that it was
reviewing all platforms on which it advertises for objectionable
content, but would not publicly name any from which it might pull

“We will not advertise on or near content that we determine is
hateful, denigrating or discriminatory, and if we determine that
occurs, we will take action up to and including stopping spending,”
P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said.

Facebook is taking some steps to address advertisers’

Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his deputies have
making the rounds
with top advertisers to assure them it’s
making progress on tamping down hate speech.
On June 26,
Facebook announced new policies around using hate speech in

Zuckerberg said that the company would expand its ad policy to
prohibit claims that people with a specific race, ethnicity, sexual
orientation or religion are a threat to anyone else. Facebook will
also begin labeling content deemed “newsworthy” like a speech from
a politician — even if it violates the company’s policies.

“In the same way that news outlets will often report what a
politician says, we think it’s important that people should
generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms, too,”
Zuckerberg said during a public
of the company’s town hall meeting.

“We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community
safe and continuously work with outside experts to review and
update our policies,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We know we
have more work to do, and we’ll continue to work with civil rights
groups, GARM, and other experts to develop even more tools,
technology and policies to continue this fight.”

But some civil-rights groups slammed Facebook’s most recent
updates. Color of Change president Rashad Robinson tweeted
that the changes that Zuckerberg announced don’t go far

“Labeling ‘newsworthy’ content so the public can judge for
themselves is not a new policy,” he wrote. “It’s more of the same,
and it won’t cut it.”

The boycott movement has long-term risks for Facebook

Pressure on social platforms has been gaining steam for years.
Back in 2017, advertisers like AT&T, JPMorgan Chase, and
pulled ads off YouTube
after well publicized incidents of
objectionable videos. For advertisers, the risk of seeming to
support pedophilia or other extreme content with their ads
outweighed any potential short term loss in sales.

But advertisers had grown dependent on these platforms to reach
customers, and eventually came creeping back.

There are headaches to boycotting Facebook, too, even if it’s
just a month. Advertisers have to reallocate the money they spent
on Facebook, which they love for its ease of buying and

And if your sales are slow in the coronavirus, it feels like the
worst time to stop advertising in a place that you know works.

One CMO of a major national corporation, requesting anonymity to
speak freely, said it’s been a constant fight to cancel Facebook
advertising because internal stakeholders are convinced it will
kill their sales.

But while Facebook might be fine in the short term, Tobaccowala
believes it will see a loss in spending in a year or two as
companies start to take steps now to untether themselves from the

“They have to figure out: How do I sell stuff now, show I’m
taking this seriously, but most important, how do I make sure a
year in a from now, I’m not in the same hole?” he said. “It takes
time for large organizations to recalibrate.”

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Facebook and advertisers are locked in an image war, and
advertisers are winning