By Jon Swartz
MarketWatch photo illustration/Getty Images, iStockphoto
Advertisers who were already looking to shave millions in spending due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have received a gift in the current boycott of Facebook Inc.: A better boost for their brands than an ad may provide, without paying anything.
Hundreds of advertisers have publicly announced they are ceasing advertising purchases from Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +1.28% in a protest labeled #StopHateForProfit, which launched Wednesday and focuses on the company’s inability to properly rein in racist and violent content as well as misinformation. Advertising experts say those decisions are not so wrenching, though — boycotting Facebook is obviously more cost-effective than paying for ads, they receive free media publicity and appeal to socially-conscious consumers.
“By pulling ads, they save money and make a low-risk statement that results in positive publicity and marketing for their brands among constituents,” said Gerard Francis Corbett, a communications strategy consultant based in Silicon Valley. “The Facebook boycott is a lower-risk way for CEOs to make a [political] statement.”
Societal and economic stars aligned for companies to take stands after years of uneasiness about content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -0.46% , and other social-media platforms, Corbett and others say. Facebook has inflamed marketers, Facebook users and employees, and anti-hate groups for years, but advertisers largely stuck with the platform. The confluence of a once-in-a-century pandemic, rampant unemployment, and social unrest not seen since 1968 have upturned movements against corporations in ways unimaginable only a few years ago, say branding experts.
“There is a perfect storm of corporate responsibility during coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, and a need to contain costs during a recession,” John Marcinuk, head of marketing at Blue Fountain Media, told MarketWatch in a phone interview Monday. “Whether you’re spending a dime or $20 million on a platform, if you have a stand to take, now is the time to do it.”
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Facebook has worked feverishly behind the scenes. Company executives held at least two meetings with advertisers Tuesday, according to a Reuters report that cited three people who participated in the calls, and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg planned another call with boycott organizers Tuesday.
“We regularly engage with, listen to and learn from civil rights leaders and organizations. Last week, we reached out to the NAACP, ADL and Color of Change and offered a meeting with our COO and CPO because they’ve made product-specific requests,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “They asked about having Mark at the meeting, and we’ve since confirmed that Mark is able to join. We’re waiting to hear back and look forward to the opportunity to continue the dialogue.”
The meeting could be combustible: Zuckerberg has told Facebook employees he expects members of a month-long advertising boycott to “be back on the platform soon enough,” according to news site The Information late Wednesday.
In a lengthy Facebook post Friday, Zuckerberg responded by committing to remove content that “incites violence” or suppresses voting, “no matter where it comes from” — including from politicians like President Donald Trump. On Monday, Facebook officially banned some groups linked to the radical “boogaloo” movement after a member was accused of using the Facebook platform to organize the May shooting death of a federal officer in Oakland, Calif. And late Tuesday, Zuckerberg agreed to meet with boycott organizers, a company spokesperson confirmed to MarketWatch.
“We may never be able to prevent hate from appearing on Facebook entirely, but we are getting better at stopping it all the time,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs/communications, tweeted on Wednesday.
For more: Facebook reverses policies as ad boycott sends stock down
Those moves haven’t slowed the flow of advertisers publicly proclaiming they will pull spending from Facebook and its properties. In all, roughly 400 companies worldwide had joined the ban as of Tuesday morning, and nearly a third of advertisers are considering joining a month-long boycott of Facebook and other social media platforms, according to a survey by the World Federation of Advertisers of 58 corporate members whose cumulative annual ad spending is $92 billion.
Microsoft Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT +1.58% , PepsiCo Inc. /zigman2/quotes/208744353/composite PEP +1.15% , Ford Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F -2.00% , Starbucks Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207508890/composite SBUX -0.44% , Coca-Cola Co. /zigman2/quotes/209159848/composite KO +0.60% , Verizon Communications Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ +1.65% , SAP /zigman2/quotes/207905606/composite SAP +1.69% , and Unilever /zigman2/quotes/204685760/composite UL +2.20% are among the high-profile names to hit pause on advertising on Facebook.