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Navigating the Facebook boycott

by Jake Dubbins - June, 2020

As the Facebook Boycott grabs headlines, to say there is an awful lot going on in social and digital advertising at the moment would be an understatement.

Facebook boycott

Over the weekend, big brands like Coca Cola, Unilever and Levi’s have joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign and pulled their advertising spend from Facebook and in some cases Twitter. The ask of the campaign, backed by the ADL, Colour of Change, NAACP and Sleeping Giants among others, is this: ‘We are asking all businesses to stand in solidarity with our most deeply held American values of freedom, equality and justice and not advertise on Facebook’s services in July.’

At this stage the campaign is mainly gaining traction the US. This is because brands wish to avoid being aligned with platforms that have a real influence over November’s presidential election. That said, it is likely that the campaign will go global in the next few days.

Pandemic of misinformation

If that wasn’t enough, yesterday the Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies released a report into the ‘pandemic of misinformation’ which is a threat to democracy itself. The chair Lord Puttnam states: “This is a virus that affects all of us in the UK – a pandemic of misinformation and disinformation. If allowed to flourish, these counterfeit truths will result in the collapse of public trust, and without trust, democracy as we know it will simply decline into irrelevance. The situation is that serious.”

These are not bumps in the road. These are fundamental questions about democracy, freedom of speech and the future of society. Brands must lean in to these issues. Ignoring them is a fundamental risk to your brand.

Questions for brands to ask

So how should we navigate these huge challenges while we are still right in the middle of the era defining global challenge that is Covid 19? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How much do I truly understand about these issues? And then, how much does my agency understand these issues?
  2. What are the triggers for my brand to boycott a platform?
  3. If we decide to join the Facebook boycott, should I do it publicly or privately?
  4. How do we deliver similar reach and frequency for July without Facebook and Instagram?
  5. Can we instead invest the money we were spending in media owned by people most affected by online hate?
  6. What is our role in funding hate or misinformation online? Do we have a policy with our agencies on this?

These are all pretty gnarly questions. All brands will have different answers. The organisation I co-chair, the Conscious Advertising Network has not joined the call for the Facebook boycott at this stage. CAN has never called for a boycott of a specific platform or media title because the problem is systemic and embedded in the entire ecosystem. Our objective is to set guidelines for advertisers for the long term that apply to all platforms and media.

Brands can no longer avoid this issue. At last week’s Cannes Lions Live event there was a conversation between Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and WFA CEO Stephan Loerke titled ‘Dear White People and Men’.

Phumzile continues from the title: ‘Do not waste your privilege in society. Use it for the collective good.’

Brands as part of the solution

To brands she says: ‘Being on the sidelines is almost as bad in perpetuating the system. Brands need to be part of the solution. Re-purpose your skills to serve a greater purpose than profit.’

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Phumzile watched as many in the private sector sat on the sidelines not getting involved in dismantling apartheid.

Global brands now ‘need to bring their A game. This issue is not going away until we can crack it.’

These are fractured times. Many brand side marketers are wondering how to navigate these issues that they have never had to deal with. But deal with them we all must. And by working together we can navigate a path through to protect our brands, make a positive impact on society and help reshape the advertising ecosystem for good.

To discuss what this might mean for your brand, get in touch…