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Facebook advertising boycott - the industry reacts

David Murphy

As the number of brands boycotting Facebook hits 500, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tells employees in a video town hall meeting that: “my guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough”, according to The Information, we asked the industry for their thoughts on the boycott...

Stephen Upstone, CEO and Co-founder, LoopMe:
"In light of some major brands leaving major social platforms in response to hateful content, there is still an opportunity for brands to leverage alternative media channels and still reach the desired audiences. There are solutions for brands in the market today that tap into mobile-first audience insights and high impact media. 

"By using real outcomes as the KPI, brands can measure and take action in real-time to understand how their brand is being perceived via their media campaigns. To gain this understanding in real time and change tactics will ultimately ensure brand equity and performance.

"Any mobile-first media strategy can be balanced by up weighting ads outside of social and user-generated content, whilst targeting heavy users of social in other brand-safe, hate-free environments. 

"Ethically, it is not right for publishers to profit from hate, and advertisers should take a stand with their marketing spend. This alone might be enough to make many purpose-led brands take an immediate stance.

"Secondly, when brands left YouTube a few years back due to ads appearing next to inappropriate content, it didn’t make a material impact on YouTube or some major brands’ advertising performance. This calls into question how much media investment brands should be putting into these platforms without properly knowing what moves the needle on outcomes.

Lastly to that point, if brands can grow without a major social publisher, they can look at the business impact of diversifying their media investments by measuring return on advertising spend against real world sales, or run brand lift studies alongside media bought on other channels and find out the correlations between media and brand metrics. All of this is possible today without relying on the big players in mobile and social media.”

Andy Morley, Chief Digital Revenue Officer, ESI Media:
“The boycott of social media platforms, most prominently of Facebook, by international brands is dramatic but certainly not unexpected. Brands are acutely aware that context is paramount; marketers and business leaders are understandably worried about their advertising appearing alongside hateful or woefully inaccurate information. However, it goes so much further than this; the public has its eyes focused on the actions of businesses and frankly will not tolerate empty words without substantive actions that reek of inauthenticity. Brands leading the boycott have taken an important step in holding social platforms to account, but for changes to be made it can’t be a flash in the pan moment.”

Patrick Johnson, CEO and Chairman, Hybrid Theory:

“Marketers, quite rightly, want to ensure that their advertising appears within brand-safe environments. Consumers expect brands to adhere to their values and how and where advertising is seen is no different. It’s therefore understandable that brands have taken a much stronger position regarding the context around their advertising.

“Brand safety has always been of paramount importance to brands, so it’s not surprising brands like Starbucks are boycotting Facebook. Other programmatic media have maintained stringent brand safety measures in place, while social media platforms brands often provide little to no control over what their advertising will appear next to. Social media platforms need to adopt the best capabilities of more open channels to assuage the fear of brands, or marketers will find other channels to invest in.” 

Jed Hartman, Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer, Channel Factory: 
"We see YouTube as an ideal partner to build our tech platform on top of for many reasons, one of which is because they have done such a strong job proactively removing violence and hate content, pulling more than 25,000 inappropriate channels since 2019. Plus, YouTube empowers companies like Channel Factory through their YouTube Measurement Program to contextually filter channels and videos, enabling advertisers to run on the most suitable and relevant content aligned with their brand DNA."

Owen Hancock, Marketing Director, Impact:
"I think behind the central issue, which relates to powerful organisations’ responsibility to stem misinformation, there is another point here that we wouldn’t want to miss, and that is the kind of power Facebook wields. If Facebook and Google represent more than half of digital ad spend, then we probably can't expect them to put the wishes of advertisers first unless there is collective action to make the pain felt. Whereas in the partnerships industry, where we have built a diverse ecosystem with hundreds of thousands of different partners, each has to be responsive to different advertisers' needs. That seems to be a healthier, more harmonious model than two gigantic media owners whom brands need to boycott if they want their voices to be heard."

Craig Tuck, Chief Revenue Officer, The Ozone Project:
While the current boycott is a very real issue for both social platforms and advertisers, it appears that today's climate has accelerated a move by marketers which has long been in the offing. The major societal shifts we've seen as a result of the pandemic and the need to tackle rising hate speech have been met head on with some major challenges in digital advertising around brand safety, compliance and accountability. In many ways it's created the perfect storm for advertiser reappraisal. 

"Since the inception of Ozone, the conversations we've had with clients have been remarkably consistent in their ask. They want to be closer to premium publishers and content creators, they want greater transparency across the digital supply chain and they want their ads to appear in trusted, safe environments; all of which our business was built to deliver.

"The major tech platforms have historically had the upper hand when it comes to ease of transaction and delivery of scale, however, through alliances like Ozone, marketers can now have a single point of access to broadcast opportunities in other digital channels. In fact our monthly adult reach of 45.1m UK adults – of whom we see 63 per cent everyday – is on a par with Google and is consistently greater than Facebook. And it's not just Ozone, you only have to look at Global's DAX or News UK and Bauer's Octave Audio platform as two examples of alternative scaled plays coming from premium media environments. 

"There's no denying that platforms like Facebook can offer advertisers a very powerful growth channel when used in the right way, but there have long been questions over the impact of the company's dominance, particularly when combined with that of Google, on the wider advertising ecosystem. Even before we went into lockdown, advertisers and their agencies were acknowledging the part they had to play in creating a sustainable media industry that provides quality, trusted environments for brand advertising to appear in. It appears now more than ever that advertisers are realising the responsibility – and power – they have to instigate the change they want to see.” 

Matthew Goldhill, CEO, Picnic Media:
"This boycott will be a flash in the pan, generating lots of headlines but ultimately having a negligible effect on Facebook's revenue and profits. With its great formats, slick apps and the highest quality audience targeting, Facebook has built undoubtedly the best advertising platform in the world – brands can take a temporary stand against Facebook's feed of UGC, click-bait hate speech posts, but at one point they will understandably need to prioritise media effectiveness again. For the boycott to last, media owners will need to replicate what makes Facebook so effective (the formats, slick inventory and high quality targeting....) and provide opportunities that are as effective as Facebook but don't fund hate."

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