Brands just can't seem to quit Facebook

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Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., waves to attendees during the F8 Developers Conference in San Jose, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., waves to attendees during the F8 Developers Conference in San Jose, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Of the top 1,000 ad spenders on Facebook, only seven ceased buying ads following reports that Cambridge Analytica misused user data as it tried to influence the 2016 presidential elections and the Brexit vote, according to an analysis performed by digital intelligence platform Pathmatics.

Two of the companies, AthenaHealth and Mojoness, said the halt in ad spend was unrelated to the Cambridge Analytica story reported in The New York Times earlier this month. The other five, UsedCars.com, Charity Water, SimpliSafe and Teecai did not respond to requests for comment.

"This is a Facebook problem, not a brand problem," says Josh von Scheiner, founder and creative director at social media agency VonShine Industries. "There's nothing right now that connects this controversy to how brands use Facebook."

Pathmatics says it gets its information on Facebook advertising from a panel of mobile users in the U.S. who have given it permission to collect data on the ads in their News Feeds there. The company says its panels are anonymous and that it collects no personally identifiable information. The data was gathered from Jan. 1 to March 28.

Pathmatics CEO Gabe Gottlieb says most advertisers are not making changes to their campaigns on Facebook as a direct response to the Cambridge Analytica story.

"This speaks to how important Facebook is as an advertising channel, and that brands are surely making the decision that the benefits of the platform outweigh the smaller risks of brand damage due to association with it," Gottlieb says. "Furthermore, Facebook's advertiser ecosystem is very diverse, so only the largest spenders like P&G or Amazon could potentially impact its bottom line."

The New York Times itself, for example, continued spending on Facebook in the week after it broke the Cambridge Analytica story, Pathmatics said. "We don't discuss or confirm advertising costs," a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "Facebook is among the outlets on which we advertise to help reach potential subscribers."

The seemingly steady advertising on Facebook differs from the reaction when Google-owned YouTube came under fire last year for showing ads next to hateful content. Marketers such as Verizon and Procter & Gamble boycotted the platform in protest.

"Without an understanding of the mechanisms of YouTube advertising, on the surface it looked like brands were directly sponsoring bad content," says von Scheiner. "As a result, consumers got mad at specific brands for specific placements."

"We don't see anything like that with this latest Facebook debacle," he adds.

Still, von Scheiner says the Cambridge Analytica story has made consumers more aware of how their data is being used. "It's a fair expectation to think that this may expand to a bigger privacy conversation," von Scheiner says. "Consumers may have questions about how we collect data overall, including programmatic. We have to be prepared to have that conversation."

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