Coke, McDonald’s, Nike still boycotting Facebook, but it's no longer just about hate
It’s been six weeks since the official end of Stop Hate for Profit’s Facebook ad boycott, and major brands are still withholding their ad money from the social network’s properties.
Major advertisers like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Nike, as well as several Unilever and Diageo brands, have not yet resumed ad spend with Facebook or Facebook-owned Instagram, according to a new study from BrandTotal, which analyzed paid social media data across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn ads from the start of the boycott on July 1 through September 3.
BrandTotal also found that Ford, Lowe’s, Nintendo and Microsoft have also not resumed their spending on Facebook or Instagram. Ad Age verified through Facebook’s Ad Library that these brands are not currently running ads. Brands that boycotted during July and August but have resumed their spending on Facebook and Instagram starting in September include CVS, Chipotle and Sony.
The boycott was initially launched in July by civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP, Color of Change and Sleeping Giants, to bring about change in how Facebook was handling hate speech and disinformation on the platform. About 1,100 brands joined the boycott to raise a rally cry and join in the movement, although media buyers told Ad Age that many brands felt like they didn’t have much of a choice, and wanted to quietly phase back into spending again with the platform, on which their brands depended greatly to reach highly targeted audiences.
While BrandTotal found that the majority of these brands, including major advertisers like Target, Budweiser and Best Buy, resumed their spending once July was over, several standouts did carry over into August, and some are still continuing to boycott into September. Those that are continuing to boycott, however, might be more concerned with the practically of their end-of-year budget plans, rather than advocacy.
“In general, many brands put together a revised post-COVID-19 media and spending plan for the rest of the year that included a pause in Facebook advertising and they aren’t interested in revisiting the budget at this point, even if the overt reason for the Facebook pause has abated,” says Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis North America. Goldberg also says that many brands are still being more conservative with their marketing spend anyway due to COVID-19 disrupting supply chains and fluctuating consumer behavior.
Another media buyer, who requested anonymity, believes any brands still boycotting against Facebook will begin spending again in the new year. “These brands aren’t holding back from spending with Facebook because of any support for Stop Hate for Profit,” he says. “They made a decision and they’re simply sticking with their budgets through the end of the year when most people will have forgotten about the boycott and moved on.”
YouTube has been a popular option for many brands during and since the official boycott in July, BrandTotal found. McDonald’s and Unilever brands ran YouTube ads during the boycott; Nike, Nintendo, Coca-Cola ran ads on both YouTube and Twitter; and Microsoft ran ads on YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Overall, brands themselves are being relatively quiet in their reasoning for continuing to boycott at this point, directing all questions to their original statements made at the start of July. While no one would say that Facebook’s issues have been resolved, the platform has taken steps outlined in Stop Hate For Profit’s 10 demands, like promising to have an independent audit for its handling of hate speech and disinformation.
Coca-Cola confirmed that the brand is still paused on Facebook and Instagram, and will “remain so for the foreseeable future.” “At this time, as we continue to assess each platform, we can confirm that our re-entry to social media will continue to be a phased approach by channel,” said a Coca-Cola spokesperson in a statement.
When Coca-Cola first announced it was joining the boycott at the end of June, Coca-Cola CEO and Chairman James Quincey said the brand expected “greater accountability and transparency” from its social media partners. “There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media,” he said in a statement.
Diageo brands, including Smirnoff, Guinness, Crown Royal, Jonnie Walker and Cîroc, are continuing their ad freezes on Facebook and Instagram. Diageo stated at the time that it “strives to promote inclusion and diversity, including through our marketing campaigns.” “There’s been no change in our position, and our pause still applies across the Diageo portfolio,” said a Diageo spokesperson in a statement.
At the end of June, Unilever was one company that stated it would pull ads from Facebook and Twitter for its nearly 400 brands through the rest of 2020. Unilever brands like Axe, Dove, Dove Men Care, Breyers and Klondike have remained true to the boycott with no sponsored ads on Facebook or Instagram, BrandTotal found. Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry’s, however, one of the first brands to stand with Stop Hate for Profit, said previously that it had decided to go back on Facebook and Instagram in August to promote its advocacy work.
"We have maintained our planned investment and we are diversifying our spend with other platforms and media partners as originally planned,” said a Unilever spokesperson in a statement.
Even for companies dedicated to continuing the boycott, it hasn’t always been easy to regulate, especially for large brands that work internationally or with third-parties. Five of Unilever’s beauty brands—Living Proof, Murad, Dermalogica, Kate Somerville and Tatcha—have continued to purchase Facebook ads because they are managed globally, the company told Ad Age. Meanwhile, Diageo-owned Smirnoff has had to pull three ads running on Facebook and Instagram at the end of August that a third-party publisher had posted on its behalf, without Facebook alerting the brand.
Contributing: Jack Neff, Garett Sloane