Unilever is halting all ad spending on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the U.S. through the end of the year, the company said, in a marked departure for a company that has avoided prior digital media boycotts.
The move expands advertiser pressure beyond Facebook – target of boycott calls initiated by civil rights groups last week – to Twitter. Unilever in a statement cited the “polarized atmosphere in the U.S.” and its previously rolled-out Responsibility Framework for media.
“Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society,” Unilever said in the statement. “We will be monitoring ongoing and will revisit our current position if necessary.”
The company said it will redirect spending from those platforms elsewhere. Unilever spent $42.3 million on Facebook (not counting Instagram) ads in 2019 and $2.1 million each month in April and May, according to Pathmatics.
Unilever joins Verizon and its own Ben & Jerry’s brand in boycotting Facebook platforms, but is the first advertiser to extend the boycott to Twitter. The move didn’t take immediate effect. Ads for brands including Dove were active today on Facebook. Unilever’s Seventh Generation brand, after a hiatus of several weeks, began running several ads on Facebook platforms earlier this week. Unilever's other brands include Axe, Tresemme, Vaseline, Lipton, Hellmann's and Breyers.
Unilever’s big global rival Procter & Gamble Co. has so far declined to join a Facebook boycott.
In an e-mail statement, Twitter VP-Glopbal Client Solutions Sarah Personette said: “Our mission is to serve the public conversation and ensure Twitter is a place where people can make human connections, seek and receive authentic and credible information, and express themselves freely and safely. We have developed policies and platform capabilities designed to protect and serve the public conversation, and as always, are committed to amplifying voices from underrepresented communities and marginalized groups. We are respectful of our partners’ decisions and will continue to work and communicate closely with them during this time.”
A Facebook spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Following prior advertiser defections announced earlier this week, Carolyn Everson, VP-Global Business Group of Facebook, has said: “We deeply respect any brand’s decision and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information. Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.”
Everson has been making the case that this is an industry-wide issue. In an email to advertisers obtained by Ad Age earlier this week, Everson said: “Many of you have expressed concern that a boycott on Facebook is unlikely to stop there – boycotts tend to spread to other platforms/media and boycotting in general is not the way for us to make progress together. I also really hope by now you know that we do not make policy changes tied to revenue pressure. We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests.”
Contributing: Garett Sloane