Where brands now stand on Facebook boycott: The North Face returns but Coke, Chipotle and Eddie Bauer stay away
The Facebook ad boycott is almost up, or at least phase one ends Friday. And while organizers are calling the movement “a huge success” and are ready to ease their pressure on brands, some advertisers like Coca-Cola Co., Chipotle and Eddie Bauer say they will remain off the social network and Instagram beyond July.
Other brands, like The North Face, which was the first major advertiser to join the boycott, plan to resume spending.
On Thursday, the organizers of Stop Hate for Profit, the civil rights groups that sparked an advertiser rebellion of Facebook, said that there is still work to do, but that they achieved many of their goals. Stop Hate was ready to tell boycotting brands that they could return to advertising on Facebook with heads held high.
“They should be very comfortable,” says Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the groups behind Stop Hate for Profit. “I think this campaign was an unambiguous win, that I think they should be proud to share with their consumers, their employees and their board.”
“We are encouraged by the initial progress and recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight,” The North Face told Ad Age in a prepared statement. “That’s why we will continue to engage in dialogue with Facebook to hold them accountable for the actions they plan to implement. We intend to resume our working relationship with Facebook and Instagram in August.”
Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer at Chipotle, said the company would avoid Facebook and Instagram into August. “Chipotle is committed to our brand purpose of cultivating a better world and we are continuing to monitor the changes being made by Facebook,” Brandt told Ad Age. “At this time, we do not have plans to resume advertising in August.”
Coca-Cola Co., which paused spending on all social media platforms globally, including Google-owned YouTube, announced it would return to YouTube and LinkedIn, but remain paused on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter globally. “While we’ve made progress, our journey is not complete. At this time, as we continue to assess each platform, we can confirm that our re-entry to social media will be a phased approach by channel,” the beverage giant said in a statement.
The company outlined a series of actions, including undertaking a “qualitative and quantitative assessment of platforms against our hateful activity policy and expectations for additional transparency and industry-standard harmonized governance. This is work in progress and will be conducted internally and with independent third parties.”
Stop Hate for Profit began in June to protest what organizers considered to be an alarming rise in hate speech and disinformation on Facebook. The coalition included the ADL, NAACP and Color of Change, which were all energized in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the world after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Facebook was criticized for not doing enough to crack down on violent rhetoric, particularly from President Donald Trump. In May, Trump posted messages on Facebook and Twitter that suggested unleashing a violent crackdown on civil rights protesters. He said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” on his social media channels. Twitter was praised for its policies that punished Trump, and the platform has been hailed for its strict moderation tactics since. Facebook’s policies did not have a remedy for Trump’s message about “shooting” protesters.
The way Facebook handled that incident became a point of contention between the company and civil rights groups. Stop Hate for Profit outlined 10 areas for Facebook to improve, including the need to add a new executive with civil rights experience; moderate hate speech more strictly; allow independent audits of its hate speech enforcement; and give brands more transparency when ads appear near offensive content.
The movement attracted hundreds of brands, including Unilever, Starbucks, Pfizer, Verizon, Ford and Adidas. Other brands didn’t officially join the protest, but they pulled back spending on Facebook and Instagram quietly, including McDonald’s, Kraft-Heinz and Geico.
“I have talked to many companies who have been frustrated that Facebook has very much ignored their concerns,” Greenblatt says. “And they have told us they’re not going to return to Facebook or its platforms, and they’re going to keep pausing. So I think, on one hand this campaign will extend and some companies will choose to stay off.”
Eddie Bauer says it too will continue to pause spending on the social network. “At this time, we will continue to pause advertising on Facebook and plan to follow through on our testing initiatives across the broader social landscape on platforms such as Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok and more,” says Damien Huang, Eddie Bauer’s president.
Facebook declined to comment for this story, but the company did issue a blog post on Thursday to explain how the platform has taken the concerns of brands seriously. Greenblatt acknowledged that Facebook has taken steps to address the issues raised by the boycott.
Even still, Stop Hate planned to enter a new phase of the protest by moving its attention overseas. Greenblatt said the group would rally brands in the U.K. and Europe in the coming weeks. Greenblatt said it would organize with brands to be ready to initiate more ad pauses on Facebook if they find the company fails to live up to its commitments.
Facebook has released an audit of its record on civil rights. The company agreed to independent audits by the Media Rating Council to verify how it handles moderating content. Facebook has been more diligent about identifying disinformation and removing hateful content. For instance, Facebook announced in July that it was purging accounts affiliated with “Boogaloo” ideology, which attracts groups interested in white nationalism and violent rebellion.
In its blog post on Thursday, Facebook said it does not want hate on its platforms, and then described all the steps it has taken to counter hate in the past month. “We should be held accountable for our work on this and invite continued scrutiny of our efforts so that we can make the best and fastest progress possible,” the blog post said.