Several civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, have called for a Facebook ad boycott for the month of July.
“Every day,” the Anti-Defamation League wrote in an open letter, “we see ads from companies placed adjacent to hateful content, occupying the same space as extremist recruitment groups and harmful disinformation campaigns. Your ad buying dollars are being used by the platform to increase its dominance in the industry at the expense of vulnerable and marginalized communities who are often targets of hate groups on Facebook.”
In response, a number of companies — including Patagonia, North Face, Eddie Bauer, Upwork, and Ben & Jerry’s — have announced they will stop running Facebook ads.
Add Verizon, the telecommunications giant that reportedly spends $2 million on Facebook and Instagram advertising. (If you’re curious, Procter & Gamble — more on that later — and the Biden and Trump campaigns currently spend the most.)
Verizon announced on Thursday it is pulling its ads “… until the company can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable.”
Granted, Verizon’s move could be viewed as at least partly self-serving. While the company spends considerable sums on Facebook advertising, that spending is a drop in its reported $2.6 billion ad budget.
But since many companies have publicly stated support for the Black Lives Matter movement, each must now must put their (advertising) money where their mouth is or be seen as simply paying lip service. Procter & Gamble, one of the largest ad spenders in the world, has threatened to pull spending on any platform that doesn’t put “appropriate systemic action” in place to address hate speech.
Facebook certainly takes those concerns seriously. The company has already invested considerable sums to better monitor and police its platforms and has vowed to invest in AI technologies that better detect hate speech.
But Facebook has also vowed to resist making policy changes because of external pressure. In an email to advertisers, Facebook Global Business Group VP Carolyn Everson wrote, “We do not make policy changes tied to revenue pressure. We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests.”
Clearly Facebook can afford to stand on principle since it generates an estimated $70 billion in advertising revenue. The platform is such a powerful marketing tool — ask direct-to-consumer brands where the bulk of their ad spending goes and many will point to Facebook — that creating and maintaining a large and lasting boycott will be difficult.
All of which makes for a difficult decision for small business owners who might be considering joining the Facebook ad boycott.
Verizon can “afford” the move; Facebook makes up a single-digit percentage of its total advertising budget. But if the bulk of your revenue is generated through Facebook advertising, the decision is much tougher.
If you spend $5,000 a month — or $50,000 a month — on the platform, Facebook won’t miss you if you walk away.
In fact, even though the company has faced criticism for content and user privacy issues for several years, ad revenue still increased by 27 percent from 2018 to 2019. The audience is huge. The targeting is relatively precise and often effective.
And overall ad spending should only increase as businesses continue to re-open.
If you decide to join the boycott in order to put greater pressure on Facebook to change its policies, that decision may not make an impact.
But if you decide to take a stand — not just on this, but any issue — that’s a different decision.
You can always decide you don’t want to run the risk that your ads will appear next to content you disagree with, or that you feel reflects poorly on your employees, customers, and brand.
You can always decide which businesses you associate with. You can always decide which stands you take and which causes you support.
That might mean disassociate from certain ad platforms. Or suppliers. Or customers.
Or it might not. The only right decision is the decision that is right for your business, and for you. What matters is what you do, and how that makes you feel about your business.
Because for a small business owner, the two are inextricably intertwined.