Should you stop advertising on Facebook?

HOW THE BOYCOTT BEGAN
As of mid-July, more than 750 businesses have boycotted the social media giant, including household names such as Adidas, Ford and Unilever. Facebook has since lost approximately $7 billion in advertisement revenue, 400 of its employees have taken part in a virtual walkout (with at least one public resignation), and its founder Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly less popular than Donald Trump now. Arguably, it all began when Trump was elected into the White House in 2016 and started establishing a strong social media presence. From laughable misspellings to troubling tweets, his poor choice of words was no stranger to any digital citizen.

But all hell broke loose when Trump posted ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’, an incendiary comment which appears to given the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement—an activist group which has taken to the streets to protest for the rights of blacks against the backdrop of racially motivated police brutality. In (non) response, Facebook took a hands-off approach and left his controversial post up. For most, this was not a matter of political incorrectness, but the violation of human rights. Sportswear conglomerate Adidas has released a firm statement: “Racist, discriminatory, and hateful online content have no place in our brand or in society. As we focus on better practices within our company and communities to ensure lasting change in the fight against racism, Adidas and Reebok will also pause advertising on Facebook…”. Should YOU then stop advertising on platforms that have made controversial decisions and by extension, exposes its questionable values?

JUMPING ON THE ‘CANCEL CULTURE’ BANDWAGON… BUT AT WHAT COST?
From the strong cancel culture within the YouTube community to local reality TV show producer Clicknetwork’s decision to drop controversial influencer Xiaxue from their network, we can clearly see that businesses are increasingly pressurised by consumers to take a stand on issues which they may not have been confronted with in the past. But in the bid to call out brands for their questionable positioning, have we forgotten the purpose of doing so? How effective is this in triggering an ideological shift or policy change for the brand in question? Despite the increasing multitude of disapproving voices (and declining stocks), Zuckerberg has refused to either remove or restrict the appearance of his post on feeds, maintaining that Trump’s posts ‘do not violate any policy’, and has even reportedly spoken to the president about them. What about the very companies who have participated in the boycott? We can’t disregard the fact that they have their own dark past to face up to as well (which renders their boycott a little hypocritical). For instance, when Unilever announced its Facebook boycott, some had criticised the company as upholding double standards as it had previously released a skin whitening product line. It also seems like this move is merely temporary in nature—and it’s not because they’re giving Facebook time to turn over a new leaf. Whether this will really affect Facebook’s business in the long run remains debatable, especially when there are 76% of small and medium businesses who cannot afford to lose Facebook as an advertising platform. Furthermore, do consumers really care if a brand cuts off working ties with Facebook? A study has shown that less than a third of consumers are aware of the boycott and more than 70% had not formed an opinion on the #StopProfitForHate campaign (which has catalysed the boycott). When all is said and done, it seems that ‘cancel culture’ is more toxic than purging in nature. Just watch Black Mirror’s “Hated In The Nation”1 for a hauntingly realistic dystopian twist.
WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER AS A MARKETER
As a marketer, can you really afford to lose Facebook? A 2015 study has shown that Facebook is influencing 52% of consumers’ online and offline purchases, up from 36% in 2014. This is no small figure that can be simply overlooked or compensated by aggressive advertisement on other platforms. Perhaps what is worth analysing is the demographics of your target consumers. The same study reveals that Gen Z consumers are the most supportive of group for the boycott. If your loyal customers belong to that age range, perhaps it’s worth taking a stand in a measured fashion without alienating your other customer segments or jeopardising your long-term marketing strategy. Boycotting is not the only possible action and its extreme nature spells an impending major backlash. Brands can alternatively use the platform under fire to put forth their own values and reinforce what they stand for (and against what Facebook appears to champion. Although Unilever has boycotted Facebook as well (amongst other social media platforms), its marketing boss has admitted that “Conversations, not boycotts, is the way to fix social media.” So, who can hold social media platforms accountable for enabling divisive content? For one, the UK government has laid down a penalisation act. In the US, Google and Facebook had evaded any sort of accountability for enabling terrorist-related content by evoking the executive order on preventing online censorship. In Singapore, turning to organisations such as Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) may be a more productive form of seeking redress. Regardless, this large-scale Facebook boycott has also served as a wake-up call for other brands to exercise greater sensitivity when looking at their branding and associated values. Next up, we will be taking a closer look at the ever-evolving cultural landscape of our world, and how this has implications on branding that is perceived to be inherently racist.
So, who can hold social media platforms accountable for enabling divisive content? For one, the UK government has laid down a penalisation act. In the US, Google and Facebook had evaded any sort of accountability for enabling terrorist-related content by evoking the executive order on preventing online censorship. In Singapore, turning to organisations such as Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) may be a more productive form of seeking redress. Regardless, this large-scale Facebook boycott has also served as a wake-up call for other brands to exercise greater sensitivity when looking at their branding and associated values. Next up, we will be taking a closer look at the ever-evolving cultural landscape of our world, and how this has implications on branding that is perceived to be inherently racist.

1″Hated in the Nation” is the sixth and final episode of the third series of British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. Written by series creator and showrunner Charlie Brooker and directed by James Hawes, it premiered on Netflix on 21 October 2016. The episode is a murder mystery, and follows Detective Karin Parke (Kelly Macdonald) and her new partner Blue Coulson (Faye Marsay) who, together with the help of National Crime Agency officer Shaun Li (Benedict Wong), try to solve the inexplicable deaths of people who were targets of social media.

Ong Hui Wen

About the author

Ong Hui Wen​

Copywriter

From creative content to technical pieces, I craft compelling copy based on a clear understanding of audience needs to surpass content marketing business KPIs. 

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