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It all began one day in June, during one of our usual weekly alignment meetings. At a certain point, perhaps due to the heat, or perhaps due to the lingering effects of prolonged exposure to an impending disaster climate (see COVID-19), the usual discussions about metrics and targeting strategies shifted towards slightly more “serious” topics, leading us to reflect on systemic racism within social media and concerns related to the economic recession.

“Reduced spenders” are companies that did not officially announce boycotts, but decreased their spending in July by at least 90 percent compared to June.
Source: Pathmatics

During those days, all of Italy was timidly emerging from months of forced lockdown, during which hordes of advertising executives, accustomed to doing business between Milan’s rooftop gardens and yachts in the Costa Smeralda, were forced to stay at home, where the thought of hypothetical missed opportunities shattered loudly against their synapses. The industry, hard hit by the lockdown, was seeing its usual glamorous mid-year commercial appointments transform into a procession of video presentations recorded in bathrooms and backyards at home.

The Blackout Tuesday

In this situation of economic stagnation, on May 25, 2020, a second event suddenly struck that would have a devastating impact on the world, and consequently, also on companies: the killing of George Floyd, a young African American who died following an assault by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Companies had just begun discussing how and whether to address the worldwide protests sparked by the event when on June 2, later known as #BlackoutTuesday, a barrage of black squares with solemn captions promising to remain silent on social media for an entire day hit Instagram. The original idea behind the social media “blackout” came from black executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, who wanted musicians and businesses to use the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement, which emerged following the news of George Floyd’s death. But somewhere along the way, the message morphed into something entirely different, until thousands of well-intentioned supporters thought they had to post a black square to prove they were not racist.

source: Instagram

Whatever the original intent, many advertisers, realizing that any other post would seem inappropriate, began posting black squares instead of paid ads, a gesture aimed at showing support for the protests (but which actually, despite good intentions, ended up burying the real protest movement, but that’s another story).

In this already dire situation, during which Facebook stood by helplessly as advertisers increasingly boycotted the platform due to dissatisfaction with its handling of misinformation and hate speech, another blow was added, the lax attitude by Zuckerberg towards President Trump’s recent posts.

The boycott begins

It’s worth noting that Facebook generates 98% of its revenue through advertisements (in its last quarter, it earned $17.4 billion in advertising revenue), and the pandemic already damaged advertising sales in general. Some companies are still “incredibly strained,” said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, the Blackout Tuesday “really had a very significant impact on our platforms,” she added, with hundreds of companies suspending marketing activities.

According to the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics, Nike, Anheuser-Busch, and other companies cut their daily spending on Facebook and Instagram by over $100,000 at the beginning of June. Some small advertisers described their detachment from Facebook as a protest against the platform and its affiliates.

source: The New York Times

Simris, a Swedish algae cultivation company, wrote in a LinkedIn post that it “vitally depended on digital marketing,” but was not willing to “continue enabling a sick system with our funds.” “Recent developments have made it morally impossible for us to continue feeding the same hand that complacently offers its services as the primary platform for spreading hate, promoting violence, and disinformation,” the company wrote.

Within a few weeks, the Boycott Facebook movement began to grow rapidly, Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers, and dozens of advertisers, such as Honda, Verizon, and Patagonia, unhappy with the social media giant’s handling of President Trump’s messages, protests against racism, and police brutality, suspended publications.

Unilever added in a statement that they would not advertise on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter in the United States at least for the rest of the year, during a “highly polarized election period,” and that “continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.” Unilever spent $42.4 million on advertising on Facebook in the United States last year (source Pathmatics).

Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble‘s Chief Brand Officer, said in an online speech that the company should not “advertise on or near content that we consider hateful, derogatory, or discriminatory.”

Advertising agencies like IPG Mediabrands have stated that they were working with companies that wanted to cut ties with Facebook.

Coca-Cola Company took a slightly different approach, stating that it would block all paid ads on social media platforms globally for at least 30 days, but would not join the official Facebook boycott. James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s CEO, added in a statement that he would use the time to reevaluate its advertising standards and would inform platforms that “we expect greater responsibility, action, and transparency from them.”

Ms. Everson admitted that the company’s decision on Mr. Trump’s social media statements “is not a decision that everyone agrees with,” and sent a personal note to top advertisers, accompanied by a long public post from Mr. Zuckerberg promising to review some of Facebook’s policies. Apparently, from her statements, most of the customer complaints focused on how to dismantle a systemic racial inequality system within Menlo Park companies.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the conversation moved away from Zuckerberg’s position on Trump’s post.”

These words are not surprising when you learn that the Trump campaign spent more than $2.8 million on advertising on the platform in May alone (source Advertising Analytics, a media tracking company). And together with the spending of the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, supported along with the Republican National Committee, the president’s reelection team was the 10th largest advertiser on Facebook behind Samsung, Microsoft, and the Walt Disney Company, according to Pathmatics.

Most of Facebook’s eight million advertisers are small businesses or individuals, who “continue to rely on and rely on our platforms,” said Ms. Everson. Many of them feel uncomfortable with the widespread negativity within the platform but feel they have no choice but to continue promoting themselves on it.

The Clorox Company$8.900.000
Honda America$6.000.000
The North Face$3.300.000
The Volkswagen Group$13.700.000
Some of the companies that have joined the “Boycott Facebook” movement