Facebook ads boycott: A lesson learned on CSR and building positive brand image

The social network giant Facebook is suffering from a huge social boycott campaign joined by major brands. The decision to boycott should be a huge plus for brand’s image. However, by simply pulling advertising in a short period of time, would it suffice for companies to convince new generations of consumers to believe in brands’ CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts?

Public’s trust in Facebook on a steady decline

Since June of this year, the social media empire has been criticized for its lackluster attitude against hate speech and posts containing misinformation by U.S President Donald Trump while refusing to remove them from the platform. Shortly after, a coalition of civil rights organizations including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have rolled out the #StopHateForProfit calling for brands to halt advertising on Facebook. So far, the campaign has been enjoying huge support. Nearly 1000 brands have joined the movement.

In recent years, Facebook’s continuous data breach scandals have cast doubt on the company’s capability in data privacy management. These include the infamous Cambridge Analytica affair, or the personal information leak that caused data of 267 million Facebook users being offered for sale,

Brands who’ve chosen to ‘hit pause’ on Facebook  

On May 25th, the messaging app with more than 1 billion users Viber announced its decision to sever all business ties with Facebook by cutting all ad spending and removing Facebook-related features because the social network “continues to demonstrate poor judgment in understanding its role in today’s work”. Djamel Agaoua, Viber’s CEO advised users to “clean up” their existing mobile apps to protect their personal data. He also confirmed that Viber’s default encryption would ensure complete security over users’ data.

An array of top-tier brands such as the world-renowned Microsoft, the beverage giant Coca-Cola, consumer goods conglomerate Unilever, sports gear corporate Adidas, etc. have announced to pause all paid advertising on Facebook – or at least, in the America market. According to Zing – a credible Vietnamese media, Unilever Vietnam’s spokesperson confirms that the change so far has been applied only to Unilever USA. Only the representative from Coca-Cola Vietnam says that they are re-strategizing all future advertising efforts on Facebook in response to this new provision from the parent company.

Zuckerberg’s effort to put out the fire

This is the first time in history that Facebook is greeted with such a huge backlash from both the public and business partners, resulting in a 8,3% fall in stock value and a $7 billion loss in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s asset. Soon after, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would ramp up its control over inflammatory content and expand its policies to prohibit ads that discriminate against minority groups. However, hateful posts that are deemed ‘newsworthy’ won’t be removed to reflect on-going affairs, but it’d be ‘labeled’ instead. The CEO never mentioned the boycott.

New-gen consumers don’t think ‘hitting pause’ is enough

This scandal of Facebook took deep root in the social-political situation in America as the country finds itself in shambles from the COVID-19 crisis, racial protests and the presidential election to wrap up by the end of the year. In contrast to the response of other popular social media platforms in the States such as Twitter, Snapchat, or most recently Reddit, Facebook still maintains its laissez-faire approach to harmful speech and grants more autonomy in the users’ hands. This boycott campaign is still not large enough to trigger a global wave. Besides Unilever, other brands such as Honda, The North Face, H.P or Ben & Jerry’s have confirmed their participation but only to halt their Facebook Ad in America. Up until now, Adidas, Diageo and Coca-Cola are among the few high-profile companies that made clear that they will pull all ads on a global scale.

This move from brands might score some points with American consumers or interested consumers elsewhere, but it’s not likely that they will expect Facebook to be abolished as an advertising platform. Moreover, experts have said that the campaign could hardly take a heavy blow on Facebook’s revenue in the near future as 80% of its ad revenue is from SMEs, many of which rely on Facebook ad because it’s cheaper and more effective in reaching their target consumers. The social media giant seems to be suffering from a reputational loss more than a financial one.

Nevertheless, the fact that these brands took the initiative to support a civil rights campaign is worth celebrating. Yet, if consumers are to evaluate whether these brands truly care about social happenings in the long run, then simply pausing advertising for a month or two, or even until the rest of the years, won’t be enough to prove any point.

The 4.0 era has granted consumers the ability to research and compare brands’ pricing strategies, their advertising efforts or response to crisis, etc. only with a few mouse clicks. What today consumers, especially Gen Y and Z, are looking for in brands might have exceeded the bounds of product quality or some bombastic action, but instead if they’re looking at whether the brand has been committing to meaningful projects frequently and voluntarily over an extended period of time. In other words, new-gen consumers will examine the brand’s CSR record and their consistency between word and action. “In my understanding, CSR is full commitment. I get really turned off when [companies] try to promote themselves by saying empty words. Commitment, action, consistency, and transparency are what matter to me,” a gen Z student shared with PR Daily on the matter:

In summary, both large enterprises and SMEs (regardless whether they could or could not afford to pull ads from Facebook) could practice corporate social responsibility in many ways. CSR models must convince new-gen consumers to believe in brand’s responsiveness and sensitivity to current affairs (again in this case, the boycott campaign was a reaction to the ongoing political unrest in the States). At the same time, these activities should display long-term commitment and overall sustainability. Consumers’ trust in brands will remain as long as they can feel the sincerity and practical values in their CSR efforts.

Author Chau-Giang is an Account Intern at EloQ Communications. Giang is pursuing a Communication degree in Bowling Green State University (USA) with an emphasis in Marketing.  

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