Is the Facebook Ad Boycott Working?

Katie Hagar
July 10, 2020

As social movements continue to pop up around the country, a new kind of purely digital protest has emerged on social media. 

Since mid-June 2020, companies have started to boycott social advertising on Facebook (and Instagram, which the company owns) in an effort to pressure the platform into taking action against racism, hate speech, and misinformation, especially regarding elections.

After a number of smaller brands led the way by pulling their ads from Facebook, the boycott quickly gained momentum as larger brands, such as The North Face, Ben & Jerry’s and Coca-Cola joined the movement.  

The movement was formalized when a civil rights coalition, which includes the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, called on major corporations to join the #StopHateForProfit campaign and pause advertising on Facebook. Many companies announced they would halt advertising on various platforms after this, but not all explicitly linked the action to this campaign. 

Many companies participating in this initiative plan to halt advertising for at least 30 days

Others, such as Unilever, have already stated that they will stop advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter through the end of 2020. 

Which companies have pulled their ads so far? 

By now, hundreds of companies have halted advertising on social media platforms. Here is a list of some of the biggest brands to do so: 

While more brands join the list every day, only three of Facebook’s 25 largest spenders on ads have boycotted: Starbucks, Microsoft, and Pfizer. The total ad spend from those 25 companies accounted for about three percent of Facebook’s 2019 revenue. 

What’s more, many of the small businesses that make up the majority of Facebook’s eight million advertisers have yet to take action. A lot of these smaller businesses are still trying to cope with economic losses from the pandemic and regain business. They need to generate as much revenue as possible, which may mean that halting ads on social media is not an option. 

What is Facebook’s response to all this?

In a memo to Facebook’s advertisers, Facebook’s VP of global business solutions, Carolyn Everson, made it clear that any response from Facebook would not be motivated by monetary gain or based on revenue pressure by saying “we set our policies based on principles rather than business interests.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave the final word on June 26, 2020. Without referencing the boycott directly, Zuckerberg stated that Facebook will update its policies to prohibit hate speech in its advertisements. He added that special care will be taken with ads referencing immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and any ads implying inferiority of these groups will be removed. 

What does this mean for social advertising? 

Many brands plan to continue boycotting until real change is visible, meaning they will keep ads turned off beyond the 30-day window if they feel they should. It is also possible that this boycott will continue to snowball if influential companies in other sectors choose to follow suit. 

In the meantime, this could be a good opportunity for companies to reconsider their social ad plans, or their content strategies overall, and return to the marketplace stronger than ever after this campaign. There is a good chance that this movement will get bigger before the issue is resolved, but many are optimistic that Facebook will listen and make a change.