The Facebook Advertiser Boycott Is Well-Intentioned, but It Won’t Last

Like all the Facebook boycotts that have come before it, the pressure from advertisers won’t have a long-term impact on the social network.

You might have seen the headlines the past two weeks about a collection of major brands boycotting Facebook because of Facebook’s unwillingness to remove hateful content.

 

But don’t worry if you’ve missed that news because it’s all a big charade anyway. None of these brands are going to stop buying Facebook ads forever, and this boycott will peter out within a few months — just like all the other Facebook boycotts that have come before it.

 

I agree with the boycott in spirit. As I’ve written many times before, Facebook deserves all the scrutiny in the world. For years, the company has gotten away with a ridiculous double standard: Facebook makes billions of dollars a year serving content to its users, but it takes zero responsibility for the information shared on its network.

 

This boycott is an attempt to hold Facebook more accountable and it’s a noble cause. The sad reality, however, is that it won’t last. Facebook is simply too valuable of an advertising platform for brands to permanently disengage from it. Already, we’re seeing this boycott will have little long-term effect on how Facebook operates.

 

The call to boycott Facebook was started two weeks by a coalition of civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, using the hashtag #StopHateForProfit. The brands participating range from as small as Patagonia and Magnolia Pictures to some of the biggest advertising spenders in the world, such as Coca-Cola and Unilever.

 

 

In response, Facebook announced it would label posts from politicians that Facebook deems newsworthy but would otherwise violate its policies.

 

That would seem to indicate the boycott was working and affecting real change, but we’ve since learned that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the least bit concerned about a few brands pulling their ad campaigns. Zuck reportedly told Facebook employees he expects the brands to be back advertising on the platform “soon enough” and that he has no intention of making any further changes to Facebook’s content policy.

 

He’s not wrong. Most of the companies that have bragged about pulling their  Facebook ad spending plan to resume their Facebook campaigns in August. Unilever said its boycott will go through the end of the year. Only one brand, messaging software company Rakuten Viber, has had the gumption to discontinue its relationship with Facebook indefinitely.

 

If your boycott has a set end date, it’s not a boycott at all.

 

This is hardly the first time brands have made a show of dumping Facebook. Brands did the same thing in 2018 following the Cambridge Analytica hacking scandal. Publishers have declared many times over the years they will stop sharing their articles on Facebook. Neither group has been able to wean themselves off Facebook for good, though.

 

It’s telling that no prominent direct-to-consumer brands are participating in the boycott. Facebook and Instagram are the primary advertising channels for DTC brands. Without them, DTC companies would crater.

 

 

Like a bad habit, brands can’t kick their Facebook addiction, and there is zero indication that this time will be any different. As soon as this anti-Facebook fervor passes, these brands will go right back to buying Facebook ads. They’ve already declared their intention to do so.

 

It’s great Facebook is making changes, however incremental, but let’s not act like these advertisers are doing anything too heroic or putting anything at risk.

 

Let’s call it for what it is — boycotting Facebook is just a way for a brand to advertise itself.