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POV: What You Need to Know About the Facebook Boycott

For the last several years, Facebook has faced its share of opposition from all directions. The social media giant has found itself embroiled in one controversy or another consistently dating back to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. As Americans have voiced greater concerns over data privacy and regulation, Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned before Congress to explain what the company does, where it has gone astray and betrayed the public trust, and how it plans to course correct to address issues. The answer surprisingly has always been nothing. The advertising behemoth has done little to effectively address concerns from users or Congress. What makes the current boycott efforts different?

Brands Are Saying No

In a nutshell, brands have begun being vocal about Facebook’s laissez-faire approach to misinformation and hate speech on the platform. After calls for Facebook to put measures in place to address the issues failed, brands began pulling their spends from the platform. The Stop Hate for Profit campaign is spreading across all industries and shows no signs of slowing. According to the New York Times, some of Facebook’s biggest spenders, such as Starbucks ($95MM in 2019) and Diageo ($23MM in 2019), have joined the boycott. Unlike other attempts to have the brand adjust practices, this one is hitting Facebook in the wallet. Previously, although politicians and users complained, revenue was not impacted. Indeed, after dressing Zuckerberg down in Capitol Hill hearings, the same politicians voicing concerns continued to dump advertising budgets into the platform. However, this boycott, coming on the heels of a drop in revenue due to the pandemic, will be more effective because it impacts the bottom line. A quick look at Stop Hate for Profit’s running list of participants includes some of the biggest brands in the world. The list is a Who’s Who of brands that Facebook users know and love.

At Underscore, we specialize in healthcare and pharma marketing and have been closely watching what is happening within those verticals. According to MM&M, 79% of pharma brands have opted-in to the boycott. Big brands such as Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Gilead, Merck, Amgen, and Novartis are all onboard. Rather than functioning in an activist role, the article identifies concerns around brand safety as their primary concern. Regardless of the motivation, this boycott appears to have greater staying power than previous attempts to drive change regarding Facebook policies.

Where Budgets Are Going

Because advertising on the platform is a significant portion of many brands’ spend, marketers are looking for places to move budgets. This seems indicative of a long-term shift, and Underscore has identified several platforms and channels where budgets can be shifted without sacrificing performance.

  • Closed Social Platforms – for pharma companies, reaching HCPs in endemic environments is a critical component of marketing strategies. Many brands are shifting to medical social platforms. e.g. Doximity, Sermo and Skipta.
  • Other Social Platforms – hello Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat & TikTok. And, do not forget YouTube. People share tons of videos and photos on these platforms as well. Marketers likely already have assets to make this shift, as many of the ad units across social platforms have similar creative appearances. With healthcare brands, there have been shifts in disease-specific community-driven platforms like The Mighty.
  • Connected and OTT TV – AdExchanger’s “On TV and Video” column makes a great case for shifting those dollars to connected TV. Because streaming has increased significantly due to the pandemic, it now covers a wider range of age demos. When folded into a programmatic campaign, advertisers can connect their TV buys to their digital efforts and implement an omni-channel strategy. The cost model of programmatic, buying on a per impression basis, also makes it a more affordable, highly targeted option for smaller brands.
  • Audio – while audio has taken a bit of a hit due to the pandemic changing listeners’ commutes and mobility, many areas of the country are open again. Even with numbers down, audio is a highly targeted, non-cookie reliant channel that reaches many people. Audio includes podcasts, where listenership is up, and audio out-of-home, which leverages placed-based media, especially in essential stores/settings.

Underscore’s Outlook

At Underscore, we see this as an opportunity for brands to test new channels and identify new ways to reach their audience. At the end of 2019, 2020 was positioned as the year of the triopoly, with marketers expecting to spend most of their budgets within the walled gardens of Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The boycott represents an opportunity to diversify strategic approaches and take some power back from larger advertising platforms.

While the triopoly accounts for a large chunk of total spend, your media strategy should include some long-tail players that cumulatively account for a significant amount of spend. Are there partners or sites where your brand performs incredibly well? Is there any potential to expand those buys? Once that step is taken, look to testing new partners, sites, and channels, such as connected and OTT. Consider where else your audience is spending their time.

Rather than seeing pullback of spends on Facebook as lost opportunity, perhaps this is a good time to re-assess whether the triopoly is really what works best for your brand. Due to the pandemic and other changing world conditions, now is an optimal time to take a step back and adjust strategies to fit our new world. Brands that are nimblest at adjusting will discover that the boycott opens, rather than limits opportunities.

If you would like to speak to one of our media experts on how the Facebook Boycott could impact your brand email us at

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