The Facebook Ad Boycott is a Great Opportunity for Publishers

For the first half of 2020, Disney was Facebook’s biggest spender, according to Suzanne Vranica in the Wall Street Journal. Now, they’ve quietly and dramatically slashed their spending on social platforms.

“In the first half of this year, Disney spent an estimated $210 million on Facebook ads for Disney+ in the U.S., according to Pathmatics,” Vranica writes. “Disney was the biggest ad spender during that period. Last year, it was the No. 2 Facebook advertiser in the U.S., behind Home Depot Inc.”

Ad spend on Instagram for Disney’s sister streaming service Hulu was also paused, Vranica continues.

While Disney remains officially mum on the reason for their move, a number of big corporations are joining an official boycott of the platform, due to its lack of enforcement and hazy policies around hate speech and disinformation.

[In late June] the digital ad agency 360i, a Dentsu Group subsidiary whose clients include Burberry, Discover Financial and United Airlines, stated its support for the boycott,” writes Greg Dool in Folio:. “A day later, outdoor apparel brand The North Face said it would halt paid advertising on Facebook-owned properties until the company implemented stricter policies to halt the spread of ‘racist, violent or hateful content and misinformation’ on its platforms. In the days since, outdoor retailers REI and Eddie Bauer and The North Face competitor Patagonia, as well as Ben & Jerry’s and a handful of smaller tech brands, have announced similar pledges.”

Facebook claims to be making progress — and reportedly throwing billions at the problem, including finding “90% of hate speech before anyone flags it” and proactively labeling questionable political speech. For brands looking to protect their reputation by not being seen alongside objectionable content, it’s not enough.

To be sure, there are other reasons why Disney … and so many other brands … are cutting their digital ad spend on social media now. We’ve seen brands react before; the YouTube boycott in 2017 and 2018 saw brands fleeing that platform, unsure if their ads would appear next to heinous content. Facebook’s brand safety measures have long been accused of not measuring up.

Add to that a growing weariness among consumers for digital ads, and now Apple’s announcement that they are shutting down third-party tracking, and you have a perfect set of conditions for mass movement away from social media ads.

That means the time is right for brands to rethink their ad budgets on a long-term scale … and Dool sees a great opportunity in this for publishers.

“For publishers, who have long positioned themselves as brand-safe advertising alternatives to tech platforms, unprecedented scrutiny of Facebook’s $80 billion global advertising business could mean a chance to recoup some lost ground,” he writes.

“It does present an opportunity,” said an executive at a large digital media company, who didn’t want to be identified in Dool’s piece. “I think it’s an important moment for brands to reassess how their actions and their marketing budgets reflect their values as a company. More than ever, employees and customers are holding their companies accountable for following through on the values they are saying to the world.”

Advertisers are losing faith in social ads to produce the revenues they seek; meanwhile, publishers have an opportunity to step up and declare their media properties as safe ground, where the risk to brands is inherently low and the variables that make digital ads such a crapshoot don’t factor into the equation.

In other words, it’s time for publishers to recognize their ability to become essential, to both their readers and their ad partners.