The Power of the Corporate Pocketbook

Navigating the nuances of social media is a major challenge for marketers in today’s digital age. In younger generations, such as Generation Z, conversations surrounding brands are happening outside the reach of marketers’ hands. According to Campaign Monitor, Gen Z prefers to interact with brands on social media over any other method, including email, in-person, advertisements, and company blogs.[i] Social media empowers consumers to keep companies accountable in their words and their actions. 

Consumers hold a lot more power today than they used to. A survey by GOBankingRates found that Millennials are less likely to spend recklessly when their budgets are tight than Baby Boomers in similar circumstances. They also tend to spend money on meaningful experiences rather than things.[ii] It’s becoming clearer and clearer that consumers make decisions with their pocketbooks.

Companies and organizations are starting to do the same, placing ethics at the forefront of their financial decision making. Recently, the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, and Free Press launched a campaign titled #StopHateforProfit.[iii] The campaign centers around the spread of misinformation and hate speech on social media platforms – primarily on Facebook.

Students learn from a young age that to create credible work, one must use credible sources. However, it has become increasingly difficult to discern credible sources from non-credible ones, a phenomenon only exacerbated by the frenzy surrounding the concept of “fake news.” Additionally, ccording to the “Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience 2020” report, conducted in January 2020 and published by the Anti-Defamation League, 44% of internet users face online harassment.[iv] (Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels)

The coalition behind #StopHateforProfit believe that the policies and procedures surrounding vitriolic language and misinformation on Facebook’s platform is insufficient. The campaign suggests accountability, decency, and support as places for Facebook to start addressing the role it’s played in spreading hate and disinformation. Some of their initial goals are for Facebook to:

  • begin establishing and empowering a permanent civil rights infrastructure, including hiring a c-suite level executive with civil rights expertise
  • improve processes regarding finding and removing public and private groups focused on white supremacy, militia, antisemitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation, and climate denialism
  • create teams to review submissions of identity-based hate and harassment[v]
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The campaign aims to accomplish these goals via an advertising boycott. This is where the companies take back the power of the pocketbook. Hundreds of companies of all sizes have pulled their advertising from Facebook for the month of July as part of the campaign. The following companies are among those who have officially pledged their support of the campaign: Best Buy, Hershey, Honda, KIND, Levi Strauss & Co., lululemon, Madewell, Microsoft, The North Face, Playstation, Starbucks, TalkSpace, Vans, and Verizon.[vi]

Some companies, such as Coca-Cola, Lego, and Unilever, are boycotting more than just Facebook, pledging to stop advertising across all social media platforms until meaningful change is made by the networks.[vii] In fact, Unilever has decided to pull their ads from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram through the end of 2020.[viii] Unilever’s brand catalog boasts household staples like Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Dove soap, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.[ix]

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There is speculation regarding whether this boycott will have any effect on Facebook’s bottom line; last year, Facebook generated nearly $70 billion in global advertising revenue.[x] It would take a significant number of advertisers pulling their content to make a dent in such a number. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg does not seem to be concerned about their revenue at all.

Last week, Zuckerberg told employees during a virtual town hall that despite the boycott, the company would not change its approach to hate speech. “We’re not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue,” said Zuckerberg. “My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.”[xi]

Whether the participating companies will continue to take part in the campaign past the end of July remains to be seen. This might be an opportunity for these companies to reallocate their marketing budgets permanently or even cut costs overall – which may be appealing during a time of pandemic-related economic unrest. Only time will tell if the #StopHateforProfit campaign inspires any measurable, lasting changes.

Questions for Marketing Managers to Consider:

  • The #StopHateforProfit campaign encourages companies to use their advertising dollars to pressure Facebook into changing policies that are deemed unethical. Are there other ways to place this pressure? Is it the company’s responsibility to affect this sort of change?
  • If companies like Coca-Cola and Unilver are pulling their advertising from social media platforms, where could they reallocate those funds to make a difference in their own marketing strategies?
  • How do you view Facebook’s response to the boycott? Are they right to stand their ground or should they be working towards addressing these organizations’ concerns?