For a company with an advertiser base as large and diverse as Facebook's (FB) , a recent spate of social media ad boycotts might not do a truly massive amount of top-line damage -- particularly given that Facebook is already taking several steps to address advertiser concerns about the content that it hosts, and might announce some more.
But with that said, given the underlying reasons why a subset of major advertisers are pulling their social ad spend, this does feel like a problem that could linger for a while to some degree, including possibly for some of Facebook's peers.
To recap: A pretty long list of major advertisers, including the likes of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Ford, Target, Clorox, Unilever, Microsoft, Best Buy, Starbucks, Diageo, Verizon and Levi Strauss. has announced that they're (for the time being) halting their ad spend on one or more social platforms. Other firms, such as GM, have said that they're reviewing their social ad spend.
It's worth noting that the ad boycotts aren't uniform. A number of advertisers, including, Microsoft, Best Buy, Levi and Verizon, are only halting their spending on Facebook's platforms. But others, such as Coke, Ford, Unilever and Starbucks, say they're also halting spending on rival platforms such as Twitter (TWTR) , with Starbucks adding that it won't be halting its spending on Alphabet's (GOOGL) YouTube.
There's also no uniform length for the ad boycotts. Coke and Ford say they're halting their social ad spend for at least 30 days; Unilever says its halt will last at least for the rest of 2020; and firms such as Microsoft and Starbucks haven't specified just how long their ad halts will last.
With regards to Facebook spending halts in particular, one can't ignore the fact that Facebook has more than 8 million advertisers globally, and that (according to ad data provider Pathmatics) the highest-spending 100 brands on Facebook only account for 6% of its ad revenue. In addition, many of the boycotting advertisers -- think Coke, Ford or Starbucks -- are currently seeing major revenue declines due to COVID-19, and thus might not have been spending a ton on Facebook ads in recent months to begin with.
One also can't ignore that the immense reach and scale of Facebook proper and Instagram, together with the time-tested effectiveness of Facebook's platforms at delivering (with the help of Facebook's data and targeting/measurement abilities) strong ROIs for many different types of advertisers, gives boycotting advertisers a strong incentive to return to Facebook before too long. Indeed, it's possible that some of the major advertisers that have chosen to stay on Facebook will view the boycotts as an opportunity to step up their ad spend without hurting their ROIs.
And just as a 2017 YouTube advertiser boycott gradually ended as Google took steps to address advertiser concerns about their ads being run against extremist content, the moves Facebook is currently making in response to the content concerns voiced by advertisers and others might end up having a similar effect. Among other things, Facebook has agreed to an audit of its hate speech controls, promised to label content from politicians that runs afoul of its policies and banned ads that present a particular group of people as a threat.
But there is one important difference between past YouTube boycotts and the current Facebook/social media boycott: Whereas boycotting YouTube advertisers were just worried about an ad running against an objectionable video, social media boycotters today are concerned about an ad appearing within a content feed that could feature a number of objectionable posts.
This is a tougher problem to address, particularly if a company wants to avoid engaging in heavy-handed censorship of what users are allowed to share. The very mechanics of social media feeds, by doing things such as fostering echo chambers that drive radicalization and algorithmically promoting sensational, misleading and/or outrage-inducing content that gets a lot of likes and shares/retweets, contribute heavily to these feeds being populated with a lot of content -- whether from regular users, politicians or media accounts -- that marketers could feel uneasy about seeing above or below their ads.
Also -- though many in the tech press have made Facebook into a social media whipping boy and chosen to focus on bad behavior from individuals and publications whose political views run contrary to their own -- the aforementioned problems aren't by any means limited to one social media platform or political faction. One only has to spend an hour or two browsing political content on Twitter for this to be made very clear.
At least some of this probably isn't lost on the advertisers that have chosen to halt their spending on social media platforms in general, rather than just Facebook's platforms. Fixing the mechanics that lead to so much bad behavior on social media platforms without heavily censoring users (and alienating a lot of them in the process) isn't something that's likely to be pulled off quickly. And while Facebook has made algorithm changes in the past that point to at least a partial grasp of the issues it's dealing with, it's fair to wonder in Twitter's case if management truly understands the mechanics that can drive so much bad behavior on its platform.
Either way, there are reasons to think we might occasionally see stories about a major advertiser or two voicing misgivings about social media content for a while, even if many of the advertisers currently pausing their social ad spend probably won't do so for a very extended period of time.