Wake-up call for social media platforms as brands boycott in droves

Names such as Unilever, Coca-Cola and Starbucks have joined the boycott.

NEW DELHI: Social media platforms, which were a boon for brands, seem to have turned into a bane now. After consumer product giant Unilever announced that it will halt advertising on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the US for the rest of the year, due to the rising hate speech and upcoming election period, Coca-Cola, which advertises heavily on digital media, has also suspended advertising on social media for at least 30 days.

"There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media," said The Coca-Cola Company chairman and CEO James Quincey.

Should social media companies worry about the rising boycott? TRA founder and CEO N Chandramouli believes that the #BlackLivesMatter protests compelled brands to take a closer look at things they often considered “normal.”

“Coca-Cola and Unilever are leaders not only in terms of the advertising spends but also thought-leaders such that other brands will see and follow. Social media has always been a little free of scrutiny with the indiscriminate show of ads with irrelevant content and also with content that the brand may not want to associate with. Social media has to turn its technology to deliver ads more contextually, with the advertiser deciding what type of content they do not want to be seen with," he says.

The boycott has had a ripple effect with other brands coming on board to boycott including Diageo, Lululemon, Starbucks, Verizon. Levi's and Dockers have also restricted themselves from advertising on Facebook and Instagram till July. Hershey’s has also decided to join hands with #stophateforprofit; the brand will slash its advertising budget on Facebook. American Honda has also decided to withhold its advertising on Facebook and Instagram for Honda and Acura, to stand with people against hate and racism.

Even P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said that the company would be conducting a comprehensive review of where it was advertising.

Tidal7 co-founder and chief creative officer KS Chakravarthy explains, “This is no longer about a few brands or a few hundred million in revenues. It is a wakeup call for all media and particularly for those depending on an online audience. Crossing the line can spark off a whole series of adverse reactions that can very quickly feed off one another to escalate into a universal movement. And it is this symbiotic growth of outrage that Facebook should be seriously worried about.”

Unilever has more than two dozen brands in its kitty including popular ones like Dove, Lipton and Breyers. According to marketing analytics firm Pathmatics, Unilever spent more than $11.8 million in the US this year on Facebook. While it quit social media, the consumer giant will maintain its planned media investment by shifting to other media.

Consults Inc founder Harish Bijoor shares, “Brands are getting sensitive in these sensitive times as to where they advertise. Coca-Cola and Unilever's action is part of this sentiment translating into action. Hate speech in the time of social angst is something responsible brands want to avoid. Social media will need to realign its content policy if it wants sponsors to stay with it in terms of advertising.” 

Following the resentment, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, on Friday, said that the company would implement new policies to connect people with authoritative information about voting and fight hate speech. However, he did not directly address the advertisers boycott.

As per media reports, Facebook brought in $69.7 billion in ad revenue globally through its millions of advertisers last year. The company said earlier this year it has more than eight million advertisers.

Brand-nomics MD Viren Razdan says, “For Facebook, it’s really a time to put their transparency out to test, it’s important for them to clarify that their self-created code of conduct does not lean towards any business goals.”

Chakravarthy says, “Social media does have a real responsibility and unfortunately, they are not stepping up, at least not enough, in many people's opinion, including their own employees.”

The list of brands boycotting social media platforms, especially Facebook, is likely to increase and unless they take the issue seriously, may incur severe losses.

(With inputs from Mansi Sharma)

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