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What Publishers Should Know About the Facebook Advertiser Boycott

Sarah Hartland | Industry Analysis | 16th July 2020
What Publishers Should Know About the Facebook Advertiser Boycott

It’s been a cruel summer for at least one player on the big tech landscape. Growing numbers of companies are pulling their ads from Facebook’s platform—a trend that started in June and shows no sign of slowing down just yet. The list of boycott participants stands at 900 brands and counting as of July 10, 2020, and includes household names with large budgets like Coca-Cola and The North Face. 

Organizations are concerned about where their ads are appearing on the social network—for example, near offensive content such as hate speech or alongside misinformation. Facebook has agreed to participate in an audit by the Media Rating Council to address these issues; however, this move has yet to turn the tides on the advertiser exodus. In this article, we’ll explore what the trend means for you as a publisher and how you can use recent events to your advantage.

A lack of public confidence

For decades, media organizations have struggled with public criticism over subjective and sensationalist tendencies. Even today, more than 55% of people in 40 markets throughout six continents are “concerned about what’s true or false” in online news sources, according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020. Facebook, in particular, is viewed as “the main channel” for misinformation.

Even for a giant like Facebook, the advertiser boycott is no small event. Ad spend makes up 98% of the company’s revenue; and some of the brands who have recently pulled their ads spent more than half a billion dollars on the platform last year. Publishers that can offer environments with stronger brand safety may see a boost in redirected ad spend from these organizations as a result of the backlash.

“There’s a greater sensitivity to where brands are investing and what those platforms stand for than ever before,” Harry Kargman, the chief executive of the mobile advertising company Kargo Global told The New York Times. “They’re effectively voting with their pocketbooks.”

An opportunity for publishers

Google and Facebook have dominated the digital advertising market for years, which has caused a stir among publishers—and rightfully so, due to the “walled gardens’” impact on publishers’ bottom lines. Some media organizations have tried to compete with big tech, while others feel that they simply can’t deliver their advertisers comparable exposure for a similar cost, and have adopted the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality.

Among the publishers who have opted to go toe to toe with Facebook and Google, the general sentiment is that media organizations can offer advertisers greater control over their message in the marketplace than big tech. Current events will no doubt give publishers who want to compete for advertising dollars another reason to up their game.

Public trust in traditional media tops social media

Although journalism has its issues around perceived subjectivity and sensationalism, public trust in traditional media is 32 percentage points higher than public trust in social media, among audiences in the U.S. and Canada. In Europe, this gap widens even more to 34 points, according to The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020. Traditional media is trusted by 61% of American and Canadian respondents, while social media is only trusted by 29%.

These figures reinforce the opportunity for publishers to present a better choice to advertisers: to spend their money with reputable news sources that audiences rely on—and that they’ll return to time and time again—for accurate information. The past few weeks have indicated that in addition to results from their campaigns, advertisers are indeed seeking trustworthy media outlets to share their messages.

As a publisher, it’s crucial to make it easy and attractive for advertisers to do business with you. This can include shifting your business model toward a full-service marketing agency approach, or on a smaller scale, enabling your customers to book their ads online through a self-service platform. You should also offer robust audience targeting and campaign reporting, delivering value to your customers in every step of the process.

Where publishers fit in an evolving media landscape

As governments around the globe begin to lift public health restrictions, many brands have taken their advertising budgets off the shelf, brushed the dust away, and are looking to re-engage with their audiences.

“The consensus is that brands have been holding on to budget from Q2 and plan on spending it in Q3 and Q4,” suggests this article by What’s New In Publishing.

The prospect of increased advertising spend is positive news for publishers, especially those who can successfully capture market share from Facebook thanks to the boycott. Media organizations who are serious about recouping lost ad revenue must make an effort to streamline their infrastructure, and emphasize the advantages advertisers will get from working with them—specifically, the trusted environment publishers can offer.

Fine tune your strategy to compete with big tech

As is true in life, it’s true in business that publishers’ differences are their strengths when it comes to competing with tech giants like Google and Facebook. Publishers have control over where their customers end up on the internet, which is a win in and of itself.Explore 4 ways you can create a powerful strategy to compete with big tech.