Why Major Brands Pulling Ads From Facebook May End up Being ‘Symbolic’

Will advertisers’ organized boycott really hurt Facebook’s bottom line? Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As if the first half of 2020 hasn’t been bad enough for Facebook’s advertising business, the social media giant is off to an even worse start of the second half of the year, as an army of large consumer brands pull advertising dollars from the company’s media platforms to protest Facebook’s handling of hate speech and misinformation, including recent inflammatory posts by President Donald Trump.

The organized boycott started on June 17 when a coalition of civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Color of Change and Sleeping Giants launched a campaign called “Stop Hate for Profit” to pressure Facebook to revise content policy.

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Since then, more than 100 companies, led by Coca-Cola, Unilever, Verizon and Starbucks, have joined the campaign and announced plans to suspend advertising on Facebook-owned platforms starting July 1. Microsoft, which quietly suspended advertising on Facebook and Instagram back in May, will extend the pause through at least August.

Ford, Adidas and Denny’s became the latest participants on Monday.

Facebook hasn’t responded to the boycott in any real way, other than a bland statement issued by its head of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson last Thursday, which stated that the company respects brands’ decisions and remains “focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information.”

Everson added that Facebook is having “conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations about how, together, we can be a force for good.”

Although many of the withdrawing advertisers are large household brands, none of them were in the top 100 ad spenders on Facebook in the U.S., according to marketing analytics company Pathmatics.

All that’s saying is that the organized boycott may not end up hurting Facebook’s bottom line much. Last year, Facebook raked in nearly $70 billion in advertising revenue from more than 8 million clients, mostly small businesses.

“It’s not going to do anything to the company, financially,” Brent Thill, an analyst at the investment bank Jefferies, told Fortune last week. “You have 8 million advertisers. If a handful leave, there’s a short-term air pocket, but it’s minor.”

It would take “hundreds, if not thousands of advertisers to join in order for there to be any real impact,” Baird analyst Colin Sebastian added. “A boycott like this is much more symbolic.”

Below is a list of major brands that have pledged to stop advertising on Facebook, ranked by their last year’s ad spending in the U.S., according to Pathmatics data first reported by The New York Times.

Starbucks: $94.9 million

Pfizer: $54.5 million

Unilever: $42.4 million

Hershey’s: $36.5 million

Best Buy: $29 million

HP: $24.7 million

Verizon: $22.9 million

Diageo: $22.9 million

REI: $22.5 million

Coca-Cola: $22 million

Adidas (also owns Reebok): $12.4 million

Clorox: $8.9 million

Patagonia: $6.2 million

Honda America: $6 million

Madewell: $3.5 million

The North Face: $3.3 million

Levis: $2.8 million

Puma: $2.1 million

ConAgra: $2 million

Lululemon: $1.6 million

Eddie Bauer: $1.4 million

Birchbox: $947,100

Beam Suntory: $604,500

Denny’s: $689,900

SAP: $64,800