KIND’s founder on joining the Facebook ad boycott: ‘It was not an easy decision’
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The founder of KIND Snacks says his company’s boycott of advertising on Facebook won’t end until the social network does more to combat hate speech.
Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman of KIND, which makes fruit and energy bars, says he took a stand because of the growing ugliness on social media—even though joining the boycott complicated KIND’s marketing strategy. The company had planned to spend nearly $2 million on Facebook ads during the month of July alone.
“It was not an easy decision, even though long-term it was very clear,” Lubetzky said.
In boycotting Facebook, KIND joined hundreds of companies, including Verizon, Microsoft, Unilever, and Hershey’s. Their goal is to put financial pressure on Facebook to do a better job of policing hate speech and eliminating racism on its service.
The campaign, called #StopHateForProfit, started after Facebook last month left untouched several inflammatory posts by President Trump, such as “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” referring to the Minneapolis protests. Under intense pressure, Facebook last week announced new policies to crack down on hateful comments from politicians, but Lubetzky says those steps aren’t enough.
In theory, the Facebook boycott is only during July. But some companies, including KIND, have indicated that they plan to walk away for longer.
Lubetzky, a board member for the Anti-Defamation League, one of several organizations that organized the boycott, spoke with Fortune about KIND’s decision. His comments have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Fortune: Why did KIND Snacks decide to pause ads now, versus previously?
Daniel Lubetzky: It’s intimidating to be alone on these issues. When ADL, Colors of Change, and NAACP created the campaign, it allowed a lot of us to join the movement and not be a lonely voice. We’ve discussed within KIND for years stopping advertising with Facebook, but we just didn’t have the courage. In our case, this gave us the courage to join.
Given your position on the ADL board, why wasn’t KIND one of the first companies to join the #StopHateForProfit campaign? (The company joined more than two weeks after organizers announced the planned boycott.)
I had a very sensitive role. As a board member of ADL, I support this work. And as founder of KIND, I support this work, but I’m not the only shareholder. I had to be careful not to abuse my role as a board member of ADL. I had to let the team make the decision. It moved very fast, but we first needed to get everyone on board.
In a note to KIND employees, you said if Facebook doesn’t take “visible, measurable and assertive efforts” to change things, you would consider indefinitely suspending Facebook ads. What would count as visible, measurable, and assertive efforts?
As humans, we rationalize our beliefs to make them consistent with our economic interests. I actually believe Mr. Zuckerberg believes that what he’s doing is right for society. But I think he believes that because it’s convenient for him to believe it. It allows Facebook to avoid the uncomfortable and costly role of realizing it’s a disseminator of bad content. One of the most senior executives at Facebook, a person I respect a lot, reached out to me for a phone call. I want to listen to them and engage. If there’s honest effort and real work, you’re going to see it. There’s low-hanging fruit like taking off things that are demonstrably false.
Prior to the campaign, were plans already in place to cut spending on Facebook because of the coronavirus?
We were actually planning to double our monthly budget, and then I came in with, “Okay, guys, we need to sign up.” It was like, “Daniel, because of COVID, you wanted us to redeploy more money in ads. Now you’re telling us to stop?” We had a very ambitious plan for product launches in July. We had planned to rely on Facebook heavily, with a budget close to $2 million. We hope the message in July will be taken seriously and they’ll really change things.
Will your ad boycott hurt your sales?
Only marginally. I’m not losing sleep over it. We’re going to deploy a lot of resources to other platforms. It’s primarily going to be TV and online video. There are many other platforms that need to get their act together, too, so we’re trying to look at platforms that are more responsible.
Have you talked to or heard from other companies about boycotting ads?
Over the last several years, yes. It’s a dinner topic almost every week. I worry enormously about the impact of hate festering and being promulgated by social media platforms. I cannot think of a dinner conversation with friends, which includes CEOs and founders, at which this subject doesn’t come up. My father was a Holocaust survivor. He survived because of the kindness of strangers who rose up at the darkest of times to save his life. I’ve done so many efforts focused on empathy and building bridges with people. It’s a lifetime concern.
Does KIND plan to keep its Facebook page and continue posting there?
We haven’t formulated a policy on that. The official perspective is that as long as you’re not giving ad dollars, you can post organically. But it’s a question we want to ask ourselves, too. [As of July 1, KIND’s Facebook page was still available.]