These big companies have cut the most daily ad dollars during the Facebook boycott
Our mission to help you navigate the new normal is fueled by subscribers. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.
New data shows that of all the corporate advertisers on Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung, Starbucks, and Wells Fargo have cut the largest amount ad dollars three weeks into a one-month boycott over how the service has handled hate speech and discrimination.
Microsoft was responsible for the largest decline in spending, eliminating the average $166,000 it spent daily on U.S. ads during the second quarter, according to data from digital marketing data firm Pathmatics. Samsung followed, decreasing but not completely eliminating, its average daily spend by $160,400, while Starbucks eliminated its spending by about $111,500 per day. Wells Fargo also reduced, without completely cutting, its daily average by $111,200.
Colin Sebastian, analyst at Baird Equity Research said he wasn’t surprised by the individual advertiser reductions, given that many of these companies had publicly announced their intentions. “What the data does is it confirms that most of those advertisers did cease the majority of their spending on these platforms,” he said. “They followed through with their threat.”
The temporary boycott, which was organized by groups including the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, aimed to pressure Facebook into doing more to control hate speech, discrimination, and violence on its service by asking advertisers to halt ads for a month. Hundreds of small businesses participated, but the campaign also landed several big brands including Verizon, Unilever, and Levi Strauss. Other big brands like Disney, which never publicly joined the campaign, have reportedly reduced their advertising on Facebook as well, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Ninety of Facebook’s top 500 advertisers participated, according to a note Sebastian published Wednesday. Overall, the top 500 advertisers from the second quarter were responsible for an $80 million reduction in ad spend from July 1 through July 17. The top advertisers on the service so far this month, according to Pathmatics, include: Purple Innovation, TaxACT, Home Depot, AT&T, and HBO.
Microsoft wasn’t alone in eliminating its Facebook ad spending completely. But as seen with some of the top reduced spenders, Pathmatics data shows that some companies—including some Unilever brands—that publicly joined the boycott still bought ads, though at smaller levels, during the month of July. Similarly, other big advertisers—which include Samsung—that didn’t publicly join the boycott significantly reduced their ad spend. For example, Geico reduced its daily average ad spend by $92,700, and Walmart dropped by $86,700.
Sebastian estimates that the boycott will ultimately lead to $200 million in lost ad revenue in July if the current trend continues, which would only represent 1% of quarterly revenues. Sebastian calls this nothing more than a “blip” in the earnings—a prediction shared by several analysts when the boycott debuted.
Bryan Karas, CEO of marketing agency Playbook Media and former Facebook employee, said Facebook has been reaching out to his agency and its advertisers reiterating its efforts and the progress it has made to improve the detection of hate speech. Meanwhile, many small advertisers are still putting their marketing dollars into Facebook out of necessity as they try to gain new customers during the coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled their businesses.
“If we’re working with a small venture backed company and their lifeblood is new customers, they have to take that [public relations] risk,” Karas said. “REI and Coca-Cola, they can shut it down, and they can get the positive PR.”
YouTube, Twitter, and Amazon appear to have benefited from the pause on Facebook ads, according to Pathmatics. Sebastian points out that Hulu, Geico, and Samsung—all of which have cut back on Facebook ads—began allocating more to YouTube in July. At the same time, Target, Best Buy, and Geico increased their spend on Twitter ads by double or more. Sebastian said companies may use this opportunity to see if they can get similar returns from advertising on other services.
“I think the answer is no, but some companies will be doing that experiment,” he said.
While Facebook is scheduled to release its second-quarter earnings next Wednesday, the impact of the boycott won’t be reflected until its third-quarter earnings. Analysts estimate that Facebook will report $17.4 billion in second-quarter revenue. While that would represent a 3% increase over last year’s second quarter, it pales in comparison to the 28% year-over-year growth Facebook reported at that time.
Sebastian said he hopes Facebook will shed more light on the ads boycott during next week’s earnings call. But he’s also hoping to hear more about Facebook’s outlook on its profit margin.
“Bigger picture with Facebook is spending levels,” Sebastian said. “Are they continuing to invest in bigger projects? Are they going to dial back? Are they going to do more to ensure elections aren’t as disruptive as 2016?”