Mark Zuckerberg. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/WIN MCNAMEE
Mark Zuckerberg. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/WIN MCNAMEE

As the global boycott of Facebook advertising intensifies, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Adidas have extended their boycott of the social media site to SA, but for other companies in SA it is business as usual.

More than 500 companies in recent weeks said they would pull their advertising from Facebook following its lack of action on inflammatory posts on the platform.

Specifically, the response followed a statement last month by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the site would not remove US President Donald Trump's warning that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts".

Despite a racist history of the phrase, Zuckerberg cast it in the light of state actors warning the public about the use of force.

It was the latest in a long litany of tolerance shown for racism, hate speech, bigotry, and anti-Semitism on the platform. Subsequently, civil rights groups called on advertisers to boycott Facebook.

Hundreds heeded the call, but only three of its top 25 advertisers, Microsoft, Pfizer and Starbucks, withdrew their ads.

Other big hitters, like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestle and Adidas, also pulled the plug. Several confirmed that the boycott extended to SA.

A local Adidas spokesperson referred Business Times to a group statement, which declared that "Racist, discriminatory, and hateful online content has no place in our brand or in society". Reebok and Adidas will also pause advertising on Facebook and Instagram globally throughout July, which is applicable in SA as well.

Microsoft SA confirmed it had also withdrawn advertising from Facebook, but referred requests for comment to statements made by global chief marketing officer, Chris Capossela.

In an internal post responding to an employee, he wrote: "Based on concerns we had back in May, we suspended all media spending on Facebook/Instagram in the US and we've subsequently suspended all spending on Facebook/Instagram worldwide."

But Microsoft was not specifically joining the #StopHateForProfit campaign, which has mobilised large companies to support a Facebook boycott, with Capossela saying: "Our experience tells us that the most impactful means to effect genuine, long-term change is through direct dialogue and meaningful action with our media partners, including the suspension of real marketing dollars."

Microsoft is understood to have spent $115m (R1.9bn) on Facebook ads last year.

Hewlett-Packard has only included the US in its boycott at this stage.

It said in a statement: "We have expressed deep concerns to Facebook and are stopping US advertising on the platform until we see more robust safeguards in place." It is reviewing its social media strategy in all markets and platforms, and "will take additional actions as needed to protect our brand and combat hateful content".

It confirmed SA was not yet included. It said the US accounts for the majority of its Facebook spending.

"We are starting there and will revaluate the balance of our global spend based on actions that are taken."

US alcohol group the Brown-Forman Corporation, which owns the Jack Daniels brand and a wide range of whiskys and tequilas, is also believed to have extended its Facebook "pause" to SA. It declared a global pullback not only from Facebook, but also its photo-sharing platform Instagram and its rival, Twitter.

Other global brands in SA appear to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

Unilever, for example, continues to leverage the platform in SA, promoting Dove soap, ironically as part of a campaign for its "self-esteem project", along with brands like Knorr and Omo.

Unilever SA corporate communications specialist Michelle Reddy said the "pause" does not extend to SA: "Our intention is to not cut these budgets as we know our partners have been impacted by Covid, but rather to use these efforts to be of service to our consumers.

"We will continue to push for responsible marketing, trust and transparency when it comes to the digital ecosystem and have decided to take a broader approach to solving these complex issues."

Nestlé East and Southern Africa Region (Esar) has also maintained its activity, as in other emerging markets, with most of its Facebook brand pages in SA focused on Covid-19.

"We agree that more needs to be done to tackle hate online, and are actively engaging with Facebook and other online platforms to push for more action and accountability," said Zweli Mnisi, Nestlé Esar head of public relations, media engagement and digital content. "We are not pausing our advertising activity with Facebook at this stage, as this is not a solution to the concerns we all share over offensive digital content."

Several social media managers for major local brands, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was business as usual.

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has refused to bow to pressure, telling staff last Friday: "We're not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue."

The Facebook share price took a hit last week, in the wake of the boycott, with its market capitalisation falling by more than $60bn. It made up much of that this week, but as new names keep joining the list, the threat to Facebook may loom ever larger.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.