adaFacebook2020 has definitely been a tough year for advertisers and brands around the world while the recent Facebook Boycott has just added another layer of complexity. Facebook is being called out for allowing hateful and harmful content on its platform by a coalition of advocacy groups. More than 100 brands have since started pausing advertising on the platform and Facebook saw USD 60 billion in revenue erased in just two days.

Embracing diversity within an internal team is what makes a key difference in the workplace, be it inclusion of gender, capability, or race, and this has always been very important to me. However, when brands, especially in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) space, are being pressured to promote their values in a highly overt and visible manner to navigate the waves of a global political movement, this needs to be looked at from a different lens altogether.

Why this matters to DTCs

Facebook has been long described as ‘the storefront for DTC brands’. As such, these brands should review their existing positioning in relation to the situation, instead of overhauling the messaging, which may lead it to sound like a completely different brand. Brands should extend their role to do more for the society and to use their influence to encourage healthy conversations while remaining true to its identity and values.

With every new brand lending its weight to the movement, the pressure is growing on Facebook to change. However, consumers worry if brands are not doing enough and are missing a bigger opportunity to create lasting change for good. Large or small, brands can do more than just ‘pledge’ – for example, by walking the talk and showing the capabilities to build a synergistic ecosystem through collaborations and partnerships. This is because many consumers today make decisions based on how brands treat their people, how they treat the environment and, more importantly, how they support the communities in which they operate.

Achieving meaningful action

This is definitely easier said than done – DTCs do tend to ‘shy away’ from societal, economical, and political issues. While large household brands like Coke and Patagonia are jumping on the bandwagon, DTCs have been absent from the movement. In reality, however, it is opportunistic for brands to be open to such conversations and to exploring new ways. This is, after all, a pivotal moment in culture and brands need to understand how best they can play their cards.

Brands may also not have the option to pause or stop advertising on Facebook. For many, the platform forms the core of their advertising strategy, and with the pandemic already slowing their businesses, they may feel like it’s hardly the time to hit the brakes on ad spend. When this happens, brands must find alternative and more responsible places for their advertising spend, rather than temporarily hitting pause and causing further harm to their business. Actively listening to what their consumer base is talking about might give them a clue to where they should be heading. ADA recently held a poll on LinkedIn to find out if brands will ever move away from advertising on Facebook. 40% voted for ‘Yes, Facebook is replaceable’ while 38% voted for ‘We'll follow the consumers’.

Walking the talk

The concept behind the Facebook boycott is nothing new. Brands have a history of pulling their advertising spend from social media platforms in the past. It is a powerful symbol, but effectively an empty gesture once they start spending again after media attention has died down yet policies haven't changed for the better. Although efforts are starting to pay off with Facebook making moves to label violating posts, however it pales in comparison to the steps other platforms, like Twitter and YouTube, have taken.

To make a real difference, brands need to find scalable alternatives. Perhaps one way is to explore collaboration with creators. Some worry about the type of content they are being advertised alongside, so by tapping on key opinion leaders in a market, brands can have a certain degree of control to carry their messaging. This applies to partnering with other brands, as real change can only come from collective and committed long-term action.

Summer ChooIn the meantime, advertisers and brands alike should take this opportunity to look inwards, not just outwards. We can all take an active role in promoting positive change in our respective industries and markets, one step at a time.

By Summer Choo, Country Director, ADA in Singapore