‘Generally amoral’: Facebook’s 6 million advertisers will keep it afloat no matter the scandal

Facebook may have had a bad week on the public relations front, but media buyers say it’s business as usual for advertisers.

On Nov. 14, a New York Times investigation revealed the ways that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg deflected and denied their company’s influence in the 2016 presidential election. A Wall Street Journal report on Nov. 18 elaborated on Zuckerberg’s combative nature after that time. But media buyers are unfazed — at least when it comes to moving their dollars at this moment.

“It’s always, ‘Wait and see,’” said an executive inside a holding company. “Some of our clients could take a stand, yes, but I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of that in this case. Nothing is wrong with the ad platform, in this instance.”

While Facebook’s stock price is at a low from the last year, advertisers say they’re still seeing worthwhile returns on their investments and have no plans to pause campaigns during the fourth quarter of the year, especially ahead of Black Friday. Indeed, digital advertising remains a battle of ROI as Sandberg has described to analysts on recent earnings calls. But regardless of shifts in ad dollars, Facebook has a stronghold of advertisers. It announced 6 million advertisers in November 2017, up from 5 million in April.

In a Digiday+ survey conducted yesterday of 182 ad buyers at brands and agencies, 62.1 percent said Facebook’s recent scandals will have “no material impact” on their spending. In that same survey, 18.7 percent said they did plan to reduce spending and 19.2 percent were unsure.

Daryl Lee, global CEO of IPG Mediabrands UM, said his agency is continuing its work with Facebook but that it opens up a discussion about “brand safety.” For Lee, that term is a question of ad effectiveness.

“This is not a question of whether Facebook has no morals but whether they have all the necessary controls in place to make the Facebook environment as brand safe as possible. We will continue to work with Facebook, constructively, to bolster their controls and we encourage them to redouble their efforts in this regard. It is in everyone’s interest for Facebook to be a place where people can connect, and brands can participate, in the best possible way,” Lee emailed.

As advertisers know well, this is far from Facebook’s first scandal. From 2016 to 2017, Facebook slowly revealed more than 10 measurement errors. That ordeal eroded trust between advertisers and the platform, prompting Facebook to profusely apologize and create a Measurement Council. These errors are part of a recently filed lawsuit against Facebook. And of course there was Cambridge Analytica. But that scandal mostly just caused some advertisers to lose access to certain data and swept up some marketing tech companies, rather than impact anyone’s spending on the platform.

Even if anyone were to pause advertising — as Mozilla and Sonos did in the wake of Cambridge Analytica — Facebook still has 6 million other advertisers, mostly small businesses’ budgets, to thrive on. And Facebook is now much more than the big blue app with more brands buying ads in Instagram Stories and experimenting with Messenger.

Still, the risk for marketers affiliating themselves with Facebook is increasing, Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser said in a recent research note. While he acknowledged that marketers are “generally amoral” and that marketers aren’t cutting spend right now, “scrutiny of budgets on Facebook will increase.” Wieser told Digiday, “Even if they’re tactfully providing you with useful products, anyone partnering with someone deemed to be immoral is risking negative consequences. You can’t predict when it will, but … the consequences are unimaginable.”

Cue the damage control. Facebook’s vp of global marketing solutions, Carolyn Everson, published a response, in the form of a Facebook post, to another New York Times story about marketers being critical of the company.

“We’ve made mistakes, but to suggest that we aren’t focused on uncovering and tackling issues quickly is not true. Our clients depend on us to help drive their business, and whether that means supporting the largest brands in the world or budding entrepreneurs, we’ll stay focused on doing the best work for our partners, improving safety and security across our platforms, and driving social good in the world,” Everson wrote in the post.

Everson’s statement received nearly 500 reactions and comments from peers in the marketing industry, including eBay CMO Suzy Deering.

“From a client and longtime friend…I believe in you and know that you are a bright light within FB, and you are focused on doing the right thing. Thank you for approaching these industry issues/challenges with Grace, Grit and integrity!” Deering wrote in the post.

Looking to 2019, buyers recently told Digiday they are planning to buy even more ads on Instagram.


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