In July, All Of Facebook Will Be 'Brand Unsafe'

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, June 29, 2020
Long before the current COVID-19 pandemic, the topic of “brand safety” has been hot within the advertising and marketing community.

Typically, advertising is blocked for brand-safety reasons using a combination of keywords, categories or imagery to assign a particular page, app or entire domain a brand-unsafe designation.

The prevailing rationale behind brand safety for advertising has to do with the possibility of particular customers getting upset at seeing a brand in context with (or adjacent to) disturbing or risky content, or in one of those customers taking a screenshot of the brand's advertisement amidst high-risk content, creating a PR fiasco -- threats that most advertisers take very seriously.

A TAG survey found that “(90 percent) said it was very or somewhat important for advertisers to make sure their ads don't appear near dangerous, offensive, or inappropriate content."



Facebook appears to have an escalating brand-safety problem, with things coming to a head due to an advertiser boycott. Major brands Unilever, Verizon, Honda, BirchBox, Ben & Jerry's, North Face, Patagonia, Hershey and others lined up to protest Facebook's laissez-faire attitude about policing hate, misinformation and disinformation. Coke, Starbucks and Diageo went even further, cutting all of their social media advertising budgets.

Coca-Cola Co. will reportedly pause spending on all social media platforms, including YouTube, for at least 30 days.

Fear is the primary motivator behind traditional brand safety, and Facebook in July is higher risk than most of the ad impressions being blocked daily by MOAT, IAS, DV and others. Already, some of the brands cited above may be acting more in fear than in solidarity.

The WSJ published excerpts of an email sent by Carolyn Everson, vice president of Facebook's global business group, in response to the boycott. “We do not make policy changes tied to revenue pressure,” Everson said. “We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests.”

Jeff Giacchetti, U.S. Digital Media & Marketing Lead at Henkel Corporation, remarked that “ultimately, brands will need to take a stand and stand by their decision and anything short will seem disingenuous.” Michael Tchong, a consultant and futurist added: "Carolyn Everson's flippant answer shows advertisers must send Facebook a strong message that, unlike Facebook, advertisers care about consumer sentiment."

Some smaller businesses appear to be sitting on the fence right now. Brittney Kleinfelter of the Chameleon Collective shared her POV on smaller companies: "Smaller organizations are worried about lost revenue from a major ad channel and aren't sure that their ad dollars make that much of a difference compared to larger advertisers."

David Smith, media consultant and strategist, had an interesting POV. “I will be more impressed when a DR advertiser walks away from Facebook. DR advertisers measure success by individual site and channel. A cancellation of social that is working would sacrifice volume and bottom line directly.”

With upper-funnel spending on Facebook or any larger platform or channel, even the best econometric models don’t definitively prove the value-add of each platform.

This is a unique opportunity for the big brands to turn Facebook -- and possibly all social media advertising -- off completely for at least one month or more and take a stand against Facebook's policies as well as the brand safety issues permeating social media in general, while finding out just how far down the funnel Facebook, Twitter and other social media advertising pushes consumers.

The brands will be able to deploy some or all of that budget against programmatic display, supporting new publishers that are struggling.

It's too early to tell whether over the next several days Facebook advertising in July will become brand-unsafe or not, but if you advertise on Facebook heavily now, you may want to re-think your July media plan.

My recommendation to advertisers and marketers for July is to do a cost-benefit analysis and make a conscious decision as to whether or not you believe Facebook and the other social media platforms need to take on more responsibility policing hate than they have previously.

If you concur, then join the brands, the ADL and the nonprofits listed on

Along with all the other surprises delivered to advertisers and consumers this year, 2020 has given us one of the largest advertising effectiveness studies ever conducted with an experiment that wasn't planned.

2 comments about "In July, All Of Facebook Will Be 'Brand Unsafe'".
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  1. kevin lee from Didit / eMarketing Association / Giving Forward, June 29, 2020 at 4:59 p.m.

    Ford, Clorox, Adidas just joined. It will be most important to see what happens after July 1 if the consumers seeing ads on Facebook actually start emailing CMOs at the brands and shaming brands about supporting hate by advertising on FB. 

    The level of $+!^-show will be driven by how well the ADL shames brands into joining the boycott late.  Many brands will position their compliance as non-political by cutting all social media spend for brand safety purposes. 

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, June 30, 2020 at 6:54 p.m.

    It will be very interesting to see what happens to sales during the boycott period.

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