The Facebook Boycott Is a Brilliant Business Plan

Big brands like Unilever are pulling their ads from Facebook, in what has become an empty threat that's being used as a cheap marketing tool.

Unilever may be boycotting Facebook ads, but it still maintains a strong presence on the social media platform. | Image: JOHN THYS / AFP

  • Big brands stand to gain more from stepping away from Facebook than they do from continuing to advertise.
  • By maintaining corporate Facebook pages, they’re undermining their threat.
  • Most brands will likely return whether Facebook makes real changes or not.

How do you gain a ton of free PR, cut marketing costs, and gain some brownie points for your business? By joining the Facebook advertising boycott. That’s what Unilever, Verizon, Coca-Cola, and a handful of other big-name companies are doing in the name of social justice–and it’s brilliant.

Facebook Slammed as Advertisers Pull Out

Mark Zuckerberg has been notoriously hesitant to limit what people can say and share on Facebook. | Image: REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have long been criticized for promoting hate speech and dividing communities. While Twitter has stepped up to fact check what politicians like Donald Trump are saying, Facebook was notably silent about the whole thing.

That is until major brands started pulling their advertising from Facebook and its affiliate platforms. The companies say they don’t want their ads appearing alongside hate speech. They’re planning to pause advertising on the platform until its policies are reworked.

A similar boycott drove Google’s YouTube to keep a closer eye on the kind of content its users were posting just a few years ago.

The Not-So-Noble Boycott

But before you congratulate Coca-Cola and Unilever on their heroic social media boycott, consider that each of these big brands has more to gain than lose by stepping away.

There’s never been a better time to make a powerful statement like this. As civil unrest continues across the U.S., big moves like these gain a lot of media attention.

Unilever’s post about terminating Facebook ads got more engagement than many of its other posts. | Source: Facebook

Take Unilever, for example. The company announced its decision to stop social media advertisements, of all places, on Facebook. The announcement was shared nearly 400 times and had thousands of likes. The previous post sported just 440 likes and had three shares.

Notably, many of the brands who’ve decided to pull their advertisements from Facebook are still running a Facebook page.

Unilever posted a separate post about its products just hours after announcing it would boycott social media advertising. Sure, they’re not getting the same visibility that they would by paying for ads, but they’re able to generate organic reach by merely participating.

The fact that most of these so-called boycotters still maintain a social media presence suggests they don’t plan to abandon Facebook forever, hate speech, or not. 

Why Facebook Ads Matter

Not to mention as more big brands sign up to a boycott, the easier it becomes to drop off the platform. Facebook’s impressive data collection makes for powerful targeted advertising. But if you’re competitors aren’t leveraging that weapon, you don’t have to either.

Plus, everyone is making spending cuts amid the pandemic— pulling out of social media ad contracts for a few months will help with the belt-tightening. 

Brands Win No Matter What

For those advocating for Facebook to clamp down on misinformation and hate speech, having big brands on board is essential for real change. Zuckerberg has been hesitant to announce any concrete changes to the company’s policies. But the threat of losing advertisers was enough for him to issue an apology.

The most likely outcome is an inconsequential, but symbolic, change to Facebook’s policies that will allow brands to continue advertising. That will make it easy for boycotters to return to the platform with a shiny badge boasting their commitment to social justice. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

Last modified: September 25, 2020 8:41 PM

Laura Hoy: Laura has been working as financial journalist covering US markets for more than a decade. Her work can be found in a wide variety of publications including Yahoo Finance, InvestorPlace, Nasdaq and Benzinga. Contact her at, see her LinkedIn profile here.