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You don’t have to join that Facebook ad boycott

Facebook isn’t afraid of boycotts. It’s afraid of us imagining what a Facebook-free marketing strategy looks like.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter exploring how marketers broke society (and how we can fix it).

Here’s what’s new with us this week:

You’ve probably been hearing more and more about No Hate No Profit, the campaign asking advertisers to drop Facebook advertising for the month of July. North Face, Patagonia, and UpWork have all announced they will pause their ads to pressure Facebook to adopt and enforce anti-racist policies.

With so many big names joining in, you may be wondering whether you should seriously entertain disrupting a month’s worth of marketing activities for this moonshot campaign. As Josh Sternberg notes in MediaNut, no boycott against Facebook has ever really worked… and the probability is that this one won’t either.

Why? Because Facebook isn’t afraid of a boycott. They don’t care if you’re upset at them for promoting political lies and white supremacy. Even if they lose a couple hundred million dollars and even if they take a PR hit throughout July, they know you’ll be back on August 1st.

What does scare them though, is that for the first time, marketers are openly exploring ways to meet their long-term marketing goals without using Facebook ads — and for Facebook, that is the kiss of death.

Marketing without Facebook? Let’s talk about that

Marketing without - or with less - Facebook isn’t a new idea. Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard has been publicly flirting with investing in an alternative media supply chain for years.

What is new though, is that this idea is starting to go mainstream. Marketers - not just consumers - are concerned with what’s happening on Facebook. That’s… different.  Here’s what’s happening on the ground right now:

Rank-and-file employees are turning up the heat in their own companies

Previous efforts to hold Facebook accountable have almost always come through organized consumer pressure. This time, the anger and frustration is coming from in-house - from the people who influence and control the company wallet.

Here’s what an agency exec told Josh from MediaNut:

“From an industry POV, the reality is a lot of clients are upset....The thing that’s different for Facebook is that there’s real energy in the client bases. When you have these huge companies [pull spend], particularly if they can get more organized, that pressure is different….”

At least one major agency is openly encouraging their clients to consider the boycott. While all this is nothing new - agencies have revolted before - this time it isn’t just a cynical ploy by agency execs to gain leverage over their tech overlords.

This time ordinary employees are waking up to the idea that our marketing best practices are not sustainable. The pandemic, the BLM protests, and the upcoming U.S. election are forcing us to confront how our decisions are impacting our society in a new and urgent way.

This shift is not trivial. As Facebook knows pretty well by now, employee revolts are bad news.

Marketing leaders are re-evaluating their strategies

With business-as-usual out the window, marketing leaders are starting to question why we’re still showing up to the casino every weekend with a bag of coins to play the same three slot machines.

Dashlane just joined the boycott. As CMO Joy Howard said yesterday:

Stepping away from this—even for a month—will be hard for many of us. In the relentless pursuit of scale, most startups lean on performance marketing, falling into the endless cycle of “scale spend while keeping CPAs flat.” This leads to a world where 40 cents of every VC dollar goes to one of Facebook, Amazon, or Google. It’s clear our industry’s collective addiction to performance marketing has come at the expense of so much more than just R&D or product-market fit, and calls for a course-correction.

Is performance marketing all there is to life? Could there be other marketing channels out there in the galaxy? Can we meet our marketing goals using Facebook-free alternatives?

Howard is openly talking about moving away from the “addictive cycle” of “engagement-focused algorithms”, and towards a new paradigm. Facebook’s key value proposition is reaching the right users with the right message, at scale.

What happens when marketing leaders don’t believe they need that anymore?

Ben & Jerry’s originally declined to join the boycott

After initially telling the Wall Street Journal they didn’t feel a boycott is big or impactful enough to create real systemic change, Ben & Jerry’s signed on to No Hate No Profit. This is their initial statement:

“What we want to do is to try to make ourselves right at Ben & Jerryʼs—we always aspire to do the right thing. And we want our partners to do the same thing,” he said. “So to me, itʼs not just about signing on to boycott, which certainly, we may do. Itʼs about what are the actions that weʼd like to see happen so that we can collaborate with partners who want to progress the change that we support.”

B&J is arguably the only brand in the U.S. that has had a successful response to BLM. This boycott is just one of many things they’re doing to address systemic racism.And that is where the real trouble lies for Facebook. Marketers are considering not just boycotting, but creating sustainable corporate change… without them.

What a Facebook-free marketing plan looks like

Here at BRANDED, we’re not going to tell you to join the boycott.

All we’re going to say is that there’s no better time than now to start exploring what your marketing plan could look like without Facebook. You can make just as much of an impact by consistently reducing your spend over time on Facebook and Instagram, and reinvesting it elsewhere.

What are other ways to build and connect with our audiences? It depends on your brand, but here are some options.

Sponsor podcast and newsletter creators. People only listen to podcasts and read newsletters that they care about. Which ones are your customers engaging with?

Make direct media buys. People are hooked on local news this year — that’s where you want to be. If your budget is smaller, you can use Ad Slot or Bloomberg. If it’s larger, contact publishers directly. They’d be happy to take your call.

Host free training, classes & events. Give people something they value and be part of their self-improvement story.

Work with new media networks. Reach out to companies like Brand Advance, which represent intersectional audiences, including LGBTQ, Black, Asian and Disabled people..

Start a new referral program. Pay your customers to talk you up.

Buy outdoor advertising. Make a statement for everyone to see.

Invest in your organic marketing. Pay more to hire better copywriters, designers and videographers to make your user experience (or your website) better.

Give products away. Redirect your budget towards product giveaways for creators, influencers and VIP customers.

We’re sure we’re only scratching the surface here. Let us know what we’ve missed!

Opening our eyes to a permanent boycott

Between the pandemic, the BLM movement and the impending U.S. election, the rules of engagement have changed. For the first time, advertising is backfiring. In this climate, marketers have far more power than we know.

This moment we’re in is about tossing away the systems that don’t work, and replacing them with ones that contribute to a safe and sustainable future for us all.

You don’t see that everyday.

See you next time!

Nandini and Claire

Did you like this issue? Then why not share! Please send tips, compliments and complaints to @nandoodles and @catthekin.

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