While joining the boycott seemed like the right and consumer-leasing thing to do, Kantar’s Mark Chamberlain warns of the perception of hypocrisy.

We are now in the final week of the Facebook advertising boycott, triggered by the #StopHateforProfit campaign calling on businesses to pause their Facebook ad spend throughout July in protest over its content policies.

Despite efforts from Facebook to address the issue of hate speech and content on the platform, many global brands, from Coca Cola and Unilever to Ford and Patagonia, have joined the protest this month by pulling their advertising. Some have indicated that they might cut it for longer. Recently Disney also cut its advertising, despite having been the platform’s top advertiser in the first half of the year to promote its new Disney+ streaming service.

Much of the focus has been on the impact on Facebook as a brand; the potential hit on the company’s earnings as a result of a massive drop in ad spend, and how it will respond, both publicly and privately. Perhaps more important, commentators are questioning whether this is the start of long-term decline if companies pull their ad spend permanently.

But what’s more interesting is shifting the focus on those taking part in the boycott. The more cynical amongst us might see this as a knee-jerk reaction against Facebook as they board the boycott bandwagon.

Brands need to play this one carefully in my opinion. They should be applauded for taking a leadership stance and making people’s lives better, but ultimately they will be judged on the consistency of the behaviours and actions they take.

It is necessary and right for companies to take a stance on issues that are important to us as consumers as it builds trust. But decisions must be made with a long-term view in mind. They must be backed up by the way a brand consistently behaves and presents itself. Brands would do well to start with a clear brand purpose from which all decisions can intrinsically and consistently flow.

Purpose, however, is one of those misunderstood and misused business buzzwords. Purpose-led companies can make a huge difference in the world, but just as important, being purpose-led can also be a key driver of brand value growth. An analysis of BrandZ’s Top 100 Most Valuable Brands over a 12-year period (2006 to 2018) shows that value growth among brands with a high Brand Purpose Index was more than double that of those with average or lower association.

Brands have never mattered more than they do today and can be a powerful force for good – for consumers and for society as a whole. They have the size, reach and trust it takes to make a difference and people expect them to use this power for doing good things. 

Purpose is the start of a brand’s positioning. A clear purpose has to be relevant to the brand, and feel genuine to the consumer, not bolted on. As consumers we are more discerning than ever and choose to buy from and be associated with a brand that shares our values and beliefs. Brands can help us live our best lives.

So for some, boycotting Facebook is absolutely consistent with the brand purpose and the way they make people’s lives better. But for others this may not be the case, and for those, a word of warning about joining the campaign or thinking about it. Be careful about making inconsistent decisions that consumers may judge as hypocritical and damage the brand in the longer term.

Estimates suggest that more than 600 companies have now joined the boycott, and this could increase before the month is out. Only Facebook knows how much of a dent this will make in its ad spend and the short- and long-term impact on its revenues and corporate reputation.

But for brands that are seen to jump on the bandwagon, don’t expect any immediate benefit from this one action alone. In fact, it might even hurt a brand in the short-term. Kantar has done some work with Said Business School to quantify the consequences on ad effectiveness for brands. In general, boycotting brands should expect a drop in Saliency (-6.16%), Association (-3%), and Purchase Intent (-8.66%). Although the exact extent of the costs borne by brands, will depend on their industry, as well as their reliance on the digital world.

Brands are already facing many challenges in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and purpose can be the perfect antidote to that. It provides the bedrock and a consistent long-term approach to uncertainty.

So before jumping on the short-term boycott bandwagon, brand owners must first ask the more meaningful long-term question, ‘how can we be a powerful force for good in a way that makes sense for my brand, and feels genuine for consumers?’.