Unlike companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia that have vocalized their frustration with Facebook’s policies involving allegedly racist content allowed on the site, PepsiCo has yet to make an official announcement. But people inside the world’s second largest food and beverage company say the boycott will run through July and August. These people described the move as a “global boycott” on placing Facebook ads.
The move could have broad implications given PepsiCo’s size — revenues of $67 billion last year — and stature producing some of Corporate America’s most iconic brands including its eponymous soft drink. PepsiCo is reported to spend as much as $2.6 billion annually in marketing, promotion and advertising, and like most big companies, it is now dedicating a growing portion of its ad budget to social media platforms such as Facebook, long considered one of the best ways to reach an audience online.
In fact, some big companies, looking to cut costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, were weighing cutting TV advertising and diverting money to cheaper online venues.
But that move ran into the vast social upheaval that followed the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being taken into police custody. The protests also galvanized Corporate America, with many big companies holding seminars on race relations, while groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on social media platforms to better police hate speech on their sites.
Facebook has long been a target of criticism that it hasn’t acted aggressively in curtailing hate speech with its founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg resisting claims to remove posts and label certain types of comments as inappropriate. The criticism of Facebook’s policies intensified after President Trump’ issued a statement on social media amid the George Floyd unrest that “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Facebook allowed the comment to remain on its site, while its rival Twitter took the step of flagging the statement for violating its policies “glorifying violence.”
In recent days, amid increasing calls by activist groups to boycott Facebook, companies are beginning to pull their ads from its platform. Last week, ad agency Goodby Silverstein announced they were joining the boycott on Twitter. In the same statement, the company that works with other brands including Adobe, HP, PayPal and BMW, encouraged clients and employees to join in the boycott. PepsiCo is also one of the agency’s clients.
“We will join #StopHate4Profit and stop posting on @Facebook for the month of July. We are taking this action to protest the platform’s irresponsible propagation of hate speech, racism, and misleading voter information. We encourage clients and our own people to join us,” the company announced in a tweet. Goodby Silverstein is a subsidiary of Omnicom Group, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies.
It’s unclear why PepsiCo decided not to issue a press release on the move. Company spokesman Jon Banner didn’t return telephone calls and emails for comment. A Facebook press official also did not return calls and emails for comment.
But people inside the company say the ban is far-reaching and designed to make a statement on Facebook’s bottom line, since Facebook generates about $1 billion a quarter from advertising revenues. During the first quarter of 2020, Facebook recorded revenues of $17.7 billion.
Facebook stock dropped more than 8% Friday on news of the expanding boycott.
Social media companies have increasingly juggled allowing freedom of speech with their responsibility to moderate content considered hate speech or manufactured news for political purposes.
But Zuckerberg has taken a more laissez-faire approach than his counterpart at Twitter, Jack Dorsey.
In a 2018 Senate hearing, Zuckerberg told Congress, “I think there are a number of areas of content we need to do a better job of policing on our service.” More recently, he’s highlighted the need for an open and free platform — telling Fox News last month he did not think Facebook should be the “arbiter of truth.”
Zuckerberg said Friday he will amend Facebook’s policy by adding labels to “newsworthy” content that violates its policies.
“Often, seeing speech from politicians is in the public interest, and in the same way that news outlets will report what a politician says, we think people should generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms,” Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post. “We will soon start labeling some of the content we leave up because it is deemed newsworthy, so people can know when this is the case.”