As Facebook boycott grows, advertisers struggle with race

At this time of year, hordes of advertising executives often come to agreements on yachts on the French Riviera or at meetings in Manhattan, and they don’t feel at home worried about their future.

But the industry, heavily hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has seen its glamorous mid-year calendar transform into a procession of recorded video presentations in backyard bathrooms and sheds. Discussions on audience metrics and targeting technologies have now expanded to include difficult reflections on systemic racism and concerns about a receding economy.

The annual Cannes Lions advertising festival, which was supposed to take place this week in the south of France, was replaced by several days of online sessions with companies like Unilever and guests like Chelsea Clinton. The NewFronts, a separate series of spring events in New York meant to showcase digital platforms like Snap, TikTok, and Roku, aired online this week. (YouTube sent thousands of pizzas to accompany personalized videos.)

But many in the industry were distracted during the week by a growing boycott of Facebook, which Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers, joined on Friday. The effort involves dozens of advertisers, such as Honda, Verizon, and Patagonia, who are disgusted with the social media giant’s indirect attitude toward President Trump’s posts amid widespread protests against racism and police brutality.

Unilever said it would not post advertising on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in the United States for at least the rest of the year, during a “polarized election period.” The company added in a statement that “continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.” Unilever spent $ 42.4 million on Facebook advertising in the United States last year, according to the advertising analysis platform Pathmatics.

Marc Pritchard, brand director for Procter & Gamble, said in an online speech for Cannes Lions on Wednesday that the company would not be “advertising or close to content that we determine is hateful, demeaning or discriminatory.” A Procter & Gamble spokeswoman declined to say where the company advertises. Advertising agencies like IPG Mediabrands said they were working with companies that want to cut ties with Facebook.

Facebook spends billions of dollars a year to keep its platforms safe and works with outside experts to review and update its policies, the company said in a statement on Friday. But he added, “We know we have more work to do.”

The global uproar over the race following the police murder of George Floyd last month was never far from the NewFronts and Cannes performances this week.

YouTube introduced its session with a message from Susan Wojcicki, its CEO, who featured black YouTube creators like Marques Brownlee and Greta Onieogou. Hulu kicked off its segment with rapper RZA calling on viewers to “take action, help us fight this systemic racism,” saying “you have the platform, use it.” Cannes Lions released a study on bias that found that people of color accounted for more than 46 percent of screen time in ads last year, but white characters are less likely to be shown working or portrayed as “smart.”

Vice Media Group announced a plan at NewFronts to expand its coverage of racism, which it called “The 8:46 Project,” referring to the nearly 9 minutes a police officer knelt down on Mr. Floyd’s neck. Vice also called on advertisers to reconsider the “outdated practice of keyword blocking lists,” which he said has recently hurt revenue by preventing ads from appearing alongside content that mentions terms such as “Black Lives Matter.” “protest” and even “Black people”.

Vice’s presentation bypassed Refinery29, the women’s lifestyle publication he acquired last year, which faced allegations of discrimination from former employees earlier this month.

The Condé Nast presentation, however, directly addressed what one executive called “the elephant in the kitchen”: concerns about racism that led to recent leadership changes in the food publication Bon Appétit and the Condé Nast study. Entertainment. Roger Lynch, CEO of Condé Nast, said in a live speech that the company was forced to “defend itself” and would create an advisory council against racism.

“As society is changing, Condé Nast is changing,” he said.

Many of NewFront’s sessions were also filled with anxiety about the health of the advertising industry. This year’s ad spending, excluding political advertising, will drop 13 percent in the United States and grow 4 percent next year, according to a forecast this month by GroupM, the media investment arm of ad giant WPP. That estimate assumes that the reopening of the economy will continue without a resurgence of coronavirus cases that will push the country back to closure.

“When advertisers cannot predict what will happen in July, it is difficult to make substantial commitments for the rest of the year,” said Christian Juhl, GroupM’s global chief executive. “The underlying economic understanding just isn’t there right now for people to make a good bet.”

The reluctance to close long-term contracts has already prompted calls to television networks to adjust how they sell commercial space during the broadcast year, which begins in October. This week, when previewing upcoming shows during their Newfront presentations, many digital platforms tried to tackle uncertainty by promising performance guarantees and contract flexibility.

Roku offered customers a variety of options, including 14-day cancellations and the ability to quickly remove ads from areas where they are no longer relevant (for example, if local home stay guidelines change).

“The beauty of digital has always been flexibility and fluidity; Unlike linear television, where it commits to a year and has some limited flexibility, there is much more agility built into the digital ecosystem, “said David Cohen, president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau business group, which organizes Newfronts.

But this year, he said, “Regardless of media type, there won’t be a huge appetite for committing to a long-term deal without the opportunity to optimize or cancel based on business performance.”

The presentations also promoted technology that would allow viewers to buy directly from commercials. Using QR codes and push notifications on smartphones, Hulu said viewers could buy directly from companies like Sweetgreen and TheRealReal through ads created with its new GatewayGo format. Condé Nast’s Prime Shoppable technology will be featured on the Vogue and GQ online shows. “The Drop,” a Snapchat show, will feature fashion collaborations that viewers can buy while watching.

More than 12,500 people signed up for NewFronts, which ended on Friday afternoon with a request from the event’s host, comedian Scott Rogowsky. “If you are a brand, don’t be afraid,” he said. “Get up, this is your moment.”

Mike Isaac contributed reporting.