Facebook advertisers can’t afford to play hardball


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  • Even as many top marketers go public in their criticism of Facebook’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica controversy, there’s another side to the story.
  • There are thousands of advertisers on Facebook who are not even thinking about cutting or threatening to cut Facebook ads.
  • That’s because these brands rely on Facebook to generate much if not all of their business. “They can’t afford to be precious,” one executive says.

Big advertisers have been letting Facebook have it.

But lots of advertisers aren’t shouting about the Cambridge Analytica fallout. They simply can’t afford to.

Recently giant marketers like Procter & Gamble and Unilever have been rethinking how much they need to advertise via digital media at all. And they’re getting fed up with Facebook’s misadventures with consumer data and reluctance to employ third-party measurement to the degree they’d prefer.

Following the Cambridge mess, big advertisers have become more emboldened to push back, reported the Wall Street Journal. That’s led Facebook’s sales chief to spend much of her time doing damage control.

But there’s another side to all this — and it’s important to remember that Facebook has 6 million advertisers. So many of the advertisers that thrive on Facebook, as well as Google, Instagram, and other platforms, are not of the Procter & Gamble ilk.

Instead of worrying about how Facebook will replace their shrinking TV audiences, these brands have built their business on Facebook. That means cutting ads on Facebook means cutting off their own business.

“Of course these kinds of brands care about brand safety,” said Sam Appelbaum, General Manager at YellowHammer Media Group, which specializes in brands that sell directly to consumers via digital media. “But they can’t afford to be precious. Advertising on Facebook is crucial for driving their business. And in some cases, its where most of their business is generated.”

That’s not the case for most of the big marketers who are shouting about Facebook’s data ills. Those companies often don’t have their own consumer data, and many of them rely on selling their wares in physical stores. 

And they’ve developed their brands in a traditional media, Madison Avenue-image-focused era. So any association with consumer data breaches, fake news, Russian bots, etc. are greeted with a desire to protect their good names.

“Those guys are 100% focused on their image and the PR angle. We’re focused on generating customers,” said Brian Schwartz, partner at Fuego Box, a startup that sells high-end hot sauce consumers, primarily via social media.

Of course, Fuego Box cares about its brand, said Schwartz. And if Facebook or Google or another outlet proved to be clearly detrimental to their image, they’d have to rethink things. 

But Fuego Box and the thousands of other marketers like them don’t always have the luxury to threaten to cut spending from a giant platform to negotiate or prove a point. Which in a way likely insulates Facebook from too much damage.

“There’s stuff that’s in our control, and stuff that’s out of our control,” he said. You kinda have to bake everything in how you evaluate your media spending. But for the most part, if it works it works, it doesn’t it doesn’t.”

Or as one exec from a large, direct-to-consumer brand put it: “We’re a performance marketer…[Facebook has]the audience…So fewer decisions based on politics and values and more based on performance.”

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