The recent #FBrape campaign, orchestrated by Women, Action and the Media, the Everyday Sexism Project and activist Soraya Chemaly, and backed by over 100 organisations, targeted big name Facebook advertisers such as Dove and American Express to bring to the fore the issue of content condoning violence against women appearing on the social network.
After the week-long Twitter backlash which received over 50,000 tweets under the hashtag #FBrape, Facebook agreed to update its policies, releasing a statement acknowledging that its systems to monitor and remove gender-based hate speech had failed.
The backlash prompted 15 major advertisers, including Nissan and Nationwide, to suspend their Facebook marketing campaigns, and highlighted some of the issues brands potentially face when it comes to online advertising. So is it likely to have a lasting impact on Facebook advertising going forward, and what does it mean for brands advertising on social networks?
In the wake of the backlash, ISBA director of media and advertising Bob Wootton claimed “new media is effectively biting the hand that feeds it” by failing to act over online adverts appearing on inappropriate social media pages.
“Advertisers are rightly concerned with their ads appearing on websites that are bad taste at best and highly offensive, or illegal, at worst; why should they spend years and millions of pounds establishing their reputation only to have that investment damaged, possibly irrevocably, by something they have virtually no control over?
“The excuse from the likes of the new media giants that ‘we are just a pipe’, is, frankly, wearing thin. They need to honour the trust imbued in them by their clients – the companies that fund them – otherwise they might well see more advertisers taking their cash elsewhere,” remarked Wootton.
From a practical perspective, as online advertising becomes increasingly automated, brands looking to avoid inappropriate ad placing can look to technological solutions, says Richard Foan, group executive director, communications and innovation, Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC).
“The digital industry is already using technology and best practice to reduce the risk of ‘unfortunate placing’ of advertising,” says Foan. “Trusted online advertising is powerful and a key channel for brands to use. Part of this trust is based on confidence in the destination of the advertising.
“A choice of content verification technology certified by ABC to industry agreed JICWEBS standards is already in place to support this trust. I am confident that our industry will continue to build trust as technology and best practice evolves,” he adds.
The Twitter outcry has highlighted a number of issues for Facebook as a brand. The site has 1.1 billion active users, making up 46 per cent of the population of the internet. Its response to the #FBrape campaign after seven days was unprecedented, and suggests it is committed to improving its moderation. The campaign has outlined the importance of advertisers understanding their audiences at a granular level, according to G2 Joshua CEO Sarah Todd.
“The campaign further highlights the need for brands to fully understand their entire audience on an individual level, gaining insight as to their behaviours, motivations, needs, wants, desires and all the nuances that flow in between.”
She adds: “For a brand such as Facebook with a user base of gigantic proportions, this is no mean feat. But without appropriate insight, the brand could not preempt this very public backlash that has forced their hand.”
The consumer experience is what defines a brand today, argues Tim Hill, business development director, The Brand Union. “[The campaign] has highlighted that we’re well and truly in the third age of branding, where a brand is not defined by how it acts or carries itself in the public eye, but how people experience that brand around them,” he says.
This means brands need to take responsibility for how they appear to their audiences, according to Hill. “We all know that it was an unintentional oversight on the part of Facebook to juxtapose brand advertisements with pages carrying highly offensive, insensitive and crude content – but that is irrelevant. What’s relevant is what we saw, and collectively users quickly mobilised themselves around this cause to create this powerful voice that could not be ignored.”