Not everyone is buying this ad exec's call to boycott Facebook

By December 22, 2018Advertising
Credit: Bloomberg

Not everyone is picking up what Mat Baxter is putting down.

On Thursday, the CEO of the agency Initiative took to LinkedIn to berate Facebook over this week’s revelations it had shared more data with certain other platforms than previously disclosed. He made headlines for saying he’s advising clients to pull ads from the social network.

“It’s about time we take a collective stand against the egregious behavior of Facebook,” he wrote. Initiative is a media agency owned by Interpublic Group of Cos., which distanced itself from Baxter’s LinkedIn post

Meanwhile, some analysts and agency CEOs came to the social network’s defense.

“It seems like bad advice from an ad agency,” says Rich Greenfield, BTIG Research media analyst. “Will Initiative lose more clients than Facebook?”

Initiative declined to comment for this story.

The New York Times set off the latest round of Facebook hand-wringing after it exposed more details about data deals struck by the social network. The article delved into how Facebook worked closely with companies like Spotify, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix and others for years, giving them special access to users’ accounts in part to streamline their own services.

“Facebook was trying to make consumers’ lives better,” Greenfield says. “They were not trying to hurt you. Consumers liked it.”

On Friday, Greenfield wrote a note to clients that suggested an ad agency like Iniative might have self-serving motives for bashing Facebook, because the social network has become one of the most powerful players in the digital advertising industry. The social network boasts more than 2.2 billion monthly active users, a level of scale that Greenfield says marketers would be foolish to walk away from.

“In a world dominated by Facebook and Google, will agencies even exist beyond creative shops?” Greenfield wrote. “No surprise to see agency executives are leading the charge calling for their clients to pull away from Facebook and Instagram.”

Greenfield says Facebook deserves blame for not explaining its data-sharing practices more clearly, but he hasn’t seen any advertisers pulling spending from the platform. Still, Facebook’s stock price has been hammered, down 40 percent this year.

“Why would Initiative advise clients not to use Facebook?” Greenfield asks. “It’s not like there are a lot of good alternatives. It has global reach and consumers haven’t stopped using it.”

Facebook has other defenders, as well, including at agencies themselves.

“They’re an easy scapegoat,” says Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction, a San Francisco-based agency. “It’s easy for an agency to posture and take a political stand. The reality is, Facebook is doing a lot to change.”

Traction, for example, tried to promote an ad on Facebook for a digital holiday card it made, likening 2018 to a dumpster fire. Facebook wouldn’t let the agency promote the video without first registering as a political advertiser, Kleinfeld says, a new rule at the social network meant to combat the type of disinformation that marred the platform in 2016.

“It’s inconvenient for me that my humorous video got caught,” Kleinberg says. “But if it means catching other things that are going to potentially hurt democracy, I’m ok with that.”

Another executive, Aimclear founder Marty Weintraub, said his digital agency clients cared more about performance marketing results than Facebook’s legal troubles MarketingLand reported separately.

“Decisions as to our media spend mix and Facebook have only to do with likely marketing results,” he was quoted as saying.

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