Facebook says the coronavirus pandemic has “forced” clients to do more online as the social media giant touts its own role in “building brilliant brands”, even as it faces another boycott over hate speech – this time by celebrity users.
“It was on every client’s horizon that you needed to do more in the online space but the pandemic forced us to do it” has been a common view among clients, according to Nicola Mendelsohn, vice-president of Facebook in EMEA, who talked about 10 years of change being "concertina-ed" into 10 weeks.
She was speaking as Facebook launched a new book, Build Brilliant Brands, with chapters written by more than 20 marketing and agency chiefs from the company’s client council. They include: Aline Santos, executive vice-president of global marketing, and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Unilever; Dean Aragon, chief executive of Shell Brands International and global vice-president brand at Shell; and Benjamin Braun, chief marketing officer for Europe at Samsung.
Facebook has a reputation for driving business performance and sales through targeted advertising but Mendelsohn maintained the company’s family of services and apps, which include Instagram and WhatsApp, are also effective at building brands and creating desire.
“We often try to categorise, ‘is it this or that or the other?’,” she said, referring to the debate about brand-building versus performance marketing.
“Ultimately, you want to convert down into the sale but if you [as a consumer] don’t know you don’t want [a product] in the first place, then you can’t go there,” she said, explaining the growing importance of what she called “discovery commerce”.
She added: “The [Facebook family of] platforms work across [the marketing funnel], whether you’re looking to drive brand and awareness and get reach or whether you’re looking to convert into performance and sales.”
Discovery commerce requires brands to move their focus beyond “the narrow opportunity to capture existing intent” and “think about how they generate fresh demand”, which “moves ecommerce from a bottom funnel activity to a full funnel one”, Mendelsohn writes in her chapter.
The publication of the book came on the same day (16 September) that several celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West, Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry and Jennifer Lawrence, said they would suspend activity on Facebook and Instagram.
It is the latest effort organised by Stop Hate For Profit, a US campaigning group, which persuaded several hundred advertisers to pull their spend from Facebook and, in some cases, from other social media platforms during July or beyond because of the rise of hate speech and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Facebook has nine million advertisers so the advertiser boycott had reputational, rather than financial, impact.
“It’s been an incredibly difficult and challenging period for us,” Mendelsohn said, speaking about the July boycott and before news that Kardashian West was suspending her activity on Facebook.
“One of the things that’s particularly difficult about this is that often if you have somebody that is boycotting something else, it’s usually because you’re in dire opposition to what one side wants versus the other and that isn’t the case [here].
“We care exactly the same way [as critics] because we share their goals. We don’t want hate on Facebook and we’ve been very clear about that for a long time. Some people think we profit from hate and that isn’t true at all either.”
Mendelsohn added: “What we do need to do is a better job of explaining how we define it [hate speech] and also how we go about removing it.”
She said Facebook has already taken action by changing some of its policies around hate speech and increasing dialogue with civil rights organisations and with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, an industry alliance of brands, agencies and tech companies.
“For the most part, advertisers have come back on the platform because of the actions that they can see that we are taking but also because of the effects of the use of our platforms in talking to the customers that matter to them,” Mendelsohn said.