Last month, as the noise around the Black Lives Matter movement, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, was at its loudest, Facebook made a public promise to donate millions of dollars to social-justice causes. The same day, The New York Times reports, the most popular post on the platform was an 18-minute video from right-wing activist Candace Owens, "calling the idea of racially biased policing a ‘fake narrative’ and deriding Mr Floyd as a ‘horrible human being’". And her post, shared by right-wing news outlets and promoted through Facebook’s algorithms, garnered nearly 100 million views.
Long before this tipping point, many marketers, like myself, had felt increasingly uneasy about spending our budgets on a platform that promotes hate and proliferates misinformation in the name of profit. So when the Stop Hate for Profit campaign launched, my colleagues and I knew that we had to add Patagonia to the list of companies boycotting Facebook. That isn’t to say we took the decision lightly. We rely on social media to connect with our community, to sell our products and to bring attention to environmental threats to our planet. But we take issue with Facebook’s business model that allows the company to profit off hate, racism, bigotry, sexism and antisemitism. Holding our noses as we continued to invest our resources in these platforms was no longer good enough for us.
As one of the companies willing to speak publicly about our motivation for defunding Facebook and the implications for our business, we have fielded the question "What next?" many times over the past week. And while a prolonged move away from the dominant power of Facebook may feel unnerving for some right now, especially on the back of a tumultuous six months, I see this as an opportunity for creative people to think carefully about the company we keep and make more conscious consumption choices with our advertising.
Interestingly, the environmental NGOs we work with around the world – many of them grassroots groups that rely on social media to drive awareness and engage with like-minded audiences – have overwhelmingly supported our decision, even when it has meant that we cannot promote their campaigns and actions in this way. And the response from our customers has been similarly enthusiastic. I believe that the majority of citizens share with us in feeling this is a moral obligation. For advertisers, this opens up an enormous opportunity to have honest conversations with our customers and to take them on the journey with us.
On the back of Covid-19 and a changing digital marketing landscape, we are being forced to rethink everything. Suddenly, physical events have been taken away, the way that we live and work, every day, has been changed – potentially forever – and we must reimagine how we operate in the digital space.
Our goal going forward is unchanged: reaching communities and engaging with people on the issues that matter most to us as a company, aligned with our mission statement: we’re in business to save our home planet. However, the methods we use to achieve this must transform and must be in line with our belief systems, both as organisations and human beings. For any company, large or small, in any industry, it will take energy and commitment to move away from the tried-and-tested formulas. But if ever there was a time to cast aside the "business as usual" mindset, it’s right now.
Alex Weller is marketing director EMEA at Patagonia