Pfizer, Novartis and others return to Facebook after hate speech boycott, but plan to keep tabs on changes

Facebook mobile app
Facebook faced an ad boycott in July that included many pharma companies and shifted some policies, but remains under scrutiny. (Pixabay)

Pharma marketers including Pfizer, Novartis and AbbVie ditched Facebook advertising in July as part of an initiative to pressure the platform to make changes against hate speech, joining more than 1,000 brands in the “Stop the Hate for Profit” movement.

Now, more than a month later, the pharma brands have returned to Facebook. So did it make a difference?

Pfizer and Novartis were two pharma brands that initially spoke out about joining the “Stop Hate for Profit” effort and in a recent follow up, Pfizer said the effort did indeed spur some changes.

Virtual Roundtable

ESMO Post Show: Highlights from the Virtual Conference

Cancer experts and pharma execs will break down the headline-making data from ESMO, sharing their insights and analysis around the conference’s most closely watched studies. This discussion will examine how groundbreaking research unveiled over the weekend will change clinical practice and prime drugs for key new indications, and panelists will fill you in on the need-to-know takeaways from oncology’s hottest fields. Register today.

“We have had multiple conversations with Facebook about the issues that led to the July boycott and believe based on their representations to us that they are making progress to reduce hate speech on their platforms,” Pfizer said told FiercePharma in a statement.

RELATED: Pfizer, Novartis and more halt July ads on Facebook to protest hate and racism

Facebook agreed to give Pfizer regular updates on progress, the drugmaker said. And while Pfizer did resume advertising in August, the company will monitor the platform and "take additional steps if Facebook fails to deliver on their equity commitments.”

Novartis also resumed paid content in August in an effort to give patients "information around disease awareness, scientific innovation, clinical trial recruitment and more," the company said in a statement to FiercePharma.

The pharma company did not comment on any changes made by Facebook, but said Novartis remains "committed to organizations working to end systemic racism."

Almost 60% of Americans said the Facebook boycott was a fair move by brands, although only 40% said they believed it would result in credible change by the social media giant, according to a recent PiplSay survey.

Not everyone agrees. Former WPP advertising holding company chief Martin Sorrell told CNBC this week that he didn’t believe the boycott was effective, nor was it the right way to deal with Facebook. He advocated for the Pfizer approach—although did not name Pfizer specifically—of having private conversations with the social media giant to lobby for change.

Facebook also likely didn’t suffer meaningful financial consequences; it recently projected average growth of 10% for the third quarter, which includes July. However, the boycott did draw attention and motivate at least some outward change.

RELATED: Drugmakers pause Facebook ads for Juneteenth, joining anti-racism protest

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has promised to widen Facebook’s parameters in banning hate content and put warning labels and fact checks on some content. Still, the organizers of the Stop Hate campaign warned at the end of July that the month-long boycott was just the beginning.

Pharma companies should evaluate communication plans and prepare for the increasing call for ad boycotts, advised one adtech analyst.

“These issues have happened in the past, but the frequency, consistency and the scope seemed to have reached a new level this year,” said Ian Orekondy, a digital pharma ad tracker and CEO of Pranify. “This is going to be an ongoing issue, so having a playbook ready is going to be important for these pharma brands and companies.”

Suggested Articles

Last year at ESMO, AZ and Merck showed Lynparza topped its rivals at fending off prostate cancer. Now, Lynparza has helped patients live longer, too.

Merck and Eisai are trying to take their Keytruda-Lenvima combo into additional cancers, and new data provide a glimpse of where it might go next.

Bristol-Myers already has one Opdivo combo approved in kidney cancer, but it’s going for another—and new trial data could be just the ticket.