Initiative global boss Baxter calls for Facebook boycott – but will his agency masters back him?

Has a big media agency buyer finally found some cojones in dealing with Facebook?

Initiative global CEO Mat Baxter has said he’s advising clients to boycott the social media giant following an investigation by the New York Times allegedly showing it disclosed private user information to Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify and Yahoo among others.

Baxter (below) said in a blog post: “My advice to clients with respect to Facebook is proceed with caution. Regardless of whether Facebook can deliver the appropriate audience and results for an advertiser, they must also meet basic foundational standards. Every brand wants to appear in safe and reputable environments and right now Facebook is shaky on both.”

Facebook ad boss Carolyn Everson responded: “Over the past few days, we’ve been accused of not respecting people’s privacy settings and disclosing people’s private messages to partners without their knowledge. To reiterate, that is not true.

“Every day we work hand in hand with our advertising partners to help them grow their businesses and better serve their customers. We have a strong partnership with IPG agencies around the world and look forward to that continuing for years to come.”

They can’t be both right, of course.

Is Interpublic, Initiative’s owner, backing its straight-talking Aussie?

CEO Michael Roth says: “We take consumer privacy and protection very seriously. As an independent advisor to clients, we navigate a complex media environment and must balance audience engagement with brand safety. We look to all media platforms to be transparent about their usage of consumer data and will continue to work closely with our media partners, including Facebook, to ensure we have the highest data and privacy standards for our clients.”

Separately a spokesperson from IPG said the company encourages independent thinking, and Baxter’s comments are just his own perspective on a major news story.

So yes – and no.

Facebook and its peers couldn’t get away with some of the things they do without the tacit help of the big media agencies (most of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising). When media agencies aren’t criticising such platforms on behalf of their clients they’re spending much of the rest of the time cosying up to them. They want to cut special deals with Facebook to show clients that they’re better (the clients that is) going through them than direct to Facebook, Google, Amazon etc.

A big media agency demanding a special deal is likely to prompt someone at Facebook or elsewhere to break the rules, that’s the way media agencies operate. Facebook, in turn, needs to keep driving revenue to support its sagging share price.

So this dispute isn’t all one way traffic.

It will be interesting to track Baxter’s fortunes into the new year.

Update

This is a corrected version of an earlier story

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

2 comments

  1. An important point: Matt Baxter is the global CEO of Initiative, not UM…

  2. Thanks

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