First Direct and Virgin pull Facebook ads

A social media story that got a lot of coverage yesterday was about big brands such as First Direct and Virgin Mobile pulling their adverts from Facebook because they appeared on a page for a group supporting the far-right British National Party.

This highlights both one of the strengths and weaknesses of businesses and brands using and participating in new social media. The weakness is that it is so new and changing so rapidly that mistakes are inevitable, but fortune favours the brave and it is those companies that are willing to lead and experiment that will benefit most. A strength is that it is possible to react very quickly in the best way:

“First Direct also signalled likely changes towards a more sophisticated way of advertising on the internet. The banking and insurance firm’s spokesman, Rob Skinner, said: “We are obviously concerned about where our advertising appears. We have got to make sure that the places we advertise are consistent with our own values and identity.”

However, it’s also interesting that none of the brands affected appear to have talked to customers via Facebook.

XP: Wolfstar Pack Blog

UPDATE: More comment on Stephen Waddington’s Tech PR Blog and John Dodds on Make Marketing History. I agree with John’s line about the danger of automated systems, but not about his fear of “losing control of your message” as that’s the perspective of an ad guy and if you’re going to have genuine conversations you’re never going to control your message.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://makemarketinghistory.blogspot.com/ John Dodds

    Fair point Stuart, one can never fully control the conversation. I should perhaps have written losing control of those elemetns of the conversation over which you can have control (i.e. where your ads appear).

  • http://www.chrisandlin.com Chris Reed

    Hi Stuart

    Good point about the ads/facebook issue – but I can't help feeling that virtually all media have got the wrong end of the stick. In all of this, it's not Facebook that's the cause – it's the way that ads are bought online thorugh the networks – with nowhere near the same pre-analysis/checking as traditional advertising.
    The thing brands can/should do is check carefully where there ads go. It's far braver – as you and John point out – to actually "engage" with your audiences online, rather than to "just" advertise. You'll remember the gonetoosoon kerfuffle as well… http://thegingermonkey.blogspot.com/2007/06/google-causes-offence.html

  • http://paulcanning.blogspot.com paul canning

    Hi Stuart

    I've commented at length on this > http://paulcanning.blogspot.com/2007/08/gov-goes-backwards-on-net-marketing.html

    One particular aspect I find scary is the idea of advertiser profiling determining platform access.

    Another point is that if media access to groups such as Youth is now mainly through social networking, is it irresponsible for government to say 'the rules won't let us'?

  • http://www.peterkwong.wordpress.com Peter Kwong

    Hi guys, I couldn't agree more.

    I don't think the answer lies in more intrusive profiling and targeting of advertising on social network sites. Social media by it's nature is social and maybe it is time brands looked at how they can engage with their audience -like giving them something to talk about and providing a place where they will be listened to.

    This to me is the key challenge for brands and organisations like the COI. You can't monitor nor should you what people say online what you can do is decide to be part of it.