Ben & Jerry’s axe Twitter budget – how many brands will follow?

Twitter’s “content moderation has become all but non-existent” stated Ben & Jerry’s. Improper regulation puts the platform at risk of becoming a “toxic cesspit” of hate speech, sinking Twitter further into dangerous waters if more brands leave the platform.

Ben & Jerry’s announced last week that it has cut all paid advertising on Twitter due to the “proliferation of hate speech on the platform”. 

In a statement the ice cream brand said: "We’ve watched with great concern the developments at Twitter following Elon Musk’s purchase of the social media platform. Hate speech is up dramatically while content moderation has become all but non-existent.

“Musk himself has doubled down on dangerous anti-democratic lies and white nationalist hate speech. The platform has become a threatening and even dangerous space for people from so many backgrounds, including people who are Black, Brown, trans, gay, women, people with disabilities, Jewish, Muslim and the list goes on. This is unconscionable in addition to being plain bad business.”

The platform’s ad revenue has tanked since Musk bought it with the share price now worth one third of what it was worth when the Tesla CEO made the purchase, Fidelity reported.

Ben & Jerry’s – which on its Twitter profile professes to be about “Peace, Love and Ice Cream” – has a following of almost half a million users, and urged fellow brands to follow suit and halt paid ads on the platform.

“Twitter must act today to end the extremist and violent content on the platform,” the statement said. “Until that happens, Ben & Jerry’s will spend no money with Twitter and we call on all businesses and partners to do the same.”

PMW spoke to paid social experts from brands and agencies to get their reaction.

“The true power lies with brands”

“Ben & Jerry’s is not the first and won’t be the last brand to completely abandon Twitter,” states Tamara Littleton, CEO, The Social Element. “If a social media platform isn’t properly regulated, it quickly becomes a toxic cesspit. Brands have a huge responsibility of protection towards their consumers when they utilise social media. If a platform is a breeding ground for toxicity that attracts hate speech, brands will have no other choice but to remove themselves.

“With news breaking over the weekend that high-level execs are leaving the company, brand safety concerns are only going to continue to rise. As an optimist, and someone who has a lot of nostalgic love for Twitter, I like to think it’s possible that new CEO Linda Yaccarino will identify the need for a serious shake-up in the brand safety department. She has the opportunity to turn things around and return the platform to what it once was: a genuine community.

“If we can take anything positive away from this news, it shows that the true power lies with brands, and they have the ability to affect real change” asserts Littleton. “We can only hope that Twitter is paying attention, and that it’s not already too late.”

“We need to monitor daily” or “will remove budget”

Dale Fisher, Head of Global Display and Social Growth Marketing at Superbet tells PMW: “As a brand that advertises on Twitter, I can see why Ben & Jerry’s has taken this stance, more work certainly needs to be done to erase hate speech from Twitter. This also applies to social platforms in general, and indeed the web. However, unfortunately, impressions of this content will never be zero, that's not just on Twitter, but all platforms that house user generated content.  

“But if we focus on Twitter, it's worth noting overall impressions of Tweets that contain slurs in English have stabilised, and remain below our pre- (Musk) acquisition tolerance baseline. With the new subscription features as a part of the wider verification strategy – ‘Twitter Blue’ and ‘Verified Organisations’ – this will also help reduce fraudulent accounts and bots.

Fisher goes on to explain that “with this being said, we, as advertisers, have a couple of options to consider and test out in future if we notice that hate speech is damaging the brand's image”, highlighting in particular: 

  • Conversation Control: this feature lets you choose who can reply to your organic/promoted Tweets and join the discussion.

  • Adjacency Control: a pre-bid control to prevent ads from appearing adjacent to Tweets that use keywords and authors you’d like to avoid in the relevance-ranked ‘For You’ (Home) and reverse chronological ‘Following’ (Latest) timelines. The typical advertiser excludes about 200 terms (out of 2000 possible). 

Fisher continues: “The adjacencies we’ve prevented amount to about 1/100th of a percent of the total impressions for our campaigns, which further demonstrates that the scale of risk is small, but the assurance is powerful. 

“This feature builds on top of Twitter’s longstanding suite of protections to ensure Twitter maintains a brand safety floor (monetization of content unsafe for brands). In Q2, we are partnering with GARM to implement a robust Keyword list that will apply across all campaigns globally, 24/7 to mitigate unsafe keywords and allow Adjacency Controls to be used exclusively for suitability purposes.”

He concludes: “Work still needs to be done and we monitor this daily. If we start to see the data go above our tolerance baseline, we will follow Ben & Jerry’s and remove budget [from Twitter].”

“Better place to invest marketing budgets”

“Ben & Jerry’s stance on leaving Twitter is something that we will see more and more of,” says David Balko, Chief Client Officer at Tribal Worldwide. “Twitter is just another channel in the mix of media that brands can choose. 

“In this instance, given Twitter’s recent turbulence I would expect more brands to give them a wide berth. The rise of new, and perhaps less polarising, social media platforms will give brands a base that they feel is more appropriate to their audience.

“In the end, the rise of hate speech on Twitter is a fact and brands like Ben & Jerry’s, which essentially spread a little happiness, will undoubtedly find better places to invest marketing budgets.”

The ice cream brand concluded its statement: “For the time being, we will continue to maintain a presence on the platform to connect with our community, but will revisit that presence as needed pending developments in this space.”