Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg held a video conference yesterday with representatives of Stop Hate for Profit - the month-long advertisers’ boycott of the social media platform.

Campaigners and associated brands are concerned about the site’s handling of hateful content and misinformation - but said they saw "no commitment to change" from Facebook following yesterday’s discussion.

To date the campaign has been largely centred around the US, however it has had a knock-on effect on other markets, including Ireland.

"One or two advertisers have contacted us saying that they were looking into this with their advisors and their agencies," said Suzanne McElligott, CEO of digital advertising body IAB Ireland.

"Some advertisers have come out and said they’re taking that stance, but we haven’t had actually a lot of contact about it at the moment.

"That’s not to say it’s not happening in the background," she added.

IAB Ireland’s membership includes the companies that brands and agencies that buy digital ads, as well as the publishers that display them, including Facebook.

While there is no break-down of the exact figure, she said that it is generally accepted that Facebook and Google hold around 70% of the digital ad market in Ireland - which is in line with their stake in other countries.

As part of its function IAB Ireland tracks digital ad spend in the country, however Ms McElligott said this was done on an annual basis - so it will be some time before the impact of any boycott might be known.

However she said it was becoming increasingly common for brands to take heed of the broader context of their ad spend - factoring in moral and ethical elements alongside the business rationale.

"I think it's becoming very important to all of us, even as consumers, in terms of looking at brands and looking at their priorities and environmental ethics and labour ethics," she said.

"Similarly for brands it is becoming increasingly important and they’re playing a more active role in understanding where their advertising spend is going," she added.

The boycott comes at an already challenging time for digital ad spend. The impact of Covid-19 has prompted many firms to reign in budgets of all kinds, including marketing.

Ms McElligott said there are projections of a 20% reduction in digital ad spend - representing €130m - this year. 

There is a view that, perhaps, the boycott has proven an opportune moment for firms to make that cut, allowing them to mask an accounting measure as a good deed.

However Ms McElligott does not believe that to be the case - and in fact argues that the more focused marketing budget makes ethical issues around the platform-of-choice all the more important.

"In terms of our brand members, I think they think strategically," she said. "They’re making decisions that are more informed over long-term strategy than taking short-term views like that.

"Those that have joined us as members want to have a high level of digital knowledge, want to be able to work well with their agencies and with publishers and, yes, they want to ensure that any decisions they’re making, that they will be able to stand over them and that they understand them."

Another criticism levelled at the boycott campaign is that it is, for now at least, a month long. That means that Facebook may not have to wait long for many of those involved to return to the platform and carry on as before.

The social media giant earns billions a year from global advertisers and the reason for that is that it works - making it very difficult to ignore.

Ms McElligott feels that advertisers do have a choice, however, and they do not have to compromise ethical concerns in the name of profit.

"Everybody, as a user as well going forward, has a choice in terms of values and ethics," she said. "I can only speak for our members but that is a really genuine response that they have and a need that they have. It’s not a question of jumping on the bandwagon, it’s something that is very important.

"While profit is also very important, I think they can actually be mutually beneficial and I think they will increasingly be."