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Steve Lesnard Leads The North Face’s Stop Hate for Profit Facebook Boycott

The North Face is a key brand in the #StopHateforProfit campaign, which asks Facebook to stop valuing profits over misinformation and hate speech.

Since Facebook has failed to improve its anti-hate and misinformation procedures in recent weeks, the number of companies that have joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign has risen exponentially. The Stop Hate for Profit campaign encourages companies to boycott Facebook to force the social media platform to implement stronger measures against online disinformation, racism, bigotry, antisemitism, and other hate speech. By primarily recruiting advertisers, the campaign hopes to convince Facebook to act faster. Last year, approximately 98 percent of Facebook’s $70-billion revenue came from ads.

The North Face: First Major Brand to Boycott Facebook Ads
The first major brand to join the Stop Hate for Profit campaign was The North Face. The brand’s Global VP of Marketing and Head of Product Creation, Steve Lesnard, started the boycott on June 18, within 24 hours of the campaign launch. Once The North Face declared that its U.S. teams would be boycotting Facebook advertising, over 1,000 other advertisers joined the campaign. REI, Patagonia, Coca-Cola, Ford, Lego, Eddie Bauer, Magnolia Pictures, Ben & Jerry’s, UpWork, Dashlane, and Adidas, among others, are now supporting The North Face in its bid to make social media a safer place for all.

A representative from Magnolia Pictures said that the company is “seeking meaningful change at Facebook and the end to [its] amplification of hate speech.” Meanwhile, during one of Facebook’s recent presentations, a representative from Ben & Jerry’s pushed Facebook “to take stronger action to stop its platforms from being used to divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy.”

A coalition of civil rights organizations is also supporting the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. The coalition comprises the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Anti-Defamation League, and Color of Change. The coalition has listed 10 demands that the campaign asks Facebook to implement. These demands include improved moderation in private groups and ad refunds for companies whose ads appear next to hateful content.

Steve Lesnard on The North Face’s Facebook Boycott
Steve Lesnard explains that The North Face joined the campaign because the brand has “been concerned about misinformation and, frankly, hate speech not only on the overall platform but also within groups.”

Since VF Corporation, which owns The North Face, first publicly traded, Facebook has been one of the corporation’s top two media partners. Until now, the company has used a large portion of its $720-million advertising budget to fund Facebook ads. Since The North Face boycotted Facebook, other brands under the VF Corporation have also joined the campaign, including Jansport and Vans.

“The North Face spends more on Facebook than it does on any other platform besides Google,” says Steve Lesnard. “The stakes are too high. The platform needs to evolve.”

The North Face’s U.S. teams have also stopped utilizing paid advertising on Instagram, which Facebook owns.

The Effects of COVID-19 on the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign
Unfortunately, many smaller businesses from Facebook’s bulk of eight million advertisers are reluctant to join the Stop Hate for Profit campaign because their Facebook advertising strategies are more pivotal and important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some of my clients are just starting to come back,” says Jason Dille, who manages media planning for the advertising agency Chemistry. “If they don’t create sales and get business to turn around, they’re going to go under. Facebook is a double-edged sword. You don’t want to support it, but you have to use it in order to reach a large audience.”

The Possibility of Boycotting Other Social Media Platforms
Given the prevalence of hate speech and misinformation on other social channels, The North Face is examining all media owners from which it buys ads with the possibility of making further cuts. However, the Facebook boycott already leaves The North Face with limited advertising efforts while many companies are ramping up their paid advertising strategies to remain competitive and visible during the pandemic. The North Face is yet to decide how it will redistribute its U.S. advertising funds.

“It’s an issue we’re taking a close look at,” says Steve Lesnard. “Right now, the aim is to focus our efforts on Facebook because it’s the biggest media platform and so will raise awareness. Hopefully, that will change any inaction from other platforms. The catalyst is the current conversation around Facebook that was started by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People supported by us.”

Backlash Against Facebook
Concerns over Facebook’s misinformation and hate speech policies have come to the forefront of media attention over recent months due to worldwide protests against racism and police brutality. These protests have triggered a mass of misinformation and hate posts on social media. But while Twitter has been meticulously flagging inappropriate tweets, Facebook has failed to take the same level of action against unsuitable and offensive posts.

On July 7, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CFO Sheryl Sandberg met with leaders of the groups behind the Stop Hate for Profit campaign to discuss next steps. However, the coalition reports that Facebook failed to agree on meaningful change. The coalition released a statement describing Zuckerberg’s response as “the same old defense of white supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and other hateful groups.”

Meanwhile, Facebook responded in a statement to media outlets, stating that the platform remains committed to collaborating with organizers to prevent hate speech. Facebook also highlighted its recent moves to curb white supremacy and voter suppression on the network.

Under growing pressure from the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, Facebook has removed several ads, including a post from the president’s re-election campaign that featured a Nazi red triangular symbol used in World War II. Facebook has announced that users will soon be able to opt-out of seeing political ads and has admitted that its enforcement of content policies “isn’t perfect.”

Steve Lesnard and other brand leaders continue to campaign for further steps to overcome Facebook’s misinformation and hate speech problem.

Steve Lesnard on Facebook’s Response to the Campaign
Steve Lesnard concludes that The North Face will plot its next steps and the future of its Facebook ad spend depending on the rest of the negotiations.

“We will wait to see whether the commitment is there from Facebook,” he says. “If it isn’t, then we’ll reevaluate our strategy. We want to make sure that the dialogue leads into concrete actions and a roadmap of change. We want to see immediate changes from Facebook, but we also want to see real commitment. The stakes are too high, as the communities are too big on Facebook, so we need to drive for immediate change on the platform.”

“It feels like we’ve come to an inflection point,” adds Stephan Loerke, chief executive of the World Federation of Advertisers. “There’s a growing awareness that this isn’t a brand safety issue anymore; it’s a societal safety issue.”

About Steve Lesnard
Steve Lesnard is the Global VP of Marketing and Head of Product Creation at the North Face. Over the last two decades, he has overseen marketing campaigns for some of the biggest athletic brands in the world and led innovations that have redefined the sports and athletics industry. In particular, Lesnard managed The North Face’s campaign for the launch of FutureLight™, ground-breaking nano-spinning technology designed for ultimate breathability.

Steve Lesnard acted as global vice president and general manager during his previous tenure with one of the biggest athletic brands in the world. While in this position, he managed two Olympic marketing campaigns and launched the brand’s first women’s-only retail stores, partnering with Rihanna and one of Madonna’s choreographers, Jaime King. He also turned the brand’s running division into the fastest growing product line over three consecutive years, generating $5.3 billion in global annual revenue. On top of this, he built a strategic partnership with Apple and expanded the company’s online running community from 500,000 to over seven million participants.

As an athletics fanatic himself, Steve Lesnard has provided consulting services for numerous worldwide marketing campaigns in the athletics, fashion, and technology sectors. He emphasizes the importance of mass personalization and coming to grips with consumer pain points to create the strongest brands. His consumer-centric approach is the driving force behind his campaigns’ successes. He also appears on various podcasts, on which he discusses end-user-focused global marketing and branding.

Outside of work, Steve Lesnard enjoys martial arts, running, mountain biking, kite surfing, and snowboarding. His love of sport integrates with his passion for travel, and he considers sports an international language that allows him to discuss common values with people all over the world.