How Facebook and Big Tech Are Waging Ad Wars Through Strong Ties with Small Businesses



When Facebook wanted to step up the pressure on Apple earlier this year in an ad and data privacy dispute, Facebook has brought a few ringers to the fight. In a major online advertising campaign, he featured several small businesses discussing how Apple’s decision to allow users to turn off data collection would not just eat into Facebook’s market capitalization in the billions, it would hurt little guys too, limiting efficiency targeted advertisements from Facebook.

The marketing was pulling on the sensitive chords, pointing to the endangerment of what appeared to be mainstream mom-and-pop businesses. But at least two of the small businesses featured, Morgan Miller Plumbing in Grandview, Missouri, and Enlightened Marketing in Windsor, Colo., Actually have strong ties to Facebook, as part of a familiar Big Tech strategy to use relationships with. small businesses and pro-small. -groups of commercial lobbyists in public relations campaigns, according to to new research of the Tech Transparency Project, a non-partisan project.

“They describe them as some kind of increase in small business grassroots support for big tech rather than what they really are, this very cultured group of spokespersons,” says Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project.

In the recent example of the Facebook campaign, Morgan Miller founder Jeff Morgan states in his official bio on his company website that he has had the “privilege of visiting Facebook headquarters to share ideas ”. Meanwhile, Enlightened Marketing founder Jeremy Howie is a member of Facebook’s Small Business Council, an advisory group set up by the social network to help it better understand its small business clients. Additionally, Howie, on his company website, says he has also visited Facebook headquarters on several occasions, met with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and “participated in several internal beta tests. from Facebook “.

Additionally, the researchers note, Morgan Miller CEO Stella Crewse and Enlightened Marketing founder Howie sit on the board of the Connected Commerce Council. The pro-small business lobby group, known as “3C,” counts Amazon, Google and Square as official partners; Facebook was also a part of it until recently, a 3C spokesperson said. (“3C appreciates the investment of our partner companies in our training programs and the general support of 3C member companies,” the lobby group’s website reads.)

To be clear, there is nothing illegal about creating ad campaigns that might seem less than genuine to some viewers. “Facebook makes no apologies for working directly with some of the 200 million businesses on our platform to show how they are able to reach new customers and create jobs in their communities,” a spokesperson said. word of Facebook. “We are publicizing our efforts, including creating opportunities for small businesses to give us feedback and advice. We will continue to provide free services and affordable advertising that were previously only available to the largest advertisers. “

But it illustrates the closely coordinated internal workings of Big Tech battles in these public policy battles. Back when the anti-Big Tech antitrust movement started in 2019, 3C produced pro-Big Tech marketing aimed at influencing Congress that featured Myles Hagan, the owner of Geoff’s Farmhouse Tables in Travelers Rest, Carolina. South, and several other small businesses, according to an earlier report from the Tech Transparency Project. “Without companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, I could not have found a client base beyond the borders of my beloved state of Palmetto,” Myles Hagan said in a press release. “Small businesses like mine tend to be hurt when Congress goes after the big guys.” And sometimes these small businesses are even recycled: While Morgan Miller recently appeared in a Facebook campaign, he appears in a 2020 and 2021 Google marketing campaign announcing the benefit of its tools for small businesses.

3C was founded in 2018 by Jake Ward, former public relations manager and, briefly, press secretary to Senator Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine. In the past, 3C has submitted comments to the FTC from small businesses supporting Big Tech’s digital tools, such as digital payments and video conferencing; flown from other small businesses to Washington to meet with regulators and legislative staff; and gathered press releases like this one, in which he argued against the government’s new antitrust cases against Big Tech and included quotes from small companies praising these big companies.

3C, who wouldn’t comment on this story, isn’t the only company dedicated to helping Big Tech defend itself in this way. Another active lobby group identified by the Tech Transparency Project is the Small Business Roundtable, a Washington, DC-based organization founded by two Democratic political operatives, Rhett Buttle and John Stanford. Last May, the Small Business Roundtable and Facebook teamed up on a report called “State of Small Business”. The document cites the results of a survey of 68,000 small businesses already active on Facebook. Given this background, their main finding is not too surprising, which is that digital tools have been crucial in strengthening their struggling businesses. Sandberg has publicly promoted the report in a press release and editorials, and the company has also used it in paid online advertising campaigns.

“Big tech has this bunch of small businesses that they can tap into, and they’re pre-approved: they know they’re going to be on the message,” says Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project. “It’s just really easy for them to keep coming back well because these guys are part of the team.”


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