Unilever’s advertising ultimatum to Facebook and Google – Clean up “toxic content”

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13 Feb 2018 --- British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company Unilever is calling for Google and Facebook to clean their acts or face the threat of having advertising withdrawn from online platforms that fail to eradicate divisive content that promotes anger and hate. 

Unilever’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, was making a speech to major advertising, media and tech firms gathered at a conference in California. It comes at a time when social media and tech companies are coming under fire for failing to protect children and to eradicate fake news, extremism and hate speech. 

Unilever owns over 400 brands, with a turnover in 2016 of more than €50bn (US$61.5bn), Unilever’s top brands include Dove, Magnum, Persil, Marmite, Hellmann's, Knorr, Lipton, Lux, Magnum, Rama and many more. 

“As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online,” Weed said.

Click to Enlarge“We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain – one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers – which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.”

“It is in the digital media industry’s interest to listen and act on this. Before viewers stop viewing, advertisers stop advertising and publishers stop publishing.”

“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children – parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us,” Weed added.

Toxic environment 
Following the Unilever comments, Ronan Stafford, Lead Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, says that this is not the first time Unilever has raised such concerns about the toxic environment social media represents to brands and consumers. However, Weed’s speech goes one step further, representing a “more active change in posture.” 

“Social media sites have not had great press in recent months, but consumer brands and media companies need to find a way to work together as people’s lives move increasingly online and the ability to reach them using traditional media channels diminishes,” he said. 

“Brands have to follow consumers and the decline of traditional media such as print and television cable services means that brands don’t have a strong alternative to online advertising. This makes it even more likely that they’ll take action: a safe and clean online world is increasingly vital to their profitability.”

Stafford adds how social media companies are taking action, citing YouTube’s recent announcement of a new initiative called “Preventing Harm to the Broader YouTube Community.” 

“This initiative recognizes the harm being done to YouTube as a platform connecting content creators and consumers, and seeks to repair this relationship,” he said. “These types of initiatives are a good first step, but there is a mountain to climb. Further active measures will need to be taken to repair the fractured relationship between advertisers, content creators, and viewers.”

“This isn’t the first time a consumer company has threatened to take action unless social media companies improved their services. Procter & Gamble previously reduced its spending on digital platforms by millions of dollars after an investigation found its adverts were being paired with inappropriate material, such as pro-ISIS videos.” 

Stafford concludes how Unilever’s recent stance shows that, rather than an exception, this type of detailed vetting of online advertisers will become the norm.

By Gaynor Selby

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