Unilever threatens to cut online ad budget over fake news

The company, the world’s second-largest advertiser, sent a message to Facebook, Google and other companies that make money form online advertising: ‘Fix the internet, or we quit.’

Unilever is fighting back against fake news and what it says is a broken online community.

The company, which owns Dove soaps and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, is no stranger to socially conscious marketing, but now the company is on the offensive, and it is targeting the internet’s biggest companies.

CNN reported:

“We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain … which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency,” Unilever marketing boss Keith Weed will say, according to a copy of his speech obtained by CNN.

Unilever ( UL ), which owns brands including Dove, Lipton, and Ben & Jerry’s, is one of the world’s top advertisers. It has an annual marketing budget of roughly €8 billion ($9.8 billion), and 25% of its ads are digital.

Weed will say that a proliferation of objectionable content on social media — and a lack of protections for children — is eroding social trust, harming users and undermining democracies.

“This is not something that can brushed aside or ignored,” he will say in the speech.

His address will be delivered today, but it was leaked early, allowing several new outlets to report on the statement.

Weed’s remarks focus on the breakdown of trust, as shown in 2018’s Edelman Trust Barometer and which he deems a big problem for businesses.

Sky News reported:

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

“It is critical that our brands remain not only in a safe environment, but a suitable one.

“Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society.”

Some analysts see this problem as a long-term issue for internet companies.

The Guardian wrote:

Ian Whittaker and Annick Maas, analysts at Liberum, said online advertising platforms such as Facebook and YouTube faced “increasing difficulties in persuading advertisers that their product offers a brand safe environment”.

“Moreover, given the number of videos uploaded, there will always be an element of videos slipping through the net, which is likely to fuel further negative publicity. We therefore do not see this problem going away for the online platforms.”

They added: “It is clear advertisers are becoming increasingly wary of online’s quality (P&G has also been cutting its digital ad spending without any impact on growth) and so are unlikely to shift money aggressively from TV to online as these concerns mount.”

Do such exhortations move big tech companies to act?

The Drum wrote:

Such public calls for action do have an impact, with Facebook making notable changes in its stance towards working with third-party measurement providers since 2016 after negative headlines regarding inaccurate reporting of metrics on the platform started to surface.

Speaking earlier with The Drum regarding its efforts in the space, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said helping advertisers better attribute the ROI of their media spend on the social network was a priority.

“Later this year we’re also going to have post-campaign transparency, so you have the ability as an advertiser to say ‘I do want to be on these sites, I don’t want to be on those sites’, but you also don’t maybe think of everything. So we’re also going to show you after the fact, where you’ve run, and that enables you to say ‘actually, I want more of this, and less of this,” she said.

However, Facebook and Google have yet to respond directly to Unilever’s claims publicly, leaving analysts and commentators to glean their responses from past interviews and actions.

The move has its supporters on Twitter:

Others see the news as a threat to free speech:

The call for a better internet aligns with Unilever’s previous socially and environmentally conscious calls to action:

Given that its social consciousness is already a strong part of its brand voice, Unilever can speak with authenticity—if not without opposition—about its desire for a cleaner internet.

What do you think of Unilever’s message, PR Daily readers?

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