Unilever warns social platforms to clean up content

Discussion
Feb 21, 2018
Tom Ryan

Unilever last week threatened to pull its ads from social sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, due to objectionable content and divisive, fabricated news stories.

“Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate,” said Keith Weed, Unilever CMO, in a keynote speech at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting. “We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

Noting that, due in part to the growing clamor over “fake news,” only 30 percent of U.S. consumers trust social media while 58 percent trust traditional media, Mr. Weed urged the industry to work together to improve transparency and rebuild consumer trust. Said Mr. Weed, “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.”

He also called out sexist, racist and extremist content that finds its way next to branded content, a complaint faced by Google’s YouTube.

Mr. Weed stated, “As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands. We can’t do anything to damage that trust — including the choice of channels and platforms we use. So, 2018 is the year when social media must win trust back.”

Digital accounts for a quarter of Unilever’s ad budget. Its brands include Dove, Lipton Tea and Ben & Jerry’s.

Last year, rival Procter & Gamble issued a similar warning, and legislators over the last year have criticized social media companies over their inability to ensure trust and safety.

According to a survey of 300 global marketers that came out last September from Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, 72 percent of brand advertisers engaged in programmatic buying were concerned about brand integrity and control in digital display placement.

Liz Miller, the CMO Council’s senior vice president, told USA Today, “There was a time when social networks could do anything they wanted. That attitude has got to change.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should brands and retailers reconsider how and where they advertise on social media channels? Are boycott threats an effective way to drive changes in social platforms?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"It’s time for these big digital spending brands to act versus talk. Nothing begets action like action."
"Brands by their very essence stand for something and if those values are being undermined then they should seriously reconsider where they advertise."
"The best impetus for change on social platforms are the advertisers."

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12 Comments on "Unilever warns social platforms to clean up content"


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Charles Dimov
Guest

Good for Unilever and Procter & Gamble for taking a stand, and putting some bite behind their position. Social has become a defacto standard in how people get their information. So those with advertising dollars that fuel the media have some power to help clean up the space. Glad to see more CPGs and retailers taking a serious look at the impact that our media have on customers.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Well said, Charles! I only hope there is real bite in these threats, not just a bunch of barking!

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The best impetus for change on social platforms are the advertisers. Government (as in congressional hearings) have done nothing, complaints from users have fallen on deaf ears, and management has only made cursory improvements on its own. So when the people who fund the very existence of platforms go elsewhere, change will come.

So far though, enough advertisers are staying the course and even P&G’s former warning has made no appreciable change. Unilever has only issued a warning as well. It will probably have to reach a tipping point of real action (withdrawn paid ads) from enough concerned brands, to put the fear into social platform execs, to clean up their act. Meanwhile, the revenue is too good.

Sunny Kumar
BrainTrust

With so many channels, it’s easy for brands to lose sight of where they are being represented. This however does not mean they should not know.
Brands by their very essence stand for something and if those values are being undermined by what they are displayed with then yes, brands should seriously reconsider where they advertise. If these big players don’t take a stand then there will be no impetus for change.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Ads are placed where they will be seen, tho occasionally PR effects have to be considered (no company is going to advertise in the Stormtrooper, regardless of how many of its customers may read it).

So while this may create much talk, I see little coming of it.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Great job Unilever and Proctor and Gamble for taking a stand with social media channels! We are clearly at an inflection point in social media attitudes. Brands cannot stand to have their image and core values tarnished by objectionable content on these platforms. At the same time, brands need to be present where their customers are and as long as customers continue using social media they need to remain there in some capacity. The social media companies themselves are starting to show fear as their empires are built on consumer participation to drive brand purchasing. It’s a carefully balanced model that is teetering on the edge right now, giving marketers an opportunity to demand change. This will be interesting to see how it develops over the rest of 2018.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I’m with Ken — stop the warnings and take the action. Change will come when it hurts social media’s bottom line.

Alex Levashov
Guest

Even if it is a true intention, not a lip service, I am not sure that there is any practical way to achieve the desired outcome in current environment with automated matching of content and ads. It is not only social networks, the same issue is with ads on blogs, media and content websites.

Any piece of content can be considered offensive, dividing, controversial or not quite matching a specific brand values. Then in addition to core content you have comments, links to related content, other ads.

So I think that there will be a game of threats and promises, but not many real changes.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

It’s time for these big digital spending brands to act versus talk. Nothing begets action like action. I support the notion that brands have got to be vigilant in protecting hard-earned consumer trust. It can disappear in a big hurry, though, if the brand is all talk, no action. I think many consumers are rewarding action.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

The majority of Unilever’s customers are women, who have little tolerance for violence and hatred. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the fact that this valued brand will put its money where its mouth is.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

The context of where brands advertise has never been more important. The surrounding conversation — or noise — does rub off on brands, so brand safety is critical. Note to brands: boycott threats are not as effective as actual boycotts!

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Hooray for the brands that want to keep their images clean and are willing to cut advertising to make social platforms clean up their acts. Yet, in the end, the social platform gets to decide if they want to maintain an image that contradicts the brand, or adapt to keep the peace — and the revenue.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"It’s time for these big digital spending brands to act versus talk. Nothing begets action like action."
"Brands by their very essence stand for something and if those values are being undermined then they should seriously reconsider where they advertise."
"The best impetus for change on social platforms are the advertisers."

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