Thursday 22nd November 2018

Unilever threatens to pull adverts from platforms that ‘create division’

Jason Smith
by on 12th February 2018

In comments released to the Wall Street Journal, Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, Keith Weed, has threatened to pull Unilever’s marketing budget from platforms he deems “create division in society” or “promote anger or hate.”

His comments are part of a pre-prepared statement he’s expected to deliver at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s leadership meeting in California.

He will go on to say that Unilever will “prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society” and “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’s comments are likely in reference to a number of complaints made by mainstream media organisations, politicians and multinational corporations about the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and extremist content on the world’s most popular platforms.

However, officials, journalists and researchers have found trying to prove the extent of the problem to be challenging.

Twitter executive Nick Pickles recently told the British Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee that their investigation into ‘Russian interference’ had uncovered 49 accounts and nearly 1,000 messages which tried to sway the outcome of the Brexit referendum.

To put this in context, Twitter recently announced it has 330 million monthly active users (MAUs) and the social media platform generates about 6,000 tweets per second.

Pew Research has also recently reported only 5% of web-using adults in the USA have a lot of trust in the information they get from social media.

Nick Pickles said the accounts had “very low levels of engagement from users.”

In an earlier interview with the committee, YouTube’s Global Head of Public Policy, Juniper Downs, told the committee “We looked at all advertisements with any connection to Russia and we found no evidence of our services being used to interfere in the Brexit referendum and we are happy to co-operate with any further efforts.”

Of the 330,000,000 monthly active users, The Guardian has reported on 419 accounts identified by researchers from the University of Edinburgh operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency and attempting to influence UK politics.

These were part of 2,752 accounts suspended in the USA.

However, Unilever’s latest announcement will be of concern to Google et al., particularly considering 84% of the search giant’s revenue comes from advertising. Mr. Weed says he has already held discussions with companies including Facebook, Amazon and Google to try and come up with a solution to some of the problem he has identified.

YouTube, which is one of the platforms under pressure over inappropriate content uploaded by popular publishers including Logan Paul,  has made a number of announcements on their official blog recently, including measures to increase the number of its employees manually reviewing content and add public disclaimers to videos published by organisations which receive public funding.

Unilever is one of a number of brands disenchanted by the state of online advertising. Alongside other household names like Volvo, Shell and Subway, they have backed proposals by GroupM to initiate a common viewability standard.

Viewability refers to the portion of an advertisement that can be seen by a user, as well as how long it’s viewed for.