Unilever threatens to pull the plug on digital advertising

MUMBAI: International major FMCG player Unilever has threatened Facebook and Google that it will withdraw its advertising on the social media platforms if they fail to remove content that creates division in society and promotes hate.

The biggest multinational player said in a conference held at California that, “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.”

Unilever’s stern step comes while technology and social media companies are facing major criticism for failing to protect children and to erase fake news, hate speech and extremism.

Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed said at the conference that the brand cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain that delivers over a quarter of their advertising to consumers – which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.

While mentioning that such messages are toxic for the society and only take us backward, Weed added, “Fake news, sexism, toxic content aimed at children, terrorists spreading hate messages are all a part of internet now and we have ended up with a million miles from where we thought it would take us.”

He goes on to add, “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.”

A third of the company’s advertising spend is on the digital medium today and Unilever has decided to cut down on the 3000 ad agencies it uses globally and further cutting costs by making 30 per cent fewer ads. Unilever has promised to boost more ‘responsible content’ that will tackle concerns like gender stereotypes. It will only work with digital networks that agree to use industry standards of ad metrics and improve consumer experience. Discussions with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and SnapChat are already on.

Facebook and Google are said to account for nearly three-quarters of the total digital advertising in the US. Last year Procter & Gamble (P&G) issued a similar warning before cutting $100 million of its digital ad spend without any negative impact on sales.

On the other hand, in the UK, Facebook and Google have more than 60 per cent of digital advertising and 90 per cent of all new digital spending.

A move like this could adversely impact the digital industry and major advertising agency’s revenue.

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