Unilever says fake news makes digital supply chain unsustainable

12 February 2018

Unilever has threatened to pull its adverts from top platforms including Facebook, Google and Amazon if they fail to contribute positively to society.

In a bid to clean up its digital supply chain, the consumer goods giant behind brands including Marmite, Dove and Ben & Jerry’s, said it would no longer spend with platforms that fail to protect children or that created divisions in society.

Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, will say in a speech today: “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.”

Speaking at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual conference in California today, Weed will say: “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.

“If we are committed to making our supply chains sustainable, that is all of our supply chains. And the current digital supply chain is far from being sustainable.”

The speech will outline Unilever plans to use its digital spend to combat trends, including online abuse and fake news, that have plagued the internet recently.

Consumers care about “fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children,” he will say, and the relationship between advertisers and these online platforms “threatens to undermine the relationship between consumer and brands”. 

“No longer can we stand to one side or remain at arm’s length just because issues in the supply chain do not affect us directly. 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 said.

Weed, who met digital partners including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snapchat and Amazon at the CES conference in Las Vagas last month, will also say: “I repeated one point to each and every one of them: 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.”

The three-step plan will mean Unilever will no longer invest in digital suppliers it feels are not acting responsible, the firm will only create responsible content – with an initial focus on tackling gender stereotypes – and it will only partner with firms committed to improving digital infrastructure and consumer experiences.

Unilever is one of the world’s biggest advertisers, spending €7.7bn in 2016. It and has recently been putting more money behind both physical and digital advertising, increasing its media spend by €250m in 2017.

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