Unilever PLC (UL) is threatening to stop advertising on popular digital platforms if the likes of Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google and Facebook Inc. (FB) don’t do more to combat the spread of fake news and hate speech.
Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at Unilever, the world’s second-biggest marketing spender, is expected to issue the warning in a speech on Monday at the Interactive Advertising Bureau conference, according to the Financial Times. The annual event is attended by major advertisers, media groups and technology companies and has become a platform for big advertisers to publicly push for change.
“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,” Weed is expected to say. “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online. 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.”
Unilever, the company behind brands such as Dove soap, Hellman’s mayonnaise, Knorr and Lipton Tea, is currently seeking to slash its advertising budget by producing fewer, lower budget commercials. The London-based consumer goods giant spent more than $9 billion last year marketing its products.
Weed’s warning comes at a time when many tech companies are under scrutiny for facilitating the spread of misinformation. Numerous people, including politicians, consumer advocates and celebrities, have called for advertising on digital platforms to be better policed, following reports of Russian interference in the U.S. elections and a sharp rise in violent hate speech.
Unilever plans to work privately with tech companies to prevent them from continuing to peddle false and controversial information. The company has reportedly already held discussions with the likes of Facebook, Google, Twitter Inc. (TWTR), Snap Inc. (SNAP), and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) about achieving these goals. (See also: Google and Facebook's Growing Ad Dominance Calls for Caution: Pivotal.)
Unilever had been pushing tech companies to ensure that advertising is seen by real people and is now focused on making sure that their websites don’t send out the wrong messages.
“Consumers don’t care about third-party verification,” said Weed. “They do care about fraudulent practice, fake news and Russians influencing the U.S. election. They don’t care about good value for advertisers. But they do care when they see their brands being placed next to ads funding terror or exploiting children.”
Unilever is encouraged by recent efforts from the likes of Facebook and Google’s YouTube to improve the quality of content on their websites. Weed described Facebook’s algorithm changes and YouTube’s new screening technology as “meaningful,” but added that more work still must be done. (See also: Facebook Ex-Employee Says Lawmakers Should Regulate It.)