Unilever threatens to pull ad dollars from social sites over ‘toxic’ content

Unilever, the world’s largest consumer goods company, is warning Internet companies like Facebook and Google to clean up the “swamp” — or digital advertising dollars will be pulled.

Unilever, the world's largest consumer goods company, said Monday it will begin pulling advertising dollars from social platforms that allow intolerant and extremist content to appear on their sites. File Photo by Twin Design/Shutterstock/UPI
Unilever, the world’s largest consumer goods company, said Monday it will begin pulling advertising dollars from social platforms that allow intolerant and extremist content to appear on their sites. File Photo by Twin Design/Shutterstock/UPI

Keith Weed, the company’s chief marketing officer, spoke Monday at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, Calif.
“As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands,” Weed said in a statement in advance of the speech. “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.”

He noted how Google and Facebook’s platforms are overwhelmed with “a swamp” of fabricated news, racist, sexist and extremist content.

The London-based company’s more than 400 brands include Axe, Lipton, Noxzema, Suave, Ben & Jerry’s and Hellmann’s. It is the fourth-largest global advertiser — behind Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Nestle — with $8.6 billion spent in 2017, according to AdAge.

This year, Google and Facebook are projected to account for more than 60 percent of U.S. digital ad revenues, according to eMarketer. Google is expected to bring in $40 billion and Facebook nearly $22 billion.

Unilever said it plans to invest in platforms with a positive contribution to society and not those that fail to protect children or foster division among people and gender stereotypes.

“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children — parts of the Internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us,” Weed said.

“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.”

During a Senate hearing last November, Facebook said as many as 126 million users may have been exposed to Russian-originated content in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Google found 43 hours of Russian-made political content on YouTube, and Twitter said it discovered nearly 2,800 Russian accounts that tweeted 1.4 million times during the campaign.

Weed said he met recently with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snap and Amazon executives.

“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,” he said. “Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society.

“This is not something that can brushed aside or ignored.”

Facebook said it supports Unilever’s commitments and is “working closely with them.”

Facebook recently announced a change in users’ news feeds, and Google-owned YouTube said more people will begin to oversee content.

Unilever was founded in 1930 with merger of the Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and the British soapmaker Lever Brothers. In 2016, it had revenue of $64.7 billion.

By Allen Cone