Unilever isn’t going to take it anymore. With increased calls for transparency in all aspects of marketing, the mega consumer packaged goods (CPG) company said Monday that it will no longer work with social media influencers who buy followers.
Unilever Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed called for more transparency from influencers in a speech at Cannes.
“At best it’s misleading, at worst it’s corrupt,” Weed told The Wall Street Journal ahead of his announcement. “For the sake of a few bad apples in the barrel, I believe there is risk in the area of influencers.”
Weed made a similar ultimatum to programmatic ad platforms earlier this year, when he said Unilever does “not want to advertise on platforms [that] do not make a positive contribution to society.” His comments then and now echo a 2017 call by Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, for programmatic advertising platforms to “grow up” and provide greater measurement transparency.
P&G pulled more than $140 million in digital advertising in response to frustrations over transparency and brand safety, in what turned out to be a mostly symbolic move in that the company barely missed a beat in meeting its revenue goals.
Weed hasn’t offered any indication as to how the company intends to verify how influencers obtain their followers, but as CMO of an advertising behemoth, Weed has the clout to force change.
At Cannes, Weed asked platforms to be proactive about solutions:
The key to improving the situation is three-fold. Cleaning up the influencer ecosystem by removing misleading engagement; making brands and influencers more aware of the use of dishonest practices; and improving transparency from social platforms to help brands measure impact.
Marketers are on board
Ben Pashman, chief operating officer and co-founder of digital agency TONIK+, which uses influencer marketing in its mix, condemned the process of buying followers.
“The idea of influencers buying fake followers and then cashing in on them to unwitting brands is a practice that casts a dark shadow over the industry and is just one of several fraudulent practices that is holding back our industry overall,” said Pashman. “I commend Keith and any other CMO that is willing to take their head out of the sand and take a stand even if it means their job get a little bit more challenging.”