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Facebook and Google get a shot across their bows from Unilever

February 19, 2018
Posted in Blog
February 19, 2018 Andy

Facebook and Google get a shot across their bows from ... but is it a case of people in glass houses?

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Unilever recently announced that they “may” withdraw ads from Facebook and Google as a result of the ad behemoths’ poor efforts in policing extremist and illegal content.

This follows a similar threat a year or so ago from Proctor and Gamble who accused the digital ad industry of being murky.

“We cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online,” said Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weed. He said it was in the interest of digital media firms to act before “advertisers stop advertising”.

Mr Weed said companies could not continue to support an online advertising industry where extremist material, fake news, child exploitation, political manipulation, racism and sexism were rife.

Unilever has pledged to:

  • Not invest in platforms that do not protect children or create division in society
  • Only invest in platforms that make a positive contribution to society
  • Tackle gender stereotypes in advertising
  • Only partner with companies creating a responsible digital infrastructure

It is a threat yes but it’s not really going to make much difference to Facebook or Google in profit terms.  According to eMarketer,  during 2017, Google brought in £4.4bn in revenue from online advertising, while Facebook collected £1.8bn. So they’re going to need many more companies to follow suit before it starts to hurt.

While the sentiment and reasons behind these threats are extremely valid (remember they are just threats), I can’t help thinking that there is more than just a bit of hypocrisy in this latest statement from Unilever.

Only last year the company was accused of complicity in illegal rainforest destruction. Plantations built on deforested land are allegedly being used to supply palm oil to scores of household brands that also include McDonald’s, Mars, Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble.

In 2016 Amnesty International accused Unilever of using palm oil produced by child workers in dangerous conditions.  Companies including Unilever were “tainted by appalling human rights abuses … with children as young as eight working in hazardous conditions”. The human rights campaigner stated in their report.

So is this latest announcement by Unilever, and it is only a threat remember, just a way of deflecting the issues and little more than a PR stunt and a beating of the chest?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the likes of Facebook need to do a whole lot more to manage child protection, extremist material and much more and what better way to force their hand than hitting them in the wallet. However, the fact that the first shot across the bows has come from Unilever just doesn’t sit well with me.