Consumer goods giant Unilever NV, one of the world's biggest spenders on advertising, said June 18 that it would not work with digital influencers who buy followers. The move is part of the company's commitment to greater transparency in promoting its brands.
The Anglo-Dutch multinational, whose portfolio of products ranges from Lipton teas and Ben & Jerry's ice cream to Surf laundry detergents and Dove soaps, said in a statement that it would prioritize partners who increased transparency and helped eradicate bad practices.
Unilever would never buy followers, it added.
"We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it's gone forever," Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed was quoted as saying in remarks due to be delivered at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, an annual gathering for the communications and advertising industry in Cannes, France.
Unilever has an annual budget of more than €7 billion for the marketing and promotion of its brands. It was the fourth-largest advertiser in terms of dollars spent in 2016, behind only Procter & Gamble Co., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Nestlé SA, according to advertising and marketing publication Ad Age.
It is not the first time that Unilever has attempted to wield its clout in online advertising.
In February, Weed said the company planned to pull advertising spending from online platforms that displayed "toxic" advertisements that create divisions in society.
His remarks on June 18 target digital influencers, who have the ability to sway opinion or behavior among their followers. In harnessing the social clout of YouTube, Instagram and Musical.ly, Inc. personalities, as well as online bloggers, athletes and celebrities, brands such as Unilever have ramped up spending on influencer marketing across categories including beauty, fashion, fitness and travel.
A key driver behind influencer marketing has been the rise in ad-blocking, which is in use by 22% of online consumers in Britain, according to the latest figures from the U.K.'s Internet Advertising Bureau.
But as brands increasingly look for ways to reach large and engaged consumer audiences, some influencers are taking advantage of market demand by purchasing fake social media followers — or bots — in order to artificially inflate their engagement metrics.
This has turned identifying fraudulent influencers into a key priority for brands. A study on sponsored social media posts published this year by ad measurement firm Points North Group showed that 78% of engagement on influencer campaigns associated with luxury hotel chain Ritz Carlton came from bots.
The scale and scope of influencer marketing is growing at pace and holds increasing importance in the marketing mix as a way for brands to reach consumers, so the industry needs to put in place all possible controls to avoid bad practices, such as fake followers, bots, fraud or any dishonest business models that will erode trust in the whole ecosystem, Unilever said.
"Marketers currently have limited visibility to accurately measure influencer programming and track authentic engagement," it said, adding that "as the influencer marketing space grows, we are looking to work with social platforms for increased visibility and transparency."