Unilever's Keith Weed calls for 'urgent action' to tackle influencer fraud

As of today, Unilever won’t work with influencers who buy followers / Dove

Unilever wants to improve the integrity, transparency and measurement of influencer marketing, with its top marketer Keith Weed calling on the ad industry, and platforms like Instagram, to take “urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever”.

The FMCG-giant wants to spearhead efforts via a series of three commitments it believes will help control bad practice in the space, such as fake followers, bots, fraud and “dishonest business models”.

As of today:

  • Unilever won’t work with influencers who buy followers
  • Unilever has promised its own brands will never buy followers
  • The business will prioritise partners who increase their transparency and work to eradicate nefarious practices throughout the digital ecosystem

Weed said: “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. We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”

It's not known exactly how much of Unilever's $7bn global spend is funneled into influencer marketing, but in recent years YouTubers, vloggers and other social media stars have powered drives for brands like Dove Men, Dollar Shave Club, Stork, Magnum and skincare range Simple.

A recent study from Rakuten Marketing found that marketers would pay up to £75,000 for a single post mentioning their brand by someone with over one million followers while they would pay 'micro-infleuncers' - those with under 10,000 followers - an average of £1,500 for a single post.

But, it has recently emerged that as many as 15% of Twitters 'users' may be fake while up to 60 million Facebook accounts could also be automated, or bot, accounts.

Meanwhile, data from Points North Group has indicated that a high number of FMCG brands are buying into influencers with fake followers. Unilever's Magnum Ice Cream and P&G's Pampers, for instance, recently ranked among the top 10 brands found to be using paid influencers with bot or false followers.

Convening at Cannes

Unilever’s move to crack down on infleuncer fraud was timed to land on the first day of Cannes Lions (18 June). It follows on from a speech Weed made in February in which he said Unilever had a clear commitment to only partnering with “responsible platforms” that had a positive impact on society, and that the industry had to come together to rebuild trust in digital.

“One of the ways we can do that is to increase integrity and transparency in the influencer space,” the marketer said of today’s announcement. “We need to address this through responsible content, responsible platforms and responsible infrastructure.

“At Unilever, we believe influencers are an important way to reach consumers and grow our brands. Their power comes from a deep, authentic and direct connection with people, but certain practices like buying followers can easily undermine these relationships.”

Over the next few days, it’s understood Weed will convene a group of industry representatives including the likes of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and PR luminary Richard Edelman to discuss how it will action the points above.

Instagram, one of the most popular platforms for influencer campaigns, will also be involved in discussions around how the industry can work together to build trust and integrity in the channel.

Weed's play comes amid the influencer industry being subject to intense scrunity from from watchdogs like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US, as well as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK.

Earlier this year, 71% of UK consumers said they wrongly believed that influencer marketing was not regulated at all, with a further 61% saying they didn't think brands are being transparent about how they use influencers to promote their products online.

The move also builds on Weed’s longstanding call to clean up the supply chain in order to stop advertisers losing money to issues like ad fraud and opaque digital measurement.

The strategy behind this also fits into a wider cost-cutting exercise from the group, which has seen it rethink its agency relationships.

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