Unilever, Diageo, Facebook, Google and more form global 'digital safety' alliance

The cross-industry working group is being spearheaded by the WFA

16 of the world’s biggest advertisers, including Diageo, Unilever, BP, Adidas and Mars, have formed an alliance with platforms like Facebook and Google, agency networks and trade bodies to address the spread of harmful and misleading content online.

Dubbed the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, the cross-industry working group is being spearheaded by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and will see agencies, media companies, platforms and brands come together to “rapidly improve” digital safety.

The formal collaboration comes amid unrelenting concerns from marketers that their ads are being placed adjacent to content that is damaging, misleading or illegal. It also comes amid questions around their role more generally in funding these websites. The issue has caused some advertisers, like Diageo, to freeze spend with platforms like YouTube entirely until the assurances they want are in place.

Reflecting its international intent, the cohort will be championed by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in the US.

The effort will also enlist Procter & Gamble, Mastercard, General Mills, GSK Consumer, Verizon Media, Twitter and four out of the ‘big six’ holding groups excluding WPP and Havas. Other industry groups like the 4A’s and the Interactive Advertising Bureaux (IAB) will also lend support.

Its remit will be to identify specific actions, processes and protocols all stakeholders can take to protect consumers and brands from appearing next to unsavoury or harmful content.

The WFA said Alliance members will work to “better protect consumers online, working towards a media environment where hate speech, bullying and disinformation is challenged, where personal data is protected, and used responsibly when given, and where everyone, especially children, are better protected from harm”.

An “immediate focus” will be to form and empower an inclusive working group charged with delivering “concrete steps” to tackle issues brands face around digital safety. The companies involved will meet regularly and report back on its progress to the industry.

While both YouTube and Facebook have introduced a series of measures to prevent ad misplacement — garnering praise from marketers like P&G’s Marc Pritchard — a fresh set of implications presented themselves earlier this year after a New Zealand terror attack, in which 52 people were killed, was broadcast on Facebook Live.

Though the original stream wasn’t monetised, millons of iterations of the video subsequently sprung up on Facebook and the WFA implored its members to "reflect on the extent and terms in which they fund social media platforms".

The first formal meeting of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media will take place on Wednesday 19 June during Cannes Lions, and will be hosted by the WFA Media Board.

Speaking on a panel at The Drum Arms in Cannes on Monday (17 June), P&G's global media director Gerry D'Angelo said a truly collaborative approach was needed to solve the thorny issue of brand safety.

"Collaborative and collective action [is important]. Until now, [advertisers] have been having a whole series of one-on-one conversations with platforms and I don't think they've been as productive as they can. Collaboration is probably the most realistic thing to aim for."

He added: "The genie is out of the bottle and now is the time to come together in a cross-functional way in order to be able to collaborate globally and document some of the advances we've already made; if we pool those together we might reassure ourselves a bit that while the challenge is severe there is progress being made and bring in some kind of governance on the back of that."

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