Commanding an annual marketing budget of $9.8 billion with a whopping 25 percent being allocated to digital advertising, Unilever is undeniably a digital force to reckon with. Recently, Unilever very publicly threatened to remove all its advertising from platforms such as Facebook and Google. CMO, Keith Weed stated that they are "little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency," referring to fake news, racism, sexism, and extremism. However, it's not the first time Unilever has made headlines: Dove has come under fire for a controversial ad.
Needless to say, Unilever made its stance very clear. I spoke with Brook Zimmatore, CEO of public relations company Massive PR, who shared some insights on a huge mistake that was made in the company's public statement -- something that really be damaging to a brand's reputation.
They shouldn't have mixed politics and business
Zimmatore shared that generally speaking, an action such as Unilever's bold move against a giant like Facebook typically has more than just principal and ethics behind it. Share prices are considered, allies, and top level pressures are bent -- and political leveraging & sentiment is important to such global corporate giants. Unilever is no new kid on the block to public statements for or against politically sensitive matters. These are used to position a brand and leverage its weight towards the direction it wants to go. It attracts sponsors, advertisers, political allies, and more.
Fake news is a problem. But both Republican and Democratic parties are volleying accusations at each other for variations in how fake news is spread. Republicans say the Democrats are spreading fake news through mainstream media such as CNN and the Dems are saying the Republicans are backed by Russian Facebook media groups spreading fake news, which allegedly cost Hillary Clinton the election. Zimmatore stressed that he was not taking sides as both seemed equally volatile, but it concluded that something is wrong on both parts.
Unilever's move to pressure Facebook and Google to up their game on fighting fake news could be seen as a political move in this polarizing era. "As much as Unilever is a dominant retail influencer with social responsibilities, it is treading on dangerous waters by vocalizing its opposition to what appears to be Republican territory," says Zimmatore. "America has seen enough separation -- but businesses have never done well in politics."
So the question is, although Unilever comes across moral, is it worth risking its reputation with global consumer base?
Correction: The original version of this column incorrectly suggested that Unilever has a history of making donations to the Democratic party. While employees of Unilever have made donations to the party in the past, these were personal contributions--not donations made on behalf of the company. Inc. is seeking comment from Unilever and will update this post accordingly.