Unilever to Crack Down on Influencers Who Buy Fake Followers and Use Bots

CMO Keith Weed called on influencers to stop

Unilever will discuss transparency in influencer marketing with the World Federation of Advertisers, Instagram and Richard Edelman at Cannes Lions. Getty Images
Headshot of Diana Pearl

With Instagram’s ever-changing algorithm making once-guaranteed likes, comments and follower growth feel more and more out of grasp, many influencers are turning to false methods of inflating their profiles. And Unilever is sick of it.

The company’s CMO, Keith Weed, declared today in Cannes that it won’t work with influencers who buy followers. And, in practicing what they preach, Weed also promised that Unilever’s own brands would never buy followers either. Unilever will also strive to partner with influencers who make an effort to “increase transparency and help eradicate bad practices throughout the whole ecosystem.”

"We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever."
-Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever

Weed issued a call to action to the ad industry, as well as Instagram—the most prolific platform in influencer marketing—to take part. “We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever,” he said in a statement.

The move is part of a push from Unilever (parent company of various major brands including Dove, Suave and Ben & Jerry’s) to “increase integrity and transparency in the influencer space,” Weed said. He added that unethical practices of buying followers or using bots to increase engagement undermine the relationships influencers have with brands like Unilever, who spent over $9 billion on marketing last year.

“The key to improving the situation is three-fold,” he said. “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.”

At Cannes Lions this week, Weed will meet with World Federation of Advertisers, Instagram and PR maven Richard Edelman to discuss the topic.

As blogs and social media have become more dominant forces in the digital space, influencer marketing has only grown. According to the Wall Street Journal, The Association of National Advertisers reported that 75 percent of 158 surveyed marketers currently use influencer marketing. Half of those who do plan to ramp up their spending on it in the next year. The issue of follower fraud came roaring into the spotlight in January after the New York Times published an exposé on the practice of buying followers and using bots to increase engagement.

In February, Weed said that Unilever would no longer partner with platforms that “create division.” He gave a speech on the topic at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, speaking of transparency and trust between brand and consumer—many statements he seemed to echo when discussing influencer marketing this month.

“This is a deep and systematic issue, an issue of trust that fundamentally threatens to undermine the relationship between consumers and brands,” he said in a speech. “Brands have to play their role in resolving it. No longer can we stand to one side or remain at arm’s length just because issues in the supply chain do not affect us directly. As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.”

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the brand marketing editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.