Unilever, Air New Zealand rethink digital ad strategy post-Christchurch shooting

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


Unilever, which is one of the world’s largest consumer companies and advertisers, has indicated it will start allocating most of its advertising money to “trusted publishers.” In a story published by Reuters, company representatives said the change in its strategy is imminent.

The possible shift in its marketing is understandable. Many large corporations have started to question the effectiveness of their marketing on the platforms as “metrics provided by tech giants like Facebook [have] proved unreliable and unscrupulous players [have] used computerised bots to inflate viewing figures.”

Some brands are abandoning platforms with a toxic culture while others, like Air New Zealand, plan to return.
Some brands are abandoning platforms with a toxic culture while others, like Air New Zealand, plan to return.

Additionally, many advertisers have become wary of “toxic content and fake news” and are looking for alternative channels for their ads. In the wake of deadly mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, some major New Zealand brands paused their advertising on Facebook, which enabled the attacker to live-stream his actions on the platform.

After the attacks, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) called global companies to “hold social media companies to account.” The federation backed the action, initiated by the Association of New Zealand Advertisers, to pressure platforms to act responsibly.

WFA’s chief executive officer, Stephan Loerke, said “platforms must do more to assuage the growing number of advertiser concerns,” which include undermining “people, communities, and society at large.”

WFA is a powerful organisation, representing 90% of the global advertising spent and companies such as Unilever, P&G, Adidas, Nestle, and Volkswagen among others. Its board is now urging platforms to take action on harmful and malicious content. Its actions are well-meaning, but it is not clear if any global brands will actually pull their advertising from platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

In New Zealand, some major companies have halted advertising on Facebook, but they may well return to the platform if it cleans up its act and bans live-streaming. Air New Zealand, the national air carrier, has already said it will return to Facebook at “an appropriate time.” For many brands, Facebook is simply too big to ignore as it offers a huge user base and monetising opportunities.

However, if the tide would turn away from platforms — and if big advertisers would start to allocate more of their marketing budgets to quality news providers — their digital earnings would most likely be enhanced.

The latest numbers from eMarketer show that in the United States, digital advertising spend will increase 19% this year to US$129 billion with digital accounting roughly 54% of that money. The marketing firm predicts Google’s share will decline to 37% and Facebook’s will grow slightly to 22%. Amazon is expected to grow fast and gain 9% market share in digital advertising. So together, these three are expected to control 68% of the digital advertising spend in the U.S. market alone.

Another research firm, Kagan, forecasts newspapers’ advertising revenue will drop 10% this year, “more than that of any other major medium expect yellow pages.” In this environment, it would be wise for major companies to really consider national and local news outlets as a destination for marketing.

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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