Branding in a fake world

Fake – a word catapulted into our consciousness by recent political activity stemming from USA. And in a world where transparency and authenticity is increasingly important to connect with people, brands will do everything they can to avoid any link to such a word or any entity that imbues this.

This is best evidenced this past week with the affirmation from Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed that we should weed out web irresponsibility, take a stance and full responsibility for the social impact our brand actions have. This statement coming from the 2nd biggest advertiser in world according to CNN with budget of $9bn was bound to create waves. Here’s a snapshot of some of his presentation…

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This announcement has got people talking. A key message picked up by the media was the assertion that this includes avoiding any tacit support for divisiveness, extremism and the circulation of fake news a brand may show by being present on major advertising platforms like Facebook and Google. Indeed Keith didn’t mince his words in his speech:

“We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain…which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.”

I’ve seen comments from some who have pounced on this language and used it to criticize the move as itself being ‘fake’ news, and a bid to further Unilever’s sustainability corporate brand proposition, knowing they’ll never actually pull advertising from such powerful advertising platforms.

The majority of commentators including me, seem to have applauded what Keith has surfaced into public discourse. If these things are not called out then they may never rise in our consciousness and nothing will change.

And while Unilever claims the headlines and bears the brunt of the debate given its size and importance, it’s not just them who are taking action. Some brands have already pulled out from advertising on YouTube in the past year, brands such as Etihad Airways, Marriott, Deliveroo and even the UK Labor Party

It’s a massive challenge for the likes of Facebook and Google to respond to, as freedom of speech and ever fragmented and hyper-targeted messaging enables customization of messaging and further enables the possibility of divisive conversation. They have a challenge for how they will evolve their brands to encourage the behavior and conversation for people who are part of their communities.

Regardless of how all this evolves, what Keith said this past week prompted me to remember that defining and abiding to your brands values can mean taking bold moves, calling out those around you who you are associated with, and speaking up for what you believe in. A strong brand does this, and when it does it gets noticed.

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