Unilever’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, has said that the company might stop advertising on Facebook and other online platforms. This announcement goes against the trend in advertisement spend, as more and more companies are looking at online platforms as a cost-effective way of communicating with their customers.
Online social networks (OSNs) – like Facebook – are a promising advertising option for a number of reasons. First, OSNs have a very broad range of users, many of whom spend a significant proportion of their time on the platform, meaning that marketers can reach a very large audience of highly engaged users. Second, OSNs have a lot of information about their users (identity, interests, activity on the network, and other online activity), which provide a useful basis for marketers to create and deliver highly personalised messages. For instance, recently a friend of mine got a Facebook advert for a Grayson Perry show at her local theatre, after she had been browsing Amazon for books about Grayson Perry.
Personalised advertising can be very effective because it talks to the specific needs and interests of the consumer. Moreover, as response to personalised campaigns can be monitored directly and on a real-time basis, corrective action can be taken promptly, avoiding expensive mistakes. As a result, marketers have been spending an increasing proportion of their advertising budgets on Facebook and other online platforms.
So, why is Unilever having second thoughts about advertising on Facebook?
According to the article in The Guardian, Unilever’s chief marketing officer felt that problems such as fake news, hate messages and the platforms’ failure to protect children from exposure to inappropriate content create a negative environment for its users, and lead the platforms’ users to distrust what they see online.
According to my own research on this topic, there is a contagion effect between consumers’ perception of Facebook and their attitude towards an advert displayed on Facebook. That is, Facebook users are more likely to trust an advert that they see on Facebook, and to consider clicking through on that advert, when they have a positive attitude towards that social network than otherwise (e.g., they find it informative or useful, and they like spending time on that social network).
This contagion effect occurs because the context where the advert is displayed acts as a peripheral cue to the content of the advert, so that positive attitudes towards Facebook improve the attitude towards the adverts displayed on that service, and vice-versa. So, yes, Unilever’s chief marketing office is right to worry about possible contagion effects for its brands of a backlash against Facebook, Youtube and other online media.