Unilever’s call-to-action begs the question: who is responsible for online fraud?

On the first day of Cannes Lions festival, Unilever – the FMCG-giant that is home to most of the brands in your bathroom and fridge – made a bold statement about its plans to improve the transparency and measurement of influencer marketing.

Unilever’s top marketer, Keith Weed, called on the ad industry, and platforms like Instagram, to take “urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever”.

At Connects, we’ve spotted a blame-game taking place in the digital space; creators and consumers included. Unfairly, and despite them being the most transparent players in the influencer marketing world, it is influencers themselves who regularly have to deal with the most blame and backlash when the question of integrity is raised. If an influencer has a lot of followers, it doesn’t necessarily mean they play fair, but it also shouldn’t immediately scream fraudulent.


Unilever’s Keith Weed spoke on Monday about the importance of spearheading its efforts to bring truth and transparency into influencer marketing, with a three pronged plan, in order to help control bad practice within the whole arena, and cut down on fake followers, bots, fraud (etc) – in other words, everything’s gotta be legit. So as of this week, Unilever will no longer work with influencers who buy followers; they have promised their own brands will never buy followers and said that the business will prioritise partners who increase their transparency and work to eradicate corrupt practices throughout the digital ecosystem.


Whilst we’re all for authenticity at Connects, and will always jump on a band wagon that supports transparency and integrity, it seems that once again the bad light is being shed on influencers themselves. We’re also definitely not saying that authenticity can’t be faked: Anti-fraud company Sway Ops found that a single day’s worth of posts tagged #sponsored or #ad on Instagram contained over 50% fake engagements. Out of 118,007 comments studied by Sway Ops, only 20,942 were not made by bot followers. Regardless of potential fraud within the industry, influencer marketing is one of the most lucrative and affective ways for a brand to increase its awareness globally, so it’s about time bigger brands and platforms themselves started investing time to protect their influencers from fraud, being tainted by fraud or being tempted to indulge in fraud.


Brands should be devoting their resources to finding the right influencers, for the right jobs, and working with platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, to find ways of protecting integrity by creating the most functionally transparent app-ware possible. It’s about actively seeking authenticity, instead of rolling with industry trends.


Fraudulent influencers have been allowed to operate on Instagram because of the platform’s ongoing domination of all things social media, and as Instagram grows, so too does the ability for falsified users to disguise themselves as genuinely sought after collaborators. Transparency is a good thing, that’s a given, but the responsibility lies with the big dogs in the industry – they can’t be all bark, if they’re afraid of the bite. It’s time the internet giants stepped in alongside the world’s biggest brands, and sought out ways to make this industry as genuine and real as it can be.

Over the course of this week, it’s understood that Keith Weed and others at Unilever will gather a group of industry representatives, including the likes of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and PR luminary Richard Edelman, to discuss how it will action its three-fold plan to “reinstate” authenticity and integrity into the influencer marketing space. We’re also glad to hear that Instagram, arguably the most popular platform for influencer campaigns, will also be involved in these conversations around how the industry can work together and build up trust.