Toxic Content on Digital Platforms is on the rise. How Can Brands Rebuild Consumer Trust?

The world's largest advertiser, Unilever, is the latest brand to throw shade at the increasing amount of toxic and fraudulent content on digital platforms. Consumer trust in these platforms has already deteriorated. And brands are feeling the effects of being associated with the divisive content. What's the fix?

The internet is a vast information resource centre accessible by any user. Ironically, for advertisers, it has remained a walled garden. Brands spend large amounts of money advertising on digital platforms. But only now are they starting to question where their ads are served and who see these ads. 

Fake news, offensive content, fraud, and bots have plagued digital platforms many of whom depend on advertising as their main revenue source. Major advertisers and agencies are calling for changes

The latest of these is consumer goods giant Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers. Unilever CMO, Keith Weed, warned that digital platforms must do more to clean up the spread of toxic content. 

According to Weed, “Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society.” Consumer trust is fragile and their distrust for these digital platforms is on the rise. Brands are worried about having their image tainted by appearing next to offensive and sensitive content.

Year of the Techlash

“2018 is either the year of Techlash, where the world turns on the tech giants  — or the year of trust... if we collectively rebuild trust back in our systems and our society,” Weed argued.

Facebook and Google dominate online ad spends —  accounting for more than 60 percent of online ad spending globally. It has become difficult for them to police toxic content across their platforms, which reach and are used by billions of people every day. 

The issue is compounded by rising ad fraud. Brands like Unilever are now piloting their own technology to provide reliable, unbiased measurement metrics for the online advertising they buy.  Trust levels in the digital ad space have reached a new low.

Audiences Trust Traditional Media Over Digital Platforms

Challenges naturally give way to opportunities. The opportunity here is to build a transparent ecosystem where platform owners, advertisers, and audiences work together to improve the advertising experience. 

Content and influencer marketing are emerging as innovative ways to cut through the clutter and reach target audiences on a personal level.  Trust in traditional media and influencers or experts has been rising even as social media trust drops to 30 percent.

For some time, brands have shifted a bulk of their marketing budgets to digital platforms. However, the lack of transparency, toxic content, and ad fraud is negatively impacting brand trust. 

The solution is to opt for a more diverse marketing strategy that is geared towards reaching real audiences both online and offline. Advertisers, agencies, and platform providers need to work collectively to build a single transparent standard of viewability and measurement across all types of media.

These thoughts were echoed in Weed's AdAge interview: "The industry overserves some people and underserves others. But at the end of the day, it is just one budget and one consumer, and we need to be able to optimize across all media."

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