Three days after Unilever Global CMO Keith Weed announced that the company will distance itself from influencers who buy followers, Mike Cooper, CEO of PHD Media Group that handles most part of Unilever’s digital account, said it is incorrect to talk about all influencers in a blanket way.

“There are good and bad within that. What Keith was referring to is that there are several examples of influencers just delegating the entire process to the agent, who then try to exploit that person’s fame. With influencers, you have to do your due-diligence carefully because there are good ones and there are bad ones,” Cooper told exchange4media.

Explaining it further, Cooper said his agency recently used American singer Adam Levine of Maroon 5 with their Porsche client to do a carpool karaoke film in the US, and that worked out well because Levine represents the right brand values.

“The interaction with the brand wasn’t oversold or overdone, and it helps that he is a huge fan of Porsche. With any kind of influencer, you have to do your due-diligence carefully because there are good ones and there are bad ones,” he added.

Mark Holden, the agency’s Strategy and Planning Director, however, agreed with Keith on most of his concerns.

“Keith has always been a champion of quality…whether it is the environment or viewability. Now he’s highlighting a quality that is becoming increasingly important. If you’re buying into influencers and getting them to talk about your products, but half of their followers are ‘bots’ or bot traffic, how much value is that? How much credibility and authenticity does that provide to a brand? I think it is a good point. He is the first person to highlight this in a significant way,” said Holden.

The company, which has been handling a large part of Unilever’s digital marketing and media in several countries, agrees that Weed has time and again talked about the issue. A few months ago, Weed had even publicly announced to cut down digital spends in view of brand safety.

“We work with him (Keith Weed) in several markets. We’ve had conversations about this, and it’s something that not just Unilever but many clients are focussed on. There is a need to make sure that what they buy is seen and is in the right context and has the right credibility. It is a continual thing. We invest a lot in technology to make sure we have media inventory which is good quality and that we’re not buying bot traffic,” Holden said.

Holden further said that while people talk a lot about curating audiences and building custom segments with cookies and user ids, PHD spends almost as much time on curating the inventory also and making sure that the quality of the inventory is good.

“That is another huge area of marketing technology which is now exploding- inventory management,” he mentioned.

On resolving the bot issue

According to the PHD CEO, going forward, the key factors will be a lot of interrogation, attention to detail and getting people who are specialists in that area.

“You must be very careful. There is always a risk factor involved. You can never eliminate risk entirely, because there is always a chance that there will be some bad publicity immediately before your campaign breaks; for example a “Me Too” type of situation. You can never completely eliminate risk, but what you can do is really drill into it and do your due-diligence. We must remember that brands are built over a long period of time, with a massive investment, and if you don’t do your due-diligence, a lot of that investment, time and energy can be undone very quickly. You must be careful how you go about doing it,” said Cooper.

Holden, meanwhile, claims to have invested in an inventory platform that can assess all environments and has an algorithm that can track and see where the bot traffic is happening.

“Bot traffic has a certain characteristic, a certain way of behaving and we’re able to use that to access what is bot traffic and what isn’t. It is a game of cat and mouse– as you get more sophisticated, the other companies start to move in the other directions,” Holden added.

First published on Exchange4media.com