In an effort to combat harmful stereotypes and foster a more inclusive online environment, Unilever, one of the world’s leading consumer goods companies, has unveiled a groundbreaking initiative aimed at unstereotyping branded influencer content.
The move comes in response to a recent study by Unilever, which revealed that an alarming 93% of Gen Z consumers globally had encountered stereotypes on social media, causing them to question various aspects of their identity.
The initiative was announced during a panel discussion featuring esteemed figures such as Jay Shetty, the globally bestselling author and award-winning podcast host, Aline Santos, Unilever’s Chief Brand Officer and Chief Equity Diversity & Inclusion Officer, and other industry experts.
The panel delved into the impact of negative stereotypes in branded influencer content, the significance of authenticity and lived experiences on social media, and how brands and influencers can collaborate to eradicate harmful stereotypes and promote a more tolerant and unstereotypical world.
The importance of self-reflection
Jay Shetty, known for his insightful wisdom, emphasised the importance of addressing internal biases and embracing nuance in today’s binary world. He highlighted the need for self-reflection and the willingness to correct oneself in the moment.
Shetty also applauded brands that understand the depth and complexity of the issues, urging them to execute their initiatives with nuance and authenticity rather than simply riding the wave of trends.
As Unilever’s Chief Brand Officer and Chief Equity Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Aline Santos stressed the necessity of working with influencers to truly unstereotype social media and promote equity for underserved groups.
Unstereotype influencer brand content
Santos expressed Unilever’s commitment to supporting influencers in representing themselves and the world more authentically while maintaining creative freedom and connecting meaningfully with their audiences.
To facilitate this objective, Unilever has developed an open-source guide titled “10 Ways to Unstereotype Influencer Brand Content,” created in collaboration with influencers to provide valuable insights and strategies for crafting unstereotypical content.
Jess Weiner, a Cultural Expert and CEO of Talk to Jess, shed light on the discerning nature of today’s audience, stating that they can easily detect inauthentic branded influencer content. She coined the term “SFSN” (Sounds Fabulous, Signifies Nothing) to describe content lacking substance. According to Weiner, content that resonates and drives cultural change must possess a genuine thread of truth, drawing from the lived experiences of both brands and influencers.
Why we need authentic representation
Unilever’s research among Gen Z consumers in the UK, US, and Brazil further emphasised the prevalence of stereotypes in branded influencer content, with most respondents having encountered stereotypes related to women, body image, the LGBTQI+ community, and ethnicity. These stereotypes not only affect individuals’ perceptions of themselves but also contribute to feelings of frustration, anxiety, sadness, and anger among social media users, especially within the LGBTQI+ and disabled communities.
The study also revealed that stereotypes have led to a perceived division in society, with many Gen Z consumers expressing concerns about the world becoming less tolerant and inclusive. Moreover, 64% of respondents considered the online space unsafe due to exposure to stereotypes.
Unilever’s “10 Ways to Unstereotype Influencer Brand Content” guide, created in partnership with influencers from the UK, US, and Brazil, provides valuable guidance to the influencers working with Unilever and content creators seeking to reflect the world more authentically.
Unilever has also included new guidance on stereotypes in its influencer contracts across all its brands globally. This step encourages influencers to evaluate their content for harmful stereotypes and promotes a more inclusive and thoughtful approach.
Equity and inclusion
The power of unstereotyped branded influencer content lies in its ability to drive inclusivity and equity for marginalised communities on social media and beyond. Unilever’s initiative has garnered praise from the Unstereotype Alliance Secretariat, a UN Women-convened platform focused on eradicating stereotypes in media and advertising, as it helps safeguard against bias in this increasingly influential area of content creation.
The initiative marks a significant milestone in the company’s Act 2 Unstereotype ambition, which seeks to eliminate harmful stereotypes from marketing and advertising. By extending its commitment to unstereotype influencer content, Unilever aims to shape a more inclusive and progressive online landscape while empowering influencers to represent themselves authentically.
As consumers increasingly demand meaningful and authentic engagement from brands, initiatives like Unilever’s are crucial in promoting positive change and breaking free from the shackles of stereotypes. By fostering a collaborative environment between brands and influencers, the industry can work toward a more inclusive, tolerant, and unstereotypical world where authenticity and lived experiences take centre stage, driving cultural transformation and empowering individuals across the globe.