Unilever pledges no more ads on Pornhub after press criticism

Kraft Heinz declines to say whether it would advertise on porn site again after Sunday Times investigation.

Dollar Shave Club: ads suggested using its products could reduce need for porn
Dollar Shave Club: ads suggested using its products could reduce need for porn

Unilever has vowed to block its brands from advertising on porn sites after the FMCG giant’s razor subscription service Dollar Shave Club was called out in a Sunday Times investigation into Pornhub.

The newspaper called out Unilever and Kraft Heinz, which ran a one-day campaign for US brand Devour, in a story alleging the site was home to large quantities of illegal content, some including young children. 

Dollar Shave Club, acquired by Unilever in 2017 for $1bn (£773m), ran a campaign on the site earlier this year. Discussing the decision, the brand’s executive creative director, Matt Knapp, told Australian marketing site Mi3 in May: "There was a strategic reason why we went there. We are very much about having guys’ backs. We like to think that we’re looking out for guys. It’s no secret that guys go there; we turn up where guys are going to be."

A spokeswoman for Unilever said Dollar Shave Club was operationally independent and the parent company had not been aware of the campaign at the time. But she said: "This type of content is deeply troubling and we will ensure that none of our brands advertise on Pornhub again or on any other porn sites."

A spokesman for Kraft Heinz, meanwhile, played down the significance of its activity on Pornhub, but did not explicitly say it would not advertise on the site again. He said: "The Devour frozen-food brand, which is only sold in the US, had a one-day promotion solely as part of the brand’s Super Bowl activation. The brand was explicitly talking about #Foodporn, which has become a cultural phenomenon on Instagram."

The move from Unilever comes almost two years after former chief marketing officer Keith Weed pledged to pull advertising from platforms that were not "committed to creating a positive impact in society". 

It is four years since Unilever men’s brand Lynx/Axe moved away from its former highly sexualised positioning to align itself with changing ideas of masculinity.

Pornhub has used marketing extensively to cultivate a brand identity that goes beyond a repository of porn videos. It has offered sex education for seniors – who have booming rates of sexually transmitted infections – and last year became one of several brands attempting to destigmatise periods in a campaign aimed at women, who make up 29% of the site’s users. 

Earlier this year, Pornhub created a channel of "bee porn" in an initiative to boost dwindling bee populations.

Following the publication of this story, Pornhub contacted Campaign with the following statement from vice-president Blake White:

"Child sex abuse material is horrific, disgusting and illegal content that must be eradicated by any means necessary. We have long been an advocate for child protection and actively work to combat child sex abuse material (CSAM) around the globe, whether it be through collaboration with non-profit groups focused on this issue or by reporting illegal content to the appropriate authorities. We also have a robust internal policy by which we remove this content, including scanning all content to determine whether it is consensual or not, employing a team of expertly trained human reviewers who monitor for specific cues and criteria, and by making it as easy as possible to flag illegal content.

"As criminals have become more sophisticated in their methods to disseminate CSAM, we are constantly adjusting our own preventative tactics. We believe these tactics are working. In 2019, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), out of the more than five million videos posted to our website, .0000098% were confirmed to be CSAM. That is less, proportionately, than confirmations made by the IWF in 2018 and 2017. Of course it should go without saying that our ultimate goal is to reduce this number to zero but this validates our approach to eradicating this type of content on our platform. It also demonstrates that we are seriously undertaking the necessary steps to combat a decades-old issue that has now extended beyond the adult industry and onto other streaming platforms like YouTube.

"As it relates to titles and genres, it is important to note that often times videos described as "hidden camera footage" or "teenagers on buses" are in fact legal, consensual videos that are professionally produced to cater to various user fantasies. While the reporter who had initially inquired about these videos, and others, find these fantasies extreme and inappropriate, they do appeal to many people around the world and are in fact protected by various freedom of speech laws. Certain words are banned from being used in titles and tags, and we will be doing a thorough audit of our websites to update and expand this list as necessary."

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