Unilever's venture capital unit, Unilever Ventures, in partnership with TVC Capital, has invested in influencer marketing firm CreatorIQ, as part of a $12 million Series B round of funding in SocialEdge Inc., which does business as CreatorIQ, according to a press release from CreatorIQ that was shared with Marketing Dive.
According to the company’s website, CreatorIQ provides services to brands to manage social influencers through cloud technology. Unliever is a customer of the platform, along with Airbnb, CVS, Disney and Mattel, among others. It's platform was developed for enterprise customers and offers solutions for fraud detection, global creator payment and paid media solutions.
Unilever is making the investment as a way to better understand influencer marketing, per a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Unilever Ventures' investment in CreatorIQ is not exactly a surprise given the growth in influencer marketing, but it is noteworthy given Unilever's ambivalence towards the tactic in the past. The investment also comes amid a concerted push by Unilever to address brand safety and other issues with digital media by supporting what it sees as more transparent partners. For example, the company recently unveiled the Unilever Trusted Publishers network that imposes strict expectations around ad fraud, brand safety and other issues. The CreatorIQ invesmtent is similarly focused on addressing fraud and safety.
Social media influencers have been popular among brands who are looking for ways to get their products in front of consumers who admire the celebrities who endorse them. Unilever brands including Dollar Shave Club and Dove Men have worked with influencers to get their message in front of audiences. However, the investment in CreatorIQ comes a year after former Unilever CMO Keith Weed raised questions about the validity of these social influencers. At the Cannes ad festival in June 2018, Weed accused the channel of being "misleading" and potentially "corrupt." He called on industry players to stop using influencers that buy followers and to prioritize transparent partners, expressing concerns about the validity of the impressions these ads actually serve.
Weed, who retired in December after nine years on the job, announced his own investment in an influencer marketing company last month. Weed became an angel investor in Tribe, an influencer platform that develops original content for brands' social media campaigns, a signal that even the starkest critics have not written off a channel that has proven effective.
In fact, 80% of marketers find influencer marketing effective, and 89% say the ROI is better than other channels, according to a recent report from MediaKix, which also revealed that 65% of marketers plan to increase their influencer marketing budgets in 2019. These numbers and the investments by Unilever and Weed himself, suggest that the channel will continue to mature as a viable marketing offering for brands.