A step in the right direction: will Unilever's stance be a catalyst for change? (Part 1)

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Unilever's marketing chief, Keith Weed

Last week saw Unilever’s marketing chief Keith Weed come forward to say that the agency will be severing ties with those it deems unethical.

In a bid to achieve full transparency, Unilever will not be investing in platforms that have questionable child safety or hate speech protection; it is committed to tackling gender stereotypes; and will only partner with organisations which are committed to creating better digital infrastructure.

The Drum Network asks whether this call to action will be the catalyst for significant change in the industry, and how should other agencies and brands react?

Emma Critchley, PR and marketing manager, TLC Marketing UK

Finally! It’s about time a conglomerate took a stand. It’s slightly ridiculous that some of the most technically advanced, innovative thinking companies have not yet found a way to eradicate abusive content uploaded by its users. The only way to force change is if other brands do the same. I hope they do.

Aydin Moghaddam, head of PPC, Roast

It’s positive that Unilever and P&G have been vocal on this issue because they have a lot of influence in our industry. However, boycotting the platforms is not the answer, and we should not point all blame at Google and Facebook. To effect change, the spotlight should be on agencies for poor media buying. Both Google and Facebook are self-service platforms – meaning agencies can choose not to show against unsafe or unrated content. On YouTube, the solution is to choose to advertise only on whitelisted channels. If done correctly, this will mitigate the risk of showing against unethical content, without significantly diminishing an advertiser’s reach.

Adam Brown, deputy search and data manager, Zazzle Media

Big advertisers like Unilever will impact the industry in the same way big brands pulled ads from YouTube, other brands followed to make sure they aren't seen as the bad guys.

YouTube has been trying to crack this recently by demonetising specific videos however their automated system very regularly gets these wrong, meaning adverts are not being shown to specific audiences, even when the content is completely safe. Advertisers are already trying to stop their adverts being shown on specific content however it's difficult to automate it.

Jake Dubbins, managing director, Media Bounty

The short answer is yes. Advertisers like Unilever are waking up to the fact that they do not live in a vacuum, but in a society with living, breathing humans rather than 'consumers'. They have a choice where to advertise. This conscious choice is not restricted to the digital ecosystem. The following is a quote from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees: "The Daily Mail and Sun, were unlike anything else in our study. [they] exhibited both a hostility, and a lack of empathy with refugees and migrants that was unique". Advertisers and agencies should question if the media where they advertise share their values.

Chris Minas, founder and chief technology officer, Nimbletank

It’s no surprise that a global brand owner such as Unilever has taken this lead on digital social responsibility and to be honest, about time too. For many years brands have been dependent on global technology partners and platforms for their digital engagement of customers but have lacked the control over extending and influencing internal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and ethical business policies across their partners. I do believe Keith’s call to action will serve as a catalyst for change and that other brands should see this action as, not only a competitive advantage but as a necessity, as many consumers are positively influenced by brands who apply ethical influence and values within their industries.

Abby Blackmore, head of operations, Impero

I have long watched Unilever's ethics with interest. From their zero waste to landfill scheme and sustainable living plan in general they have been, on the surface at least, a huge force in ethical FMCG production. No big business is perfect, but I have to admit I am constantly impressed by Unilever's outspoken presence in these types of subjects. Paul Polman is a fascinating figure and seems to be showing that profits can be made by more ethical means. This seems like a natural next step. Here's hoping more big businesses follow suit, not least because younger consumers are demanding it.

Casper Horton-Kitchlew, marketing director, Movidiam

We saw it with the agency bid-rigging scandal and we’ve seen it with inaccurate reporting on Facebook – brands want greater transparency across marketing and advertising, whether it’s who’s seeing their media, where it's being seen or how much it's cost to make. This greater demand for transparency is at the centre of every conversation we have with brands and it’s here to stay. We’re in an era of accountability but also opportunity.

Read Part 2 of this Vox Pop here.

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