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Unilever CMO Keith Weed warns industry not to get tunnel vision on Google brand safety boycott


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

March 20, 2017 | 6 min read

Unilever’s top marketer has warned against getting tunnel vision on the Google’s brand safety issue that has galvanised headlines over the past week, insisting that there is a bigger conversation to be had if the industry wants to “clean up across the board".

keith weed

Unilever CMO Keith Weed warns industry not to get tunnel vision on Google brand safety boycott

Sitting on stage with Google’s European boss Matt Brittin at Advertising Week Europe, Unilever's chief marketing officer Keith Weed acknowledged that ad misplacement was a pertinent topic but implied advertisers should stand back and look at the bigger picture.

“We’re a little bit guilty - as an industry - of jumping on one issue at a time. All of them are important, but clearly if there’s going to be a dynamic media industry then we need to clean up across the board," he asserted.

Weed went on to say that marketers must also take responsibility for the part they play and urged that collectively they must change the way they work to help tackle the issues facing the industry.

"I'm every bit for holding Google or Facebook or Twitter accountable but we also need to hold ourselves accountable for using the very tools at our disposal," he said.

Google and Unilever’s much anticipated appearance at the event came after a spate of advertisers including the Guardian, RBS, and even the government halted ad spend with the online behemoth, citing concerns over the inappropriate content their ads on YouTube have appeared against.

“Sorry, we apologise,” Google's president of EMEA business and operations said, adding that Google “takes responsibility for it”.

Despite holding his hands up, Brittin said that during his conversations with some of the advertisers involved what he found was that “it’s been a handful of impressions and it’s been pennies and not pounds".

“However small or big the issue we need improve and we need to get better,” he conceded, saying Google’s review into the matter, which has been ongoing for "some time" was being "accelerated" as a result of recent events.

400 hours' worth of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute, and the company claims 98% is reviewed within 24-hours. As such, Brittin argued that in light of an "explosion of content and reach" the tools Google has in place already to remove content deemed unsuitable - such as community flagging - or functions which filter out content that isn't safe for advertisers work well in the "majority of cases".

However, he said going forward there would be three areas coming under review: policy, the controls afforded to advertisers and enforcement.

The policy part of the equation includes looking at what is classed as safe within the Google's display network as well as on YouTube and "raising the bar." Part of this, said Brittin, is defining what should be classed as hate speech. He pointed out that this isn't straightforward because whole categories like politics or war allow content creators to make money "quite legitimately" so Google wants to be "thoughtful" about policing them.

The company is also looking at how to simplify controls it offers advertisers, and Brittin mused that while "a lot of money and people" are dedicated to enforcement that Google will go "further and faster" in this area, promising specifics "very soon".

His comments came as Google just announced fresh measurement features to video search ads on YouTube and its partner sites in the form of a new AdWords tool called Unique Reach. The move means advertisers will now be able to see the number of unique users and average impressions-per-user across devices, screens and platforms.

Returning to the issue of ad fraud, Weed pointed to a recent ANA and White Ops report which cited impressions for fraud accounted for anything between 3% to 37% of views for brands in 2015. While he said Unilever was at the "bottom end" of the spectrum, he said the broad range highlighted the fact marketers weren't using some of tools out there that could help stop them expose themselves to bot fraud, like blacklists.

"I think, particularly in programmatic, we get caught out thinking it's fantastic to buy the cheapest - well actually it's fantastic to buy the cheapest quality you want," he cautioned.

Given the reports that broke over the weekend today's panel was never going to be an easy ride for Brittin, and he was grilled by attendees at the advertising event over issues like hate speech and third-party verification. At one point Weed insisted the questioning moved on.

Where Unilever's rival, Procter & Gamble, has been fairly vocal in calling out the "murky at best, fraudulent at worst" digital ecosystem it believes to be purported by tech giants like Google and Facebook, Weed's team have been more reserved.

Weed was keen to relay that discussions with Google have indeed been taking place behind the scenes, but that none of Unilever's ads in the UK have been affected by the brand safety issues. Finally, he pushed his belief that the industry should expect nothing less than 100% viewability, and that media-owners shouldn't be marking their own homework.

"I think what we need to do as an industry is stand back and look at this and not continually roll from one issue to another, but instead really engage in the future of what will be the main dynamic in media marketing," he finished.

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