Unilever pledges to cut ties with ‘platforms that create division’

Unilever CMO Keith Weed will outline his company's plans to bolster transparency in the digital sector at the IAB's ALM

Unilever’s marketing chief Keith Weed is poised to address the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting where he will urge the digital media landscape to clean up its act, an initiative backed by the promise to sever ties with those it deems unethical.

The pledge echoes a similar wake-up call issued by last year’s keynote speaker Marc Pritchard who outlined Procter & Gamble’s plans to cull its roster of digital partners. Weed will outline a similar three-pronged transparency drive, including a blockchain partnership with IBM which it hopes will improve the performance of its media spend.

Unilever operates a multi-billion dollar marketing budget, and the approach is likely to have serious repercussions for the wider digital ecosystem with the CPG giant pledging to take a stand against “things they see are not right.” This includes a three-pronged commitment (see below) that will serve as a major warning for some of the biggest players in online media.

Unilever’s transparency commitments

  1. Unilever will not invest in platforms that do not protect children or which create division in society.
  2. Unilever is committed to tackling gender stereotypes in advertising through #Unstereotype and championing this across the industry through #SeeHer and the #Unstereotype Alliance.
  3. Unilever will only partner with organizations which are committed to creating better digital infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the consumer experience.

During his address, scheduled to take place in Palm Desert, California, later today, Weed is also scheduled to give attendees an insight into a current pilot scheme with IBM that employs blockchain-based technology with the scheme geared towards reducing its exposure to fraudsters.

According to a Unilever statement, the partnership will reduce the impact of fraudsters by recording how media is purchased, delivered and interacted with by target audiences, providing reliable measurement metrics.

“As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands. We can’t do anything to damage that trust – including the choice of channels and platforms we use,” reads an extract of his speech.

“So, 2018 is the year when social media must win trust back,” reads Weed’s speech. “Across the world, dramatic shifts are taking place in people’s trust, particularly in media. We are seeing a critical separation of how people trust social media and more ‘traditional’ media. In the US only less than a third of people now trust social media (30%), whilst almost two-thirds trust traditional media (58%)."

While stopping short of an ultimatum – Weed prefers to define his company’s approach as being 'solution-led' – the threat of Unilever discontinuing business is a distinct possibility for many in the digital supply-chain, which he described as "a swamp" that is contributing to the erosion of consumers’ trust in brands.

“The almost daily increasingly volume of mainstream coverage shows that the jack is well and truly out of the box. Yet as an industry, we are sleepwalking on progress here. We are spending far too much time talking about what are, essentially, hygiene factors,” reads the speech.

The speech will likely be read as a stark warning to the digital landscape’s biggest names, such as Facebook and Google-owned YouTube, both of which have been dogged by negative headlines regarding brand safety and fake news over the last 18 months in particular.

Concern over the negative impact generated by such ills has registered at the very highest echelons of the digital sector, with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg earlier claiming the social network’s efforts to suppress fake news would receive his personal oversight.

Both Facebook and YouTube-owner Google (the pair collectively account for over 60% of all digital ad spend, according to eMarketer numbers) have made much of their investments in technical solutions to moderate content on their platforms, as well as the human oversight involved.

In a recent statement attributed to YouTube chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki, she described the efforts as “the right thing to do” and YouTube that is set to debut a transparency report for advertisers in 2018.

Meanwhile, Weed is also set to further discuss Unilever’s efforts to ensure its online ad spend is generating a return-on-investment; another passage of his presentation that is likely to cause leaders at some of the largest online platforms to sit up and take notice. The CPG’s marketing chief has already spoken publicly over his frustrations when it comes to working with the industry’s ‘Walled Gardens’ and later today he will discuss the three V’s: viewability; verification; value.

“For verification – we are successfully working with third party [sic] to verify our media across all platforms across the globe. All leading to greater value from our media spend. Our position here has not changed. And there is still more to do. But ultimately, these are table stakes,” reads the speech excerpt.

Such public calls for action do have an impact, with Facebook making notable changes in its stance towards working with third-party measurement providers since 2016 after negative headlines regarding inaccurate reporting of metrics on the platform started to surface.

Speaking earlier with The Drum regarding its efforts in the space, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said helping advertisers better attribute the ROI of their media spend on the social network was a priority.

“Later this year we’re also going to have post-campaign transparency, so you have the ability as an advertiser to say ‘I do want to be on these sites, I don’t want to be on those sites’, but you also don’t maybe think of everything. So we’re also going to show you after the fact, where you’ve run, and that enables you to say ‘actually, I want more of this, and less of this,” she said.

Elsewhere at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, the trade body announced the election of Scott Schiller, NBCUniversal’s executive vice president and general manager for ad sales, to the position of chairman of its board of directors.

This was also accompanied by the announcement that Rik van der Kooi, Microsoft Advertising’s corporate vice president, has been elected to the position of vice chairman. Other new appointees to the trade body’s board of directors are listed below:

  • Kerry Bianchi, President and CEO, Visto
  • Rita Ferro, President, Advertising Sales, Disney/ABC Television Group
  • Rajeev Goel, Co-Founder and CEO, PubMatic
  • Peter Naylor, Senior Vice President and Head of Advertising Sales, Hulu
  • Kim Norris, General Vice President, Digital and Advanced Advertising, Spectrum Reach
  • Jonathan Schaaf, Chief Agency Officer, Condé Nast
  • Carrie Seifer, Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer, IBM Watson Content and IoT Platform
  • Nada Stirratt, Vice President, Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook

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