Unilever IAB Marketing

Jon Mew: Unilever & Keith Weed's supply-side stance shows a marketer who embraces change


By Jon Mew, CEO

February 15, 2018 | 5 min read

12 months ago, I was lucky enough to be at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting in the US and listen to Marc Pritchard’s now infamous speech. Whilst at first it felt punchy and contentious, it actually became a powerful and unifying rallying cry for the IAB. It’s one thing to create industry standards as a trade body, but it’s another thing to actually get companies to sign up and care about them, which is much easier said than done. Marc’s speech helped immensely on that front.

Unilever's marketing chief, Keith Weed

Keith Weed, Unilever's CMO issued a threat to the adtech community

The ripples caused by P&G’s session are still being felt a year later, and it created a degree of expectation that I’ve not sensed before. For a day or so ‘What would Keith Weed say?’ seemed to be the biggest topic in the marketing industry across the globe. In speaking with fellow IAB colleagues from various countries, most of us were being interviewed by multiple TV and press outlets about what we expected.

I’ve never seen so much anticipation in what one person would say, but perhaps what was more surprising was the fact that many people had already made up their minds that Keith would say he was stopping advertising on Facebook and Google, before he even gave his talk. As it transpires, he didn’t say that at all.

Keith was very clear that the supply side must do better, but gave a confident, measured and clear view on what Unilever would do in digital and how it aligns with their business aims. Unilever is in business to make money, but has a firm belief that it should do that by doing the right thing for society and the planet. Their focus on CSR is laudable and something that I hope they keep, and Keith was keen to show how their marketing efforts were in alignment. In his speech, he announced he only wants to partner with companies that are making a positive commitment to society. Thank you Keith.

It is precisely what we are trying to do at the IAB. Dozens of companies are investing in industry efforts to improve the digital landscape both with us and through groups like JICWEBS. But we need people to care and recognize that. It’s a message that we’ve tried to make clear – if you are buying media, you decide where ads appear and ultimately you can choose if you want to spend with the companies that are investing time and money to improve digital advertising… or not. We have a big job to do to wean people off of their obsession with just getting the cheapest inventory possible, regardless of where it comes from.

On working with Google and Facebook, Keith was clear – lean in. His view was that Unilever had benefited from leaning in and working collaboratively with both versus those brands that chose to walk away and lose out. In fact, one thing that stood out for me was his impromptu answer to a question from Randall Rothenberg, CEO of IAB US, on brand safety. His take was when the brand safety problem happened everyone was quick to point fingers and say ‘bad YouTube’, but not many went to their boards and admitted they hadn’t been buying media well. Again thank you Keith.

As a buyer, you have a choice where your money goes. You can decide how tight you want your control to be around brand safety, and ultimately what you are comfortable with.

In summary, Keith always strikes me as someone that ‘gets it’ and his talk at the ALM reaffirmed it. I think I’m allowed to say this as someone that’s not quite a millennial (but only just), it cannot be easy as a CMO when you haven’t grown up in a digital world to fully understand it and know how to get the most from it. The easy thing to do in that situation is to stick with what you know and resist change, but that’s not the approach Unilever takes.

Jon Mew is the chief executive of IAB UK.

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