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Do agencies believe Unilever's stance will be a catalyst for change? (Part 2)

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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.

In part 2 of this Vox Pop, 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?

Tina Judic, chief executive officer, Found Group Ltd

Trust between advertisers and their audiences is noticeably waning from these platforms and therefore on the surface, it’s good that an advertiser as big as Unilever feels it can stand up to Facebook and Google to push these particular issues higher up the agenda. I just wonder whether there are other benefits that come with this stance behind Unilever’s decision? Will anything change? Yes, I’d like to think it will. Would it have changed anyway? Probably. Will it change faster? Maybe. Will Unilever come out of this smelling like roses? Quite likely. Will they spend any less on Google and Facebook? I doubt it.

Michael Moszynski, chief executive officer, London Advertising

I think positive action like this by advertisers such as Unilever will be critical to retain the public’s trust in social and digital media. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer showed trust in social media at a record low of 24%, while it has surged to 61% in traditional media.

It is in the interests of the ad industry and the media for us all to embrace truth and transparency to regain the trust of advertisers – as well as the public – or we will no longer have an industry.

Paul Bullock, digital marketing manager, Fast Web Media

Unilever's decision is a bold and admirable one, but I don't think it will usher in significant change in itself. That will come as a result of wider developments that are happening across the industry as a whole. Public trust in the internet is wavering, and businesses and agencies will have to adapt how they operate and advertise online. Currently, there are no easy and obvious ways to do that. The best approach is to monitor developments and aim for truth and transparency in all online dealings.

Tamara Gillan, chief executive officer and founder, Cherry London

We salute Weed’s stance and commitment to severe ties to platforms with questionable ethical standards. What is needed now is further support from other power-house brands; together they can drive positive change where governments and the law has had limited impact. The beauty of digital infrastructure and increasingly powerful AI and machine learning, is there is the potential to change at pace, what is needed is the motivation which only collaborative action can bring.

Ally Dowsing-Reynolds, head of digital strategy and content, Brass

Removing stereotyping in Unilever's own ads is something they have complete control over and it’s great to see the likes of them having a good go at tackling digital infrastructure. But really affecting likes of Facebook and Google? The harsh reality is that Unilever is just a very small percentage of the digital duopoly’s total advertising revenues.

They are fully aware that if they start to take responsibility for the user-generated content on their platforms, this opens up a massive legal can of worms for them. So we will not see them make the changes that Weed hopes for.

Luke Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer, Croud

Keith Weed’s speech was great - but I have to confess my reaction was a bit Marmite. Yes, there are some odious corners, but there's also plenty to feel positive about – and smart investments in attribution and insight shine light into even the darkest corners.

In general, we are still a very immature industry, and while improvements are being made (such as YouTube’s three-tier suitability system), there's still a long way to go. So all parties – brands, agencies, and media platforms alike – need to take responsibility for brand safety and where exactly the money is spent. Keith Weed's speech is another great call to action that will add further momentum to that improvement.

Rick Lamb, director, Latitude

It’s a great thing to see those in control of some of the largest advertising budgets taking a strong stand on areas where the industry needs to focus efforts to clean up its act. The great danger with taking a moral stance that seems aimed at a particular area of the media landscape is having that echoed back in relation to other channels. By all means hold social networks to account, but there’s a very public groundswell against places a lot of Unilever’s ads appear, which are more directly funded by these ads, and which could equally be argued to be creating as much division in society.

Read part 1 of this vox pop here.

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