Unilever CMO Keith Weed Presents Digital Ad Challenge


Unilever chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed

Call him the ‘Toxic’ Avenger. Unilever CMO Keith Weed is playing hardball with online platforms by threatening to pull ad investment from any that “create divisions in society” in what will be seen as a thinly-veiled warning to YouTube and Facebook allow “toxic” online content and “do not make a positive contribution to society,” in keeping with the company’s sustainable living purpose.

Weed, the CPG giant’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer who was just named the World Federation of Advertisers Global Marketer of the Year, addressed the Interactive Advertising Bureau annual leadership meeting on Monday in Palm Springs, Calif., about Unilever‘s “commitments of responsibility through platforms, content and infrastructure.”

It’s not the first time that Weed has publicly demanded more accountability from walled gardens such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. Nor was it the first time he has called for diversity and progressive social engagement as goals.

While his IAB keynote called out tech platforms including Facebook and Google’s YouTube for not putting brand safety (and thus consumer safety) first in their advertising practices, he also put other platforms on notice.

“Social media should build social responsibility,” he said, adding that Unilever “will not invest in platforms that do not protect children or which create division in society.”

With brands including Dove, Knorr, Axe, Lipton, Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum, Unilever is one of the world’s largest digital advertisers, last year spending $9.4 billion on marketing, one-third of which was on digital advertising.

Weed’s IAB presentation made three pledges by Unilever:

  1. On responsible platforms: Unilever will not invest in platforms that do not protect children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate.

Unilever Keith Weed IAB address 12 February 2018

2. On responsible content: Unilever is committed to creating responsible content, initially by tackling gender stereotypes in advertising through the Unstereotype Alliance—sustainable goals and values that Unilever espouses in its business dealings.

Unilever Keith Weed IAB address 12 February 2018

3. On responsible infrastructure: Unilever will only partner with tech platforms and companies that are committed to creating better digital infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the customer experience.

Unilever Keith Weed IAB address 12 February 2018

Weed expressed concerns about the digital media supply chain, which accounts for a quarter of Unilever’s advertising. “It is critical that our brands remain not only in a safe environment, but a suitable one,” Weed said in his speech, as reported by Reuters.

“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children … it is in the digital media industry’s interest to listen and act on this. Before viewers stop viewing, advertisers stop advertising and publishers stop publishing.”

“2018 is either the year of ‘techlash,’ where the world turns on the tech giants—and we have seen some of this already—or the year of trust,” Weed stated. “Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, does not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society.”

Unilever aims to be part of the solution. Weed detailed a pilot program with IBM iX that uses blockchain technology to reduce online ad fraud by more accurately reflecting how ads are bought, served and engaged with by a target audience. The goal: to increase brand safety and reduce fraud through technology that can provide reliable measurement metrics.

Unilever is a member of the Coalition for Better Ads, which is developing global standards on internet advertising that enhance the experience for viewers.

“Consumers don’t care about third-party verification,” Weed argued to the IAB. “They do care about fraudulent practice, fake news, and Russians influencing the U.S. election. They don’t care about good value for advertisers. But they do care when they see their brands being placed next to ads funding terror, or exploiting children.”

“They don’t care about sophisticated data usage or ad targeting via complex algorithms, but they do care about not seeing the same ad 100 times a day. They don’t care about ad fraud, but they do care about their data being misused and stolen.”

Unilever has more than doubled its spend on digital media since 2013, boosting its investment in digital content some 60%. Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands grew 59% faster and delivered 60% of growth at the company.

Before his IAB address, Weed shared his proposal with Unilever’s digital partners, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snap Inc. and Amazon—the major digital platforms he feels need to redress an “erosion of trust” with marketers.

“We are a million miles from the internet we envisioned,” Weed told the IAB.

“Without trust, there is no data and without data there is no brand. We need to redefine what is responsible business in the digital age. We will only do business with companies that have responsible infrastructure,” an argument supporting “the need for one measurement system across all media, including walled gardens.”

“As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online,” Weed continued. “We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain—one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers—which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.”