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Unilever CMO challenges Google, Facebook on trust

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The “swamp” of Google and Facebook is facing increased transparency pressure as the chief marketing and communications officer of Unilever – the owner of more than 400 brands – says the company cannot continue to advertise in untrustworthy environments.

Keith Weed – named this week as World Federation of Advertisers Marketer of the Year – delivered the keynote address at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in California, focusing on the topic of brand safety.

He said that if the digital giants did not take further steps to remove extremist and controversial content, Unilever “cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain… which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency”.

“As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online,” Mr Weed said.

Unilever represents brands ranging from laundry products such as Omo, personal hygiene items such as Dove and Lynx to food products and spreads such as Flora, and has a global ad spend of almost $11 billion annually.

Mr Weed said that advertising would remain “only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society”.

IAB Australia Vijay Solanki chief executive attended the conference, but believes there has been some media hyperbole around Mr Weed’s comments.

“Being in the room and talking to Keith one-on-one I believe there is some media hyperbole in the reporting so far”, Mr Solanki said. “I heard no threat to pull funds”.

Vijay Solanki believes the media has exaggerated Mr Weed's statement.
Vijay Solanki believes the media has exaggerated Mr Weed’s statement.

Mr Solanki believes the Unilever CMO genuinely wants to work with the tech giants to improve transparency.

“There’s no question that Keith Weed is challenging the platforms and the broader ecosystem to do more to increase trust. He still cares about verification and viewability.

“He also referenced working with (not against) the digital industry to develop better solutions.

He made the point that brands need to stand up and play their part. He wants to collaborate with the industry. Trust is the key metric to measure. He wants this to work,” Mr Solanki said.

Steve Allen, of Fusion Media, “absolutely” agrees with Mr Weed’s comments, saying improved transparency is a reasonable request.

“It is for any corporation to say ‘if you want our advertising, you have to manage the environment better’. It is a reasonable point to make,” Mr Allen said.

Issues of fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children were addressed by Mr Weed, each of which make the platforms increasingly unsafe for brands.

“As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands,” Mr Weed said ahead of his speech.

“We can’t do anything to damage that trust – including the choice of channels and platforms we use. So, 2018 is the year when social media must win trust back.”

Procter & Gamble CMO Marc Pritchard, called for greater transparency relating to measurement figures in his keynote address to the same conference last year.

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