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Unilever to remove ads unless tech companies clean up their act

12 Feb 2018  |  David Jones 
Unilever to remove ads unless tech companies clean up their act

Unilever, the world’s second largest marketing spender (£6.8bn in 2017), is threatening to withdraw its advertising from online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google if they fail to protect children, promote hate or create division in society.

In a speech at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in Palm Desert, California, today (12 February), Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing officer, warned technology firms of the FMCG business’s need for its consumers to have “trust in our brands”.

In his speech Weed told major advertising, media and technology companies: “as one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.

“And 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.”

Unilever’s response comes amidst mounting pressure on the Silicon Valley tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter who have been exposed as major channels for the dissemination of extreme material and misleading news reports.

Despite the tech companies claiming to have increased their efforts to remove inappropriate content, they still remain under fire with critics demanding more action to be taken.

Weed believes it to be “a deep and systematic issue” and one that “fundamentally threatens to undermine the relationship between consumers and brands.”

He said that brands had a part to play in resolving the issues and could "no longer stand to one side or remain at arm's length just because issues in the supply chain do not affect us directly."

With the company already trimming its ad production as part of a cost-saving drive Weed aimed one last shot at the tech companies stating that Unilever would “prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

Commenting on Weed's speech, Andrew Morsy, UK managing director at Sizmek, an independent ad platform, said Unilever’s warning to the tech giants highlights what is probably the single biggest challenge for our industry - the demand for change when it comes to transparency.

"This is not the first story we’ve seen about huge advertisers threatening to pull ad budget over concerns around secrecy, fake news and brand safety," he said.

"Due to their dominance over the advertising market, the ‘duopoly’ has an even greater responsibility to ‘serve and protect’ brands advertising with them, as well as the consumers viewing those adverts. But they're not the only ones - this is a trust issue that all of us in the ad tech arena need to focus on."

Last year, Unilever spent £6.8bn advertising brands including PG Tips, Marmite, Dove and Persil.

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