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Unilever Casts Doubt on Social-Media Ad Spending

Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, indicated Monday it might not want to place commercials on some of the industry’s most consequential digital-media outlets if they can’t clean up their act.

Speaking Monday at a conference held by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade organization, Unilever Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed said social media is filled with messages of hate and division, and is losing consumers’ trust. And while Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others have wooed big advertisers with promises of low prices and improved ability to target particular groups of consumers, Weed said digital dangers outweighed potential benefits.

“Consumers don’t care about third-party verification. They do care about fraudulent practice, fake news, and Russians influencing the US 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,” said Weed, in his prepared remarks. “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 makes and markets popular supermarket favorites like Dove and Axe personal grooming products, Lipton teas and Hellman’s mayonnaise, and spends millions of dollars each year to advertise all of them. Like Procter & Gamble, the company is also among the world’s most influential advertisers and its policies tend to be followed by others.

“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children – parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us,” said Weed.: “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.”

One analyst suggested Weed’s words were being interpreted through a harsh lens. “Unilever will stay the course so long as Facebook, Google and others continue to make efforts to improve their platform,” said Brian Wieser, a media-industry analyst with Pivotal Research. He noted that Unilever has kept ads on YouTube despite a new level of scrutiny in recent months over the quality of its content.

Weed said the company would use three new rules to govern how its allocates its advertising. It won’t invest in “ad platforms that do not protect children or which create division in society.” It hopes to use its advertising support to tackle gender stereotypes. And it will “only partner with organisations which are committed to creating better digital infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the consumer experience.”

Several big advertisers have in recent years complained about digital media, which is typically not measured by a single third-party verification system. Indeed, several big consumer-packaged goods companies have moved ad dollars back to TV during recent “upfront” markets, when U.S. media companies try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory in mid-Spring. In pitches to Madison Avenue, TV networks have pushed the notion that their content is of better quality and their audiences are measured in way upon which both buyers and sellers agree.

 

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