A final call? Unilever threatens to pull ads from platforms swamped with ‘toxic’ content

Consumer packaged goods maker Unilever, an advertising force with a $9.8 billion annual marketing budget, is ringing the alarm bells that all is still not well in the environments fostered by the likes of Google and Facebook.

Unilever Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed spoke about the need for platforms to regain consumer trust and provide safer surroundings for advertisers during a talk at the IAB’s annual leadership meeting in California on Monday. He also threatened to take action and stop advertising on the platforms unless they make changes: “Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society.”

“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,” he said, echoing P&G’s Marc Pritchard’s call a year ago for the platforms and digital advertising ecosystem as a whole to “clean up the crap” and provide greater transparency and better measurement.

Facebook and Google dominate the digital advertising market and have been at the center of a regular cycle of controversies for providing havens for “toxic” content — fake news, extremist, racist, sexist and exploitative content — and for looking the other way when influential content makers on their platforms post objectionable content.

This concern about automated ad placements has been welling up for many, many months. Over the past year, several brands pulled their advertising from YouTube and the Google Display Network over the kinds of content being monetized. In a CMO Council survey (registration required) issued last fall, 72 percent of senior brand managers polled said management is concerned about programmatic placements and performance.

A more recent CMO Council study (registration required) on the ways in which digital advertising affects consumer perceptions of brands and influence purchase intent shows brands have real reasons to be concerned about the kinds of content their ads appear alongside. According to the survey of 2,000 consumers, 57 percent of consumers said they lose trust in brands that advertise near objectionable content.

Unilever says it is working with IBM to use blockchain in a new pilot program aimed at eliminating ad fraud and improving transparency with the digital ledger technology. Last week, the IAB issued its first white paper on blockchain and its potential uses, starting with video advertising.

About The Author

As Third Door Media’s paid media reporter, Ginny Marvin writes about paid online marketing topics including paid search, paid social, display and retargeting for Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She provides search marketing and demand generation advice for ecommerce companies and can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.

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