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Unilever will not invest in divisive online platforms

Unilever will not invest in online platforms that create division

14 February 2018, Auckland NZ: Unilever’s Global CMO, Keith Weed, has called on the industry to collectively build trust back into our systems and society; and announced a new commitment to cut investment in online platforms which breed division.

In his keynote speech at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, California on 12 February, Keith Weed demanded the industry work together to improve transparency and rebuild consumer trust in an era of fake news and toxic online content.

He called on technology giants to make a veritable stand against “things they see are not right”. Citing the latest research, he explained that across the world, trust in social media is at a new low as a result of a perceived lack of focus by technology companies on stopping illegal, unethical and extremist behaviour and material on their platforms.

Unilever NZ is following the global lead on the following three commitments:

1. Unilever will not invest in platforms that do not protect children or which create division in society.
2. Unilever is committed to tackling gender stereotypes in advertising through #Unstereotype and championing this across the industry through #SeeHer and the #Unstereotype Alliance.
3. Unilever 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.

Keith Weed also referenced a new partnership between Unilever and IBM – piloting a new blockchain technology for advertising, which has the potential to drastically reduce advertising fraud by recording how media is purchased, delivered and interacted with by target audiences, providing reliable measurement metrics.

Speaking ahead of his speech at the IAB, Keith Weed explained: “As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands. 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.”

Extended extracts below:

“For consumers 2017 was the year of mobile video and voice. However for the industry, if it was anything, it seemed to be the year of the digital supply chain… We have been talking about this for years.

“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. The year where we collectively rebuild trust back in our systems and our society.

“Across the world, dramatic shifts are taking place in people’s trust, particularly in media. We are seeing a critical separation of how people trust social media and more ‘traditional’ media. In the US only less than a third of people now trust social media (30%), whilst almost two thirds trust traditional media (58%).[1]

“The wider impact of digital on our society and the swamp that is the digital supply chain has become a consumer issue. Thus far, it has been mainly an “internal” industry concern, discussed by the trade press and at industry events. But the almost daily increasingly volume of mainstream coverage shows that the jack is well and truly out of the box. Yet as an industry we are sleepwalking on progress here. We are spending far too much time talking about what are, essentially, hygiene factors.

“These are important. At Unilever we have been clear and consistent over the past three years about what we consider the minimum standards to be, across the 3 Vs of viewability, verification and value, and that consistency has delivered results. In viewability we have established and implemented industry leading viewability standards, including working with Group M and others on a new display news feed standard, and we are in the final stages of research to establish news feed video standards. For verification –we are successfully working with third party to verify our media across all platforms across the globe. All leading to greater value from our media spend. Our position here has not changed. And there is still more to do. But ultimately, these are table stakes.

“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. 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.

“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. 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.

“This is a deep and systematic issue. An issue of trust that fundamentally threatens to undermine the relationship between consumers and brands. Brands have to play their role in resolving it. No longer can we stand to one side or remain at arm’s length just because issues in the supply chain do not affect us directly. As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online. So we must ask ourselves –what do brands stand for in the 21st century? To remain relevant, and trusted by consumers, brands have to take the lead.

“So I am not interested in issuing ultimatums or turning my face while I demand others sort this out. I prefer to be part of the solution. At Unilever we believe we are as strong as our partners, as our supply chain. If they succeed, we will succeed with them. And in the same way that we have taken a positive stance with our supply chain across all our products, committing to sourcing all our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020, we have been taking a positive stance with our digital supply chain.

“Just because one is physical and one is virtual, they are still absolutely part of our value chain. 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. We have spent a lot of effort building a business on sustainability. Our future strategy is based on the fact that consumers care about this, and will increasingly so. We can no longer continue to meet the values of one while holding the other at arm’s length. If we are committed to making our supply chains sustainable, that is all of our supply chains. And the current digital supply chain is far from being sustainable.

“If we have any hope as an industry of keeping the trust of our consumers, we need to overhaul the standards of behaviour in digital channels. Five weeks ago I was at CES in Las Vegas. Amongst seeing all the great innovations being launched, I met with all our digital partners, from Facebook and Google to Twitter, Snap, and Amazon. And I repeated one point to each and every one of them. It is critical that our brands remain not only in a safe environment, but a suitable one. Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society.

“And it is acutely clear from the groundswell of consumer voices over recent months that people are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of digital on wellbeing, on democracy – and on truth itself. This is not something that can brushed aside or ignored. Consumers are also demanding platforms which make a positive contribution to society.

“Social media should build social responsibility. So it is in this context that, as one of the world’s largest advertisers, I make these three commitments here today, about Unilever’s digital media supply chain. It’s time to change the conversation.

“Firstly, responsible platforms. Our commitment: Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate. We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.

“Secondly, responsible content. Unilever is committed to creating responsible content, initially tackling gender stereotypes in advertising through #Unstereotype, and championing this across the industry through the #Unstereotype Alliance.

“And finally, responsible infrastructure. Unilever 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.


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