Unilever Will Pull Funds from Social Media That 'Breed Division'

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Unilever will stop spending on digital platforms that "breed division in society or fail to protect children," Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed plans to announce in a speech to the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, Calif., on Monday.

Keith Weed.
Keith Weed. Credit: Courtesy of Unilever

The move takes the industry's brand-safety debate a step beyond trying to police what appears directly next to ads and toward a broader effort by a big marketer to reshape social media. It also represents a shift in tone for Weed, who in the past year largely has played the good cop to rival Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard's bad cop on digital accountability issues.

Pritchard, little more than a year ago at the same IAB forum, threatened to cut off spending by the world's biggest advertiser on digital platforms that didn't ensure brand safety or provide accredited third-party audience verification. Citing industry progress, Pritchard says he largely hasn't had to follow through on that threat, though P&G remains off of YouTube pending full satisfaction with brand-safety improvements there.

Weed in a series of speeches since then has said Unilever didn't cut off spending on YouTube over brand safety and prefers to deal with accountability issues privately rather than chastise platforms publicly—though he's also been pushing for better accountability. With the IAB speech, however, he's switched to using the power of the purse wielded by the world's second biggest ad spender.

In a statement issued ahead of his speech, Weed says: "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 that trust back."

Weed and Unilever didn't cite names in the advance billing of his remarks, but most of the biggest social platforms with the possible exception of Pinterest have come under fire in the past year on social-division and child-safety issues.

Facebook, Twitter and Google, for example have been the focus of Congressional inquiry over how Russian agents may have used their platforms to buy ads or spread fake news items during the 2016 presidential election, often to fan flames of division over race, religion, gender and sexual preference.

Weed plans to cite research showing trust in social media is at an all-time low worldwide because of "a perceived lack of focus by technology companies in stopping illegal, unethical and extremist behavior and materials on their platforms," Unilever says.

Besides social division and child safety, the speech will cover Unilever's intention to "only partner with organizations which are committed to creating better digital infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the consumer experience."

He'll also cite a new partnership between Unilever and IBM to pilot blockchain technology for advertising, which has "potential to drastically reduce advertising fraud by recording how media is purchased, delivered and interacted with by target audiences," the company says.

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