One of the most powerful people in advertising says digital platforms need to lift their game to regain consumer trust and that the secret is out about the sordid state of the digital advertising supply chain.

Unilever CMO Keith Weed said the advertising giant would prioritise investing in “responsible platforms” and work to improve the state of digital advertising, in a thinly veiled warning to Facebook and Google.

“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,” Weed said at the IAB annual leadership event in Palm Springs.

“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.”

Facebook and Google take two thirds of digital ad spend, according to Salesforce, and both platforms face increasing scrutiny over content, brand safety and consumer trust.

“Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society,” Weed said.

Unilever has reportedly scaled back its digital advertising spend in the past due to concerns over its effect and inventory quality.

2018 – The Year of the Techlash

Unilever Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Keith Weed.

According to Weed, social media is at a tipping point in 2018 which could potentially lead to a “techlash” where the world turns on tech giants. Consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical about the role of social media and are “demanding platforms which make a positive contribution to society,” Weed said.

“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.”

“The wider impact of digital on our society and the swamp that is the digital supply chain has become a consumer issue,” Weed said.

Weed said the issue is not dissimilar to Unilever’s commitment sustainable agriculture resources and the company could no longer “meet the values of one while holding the other at arm’s length.”

Unilever’s Commitment

According to Weed, “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.”

He also committed to creating more responsible content and reducing gender stereotypes in advertising.

The company is also committed to improving the issues around digital advertising infrastructure, according to Weed. “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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