The consumer goods multinational Unilever is threatening to withdraw its advertising from online platforms such as Facebook and Google if they fail to protect children, promote hate or create division in society.
In a speech later today, Keith Weed, the Unilever chief marketing officer, will say that, as a brand-led business, Unilever “needs its consumers to have trust in our brands”.
Unilever is the world’s second largest marketing spender, after Procter Gamble, and spent €7.7bn (£6.8bn) last year advertising its brands, which include PG Tips, Marmite, Dove and Persil.
Weed will tell major advertising, media and technology companies gathered at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in Palm Desert, California: “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.
“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.”
Silicon Valley’s tech companies are under mounting pressure to clamp down on online harassment, fabricated political content, hate speech and content that is harmful to children. Google said in December it would hire thousands of new moderators after coming under fire for allowing child abuse videos and other offensive content to flourish on YouTube.
Weed compared cleaning up the digital supply chain with efforts made by Unilever to find sustainable sources for its food ingredients and other raw materials.
“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 plans to say. “We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”
The company has trimmed its ad production as part of a cost-saving drive; it is making fewer TV ads and has halved the number of ad agencies it uses to 1,500.
Ian Whittaker and Annick Maas, analysts at Liberum, said online advertising platforms such as Facebook and YouTube faced “increasing difficulties in persuading advertisers that their product offers a brand safe environment”.
“Moreover, given the number of videos uploaded, there will always be an element of videos slipping through the net, which is likely to fuel further negative publicity. We therefore do not see this problem going away for the online platforms.”
They added: “It is clear advertisers are becoming increasingly wary of online’s quality (PG has also been cutting its digital ad spending without any impact on growth) and so are unlikely to shift money aggressively from TV to online as these concerns mount.”
The Liberum analysts see this as an opportunity for broadcasters to take a bigger slice of the online video advertising market. ITV has a 45% share of the UK TV ad market but only 6.5% of British online video advertising, where ad rates are much higher than in TV. Online could be a big driver of future profit growth for UK and European broadcasters, they said.