LONDON (Reuters) – Consumer goods giant Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, has threatened to pull investment from digital platforms such as Facebook and Google that “create division” in society or fail to protect children.
Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at the maker of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Dove soap, announce the company’s plan in a speech on Monday at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in California.
In the speech, Weed called on the technology industry to improve transparency and consumer trust in an era of fake news and “toxic” online content.
“Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society,” Weed said, according to a copy of the speech seen beforehand.
Unilever also said it is committed to tackling gender stereotypes in advertising and will only partner with organisations that are committed to creating better digital infrastructure.
Unilever itself was heavily criticized last year for a Dove advert on Facebook that many saw as racist. Amid a social media backlash and calls for a boycott, the brand apologized, saying it “missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully”.
“Consumers don’t care about third party verification. They do care about fraudulent practice, fake news, and Russians influencing the US election,” Weed said. “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.”
Unilever has already been revamping its advertising spend, as it seeks to cut costs across the organisation. It has cut the number of ads it makes and the number of agencies it works with.
Google, a unit of tech giant Alphabet, and Facebook are estimated to have taken half of online ad revenue worldwide in 2017 and more than 60% in the United States, according to research firm eMarketer.
Officials at Facebook and Google in Europe were not immediately available to comment.
Weed’s comments echo complaints made a year ago by Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Mark Pritchard, who has lamented fake ad clicks by automated ‘bots’, the risk an ad can appear on social media next to an ISIS recruitment video and the realisation that people don’t watch 30-second video advertisements any more.
Only 25% of online ad spending reaches the consumer, with the rest skimmed off by a “murky, non-transparent, even fraudulent supply chain” within the industry, Pritchard told a digital marketing conference last autumn in Cologne, Germany.
Facebook executives visiting Europe last month made a public show of contrition about the social media giant’s slow response to abuses on its platform, seeking to avoid further legislation along the lines of a new hate speech law in Germany it says goes too far.
“We have over-invested in building new experiences and under-invested in preventing abuses,” Facebook’s communications and public policy chief, Elliot Schrage, told a tech conference in Munich.
(Reporting by Martinne Geller in London and Douglas Busvine in Frankfurt; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
EDITED TO ADD [23:20]: Corrected to state that Unilever is “revamping” its ad spend, not “slashing” it.