Unilever’s Keith Weed wants to take a collaborative approach with platform giants

Unilever CMO Keith Weed grabbed headlines Monday when he said the packaged goods giant wouldn’t advertise on tech platforms that create societal division or don’t protect children. The comments were from a keynote at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, California, where Weed said social media needs to earn back the public’s trust, which he said is at a new low, caused by the tech companies’ failure to deal with the spread of illegal, unethical and extremist material shared on their platforms.

“Is it going to be the year of the techlash or a year that we start rebuilding trust?” he asked. “We need to redefine what’s responsible business in the technical age.”

But unlike Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, who used the perch to bash the platforms at ALM last year, Weed described a lower-key approach of working with the platforms behind the scenes, which he explained in a conversation. Below are excerpts, lightly edited and condensed.

You’ve said Unilever would not pull advertising from platforms but instead work with them. What’s the case for this approach?
This has moved from being from an industry issue to a societal issue. We need to engage in a much more positive way and encourage them to move faster. Many cut advertising on YouTube last year. We didn’t have a problem with our advertising on YouTube. We were using the highest guardrails and were buying high-quality inventory.

Do you think your approach worked with YouTube, then?
I think they were committed to making big changes. It’s good to have multiple voices. And it’s true with other platforms: Be as tough as you can behind closed doors. It’s been helpful with Facebook, with all the platforms. I’m not suggesting for a second we don’t put the issue on the table — but be challenging in a collaborative way as opposed to giving public ultimatums.

We already direct investment against the three V’s: viewability, third-party verification, value. All I’m doing here is adding another criteria, make sure the platforms contribute to a positive contribution to society. I don’t put road maps out in public, but third-party verification and what needs to be achieved by what stage — these are the standards I’ve been working on for some time.

There are those who might say platforms won’t clean up their act until powerful companies like yours suspend advertising on them. What do you say?
In the YouTube example, people did suspend advertising. But engaging and being part of the dialogue, with always the ultimate approach being, if it’s not sorted out, you vote with your dollars, has proven to be more successful.

Unilever has reduced underperforming ads and taken more of its marketing in-house, halving the number of agencies it uses and making 30 percent fewer ads. Is that work done?

We continue to invest in advertising, but we were were producing too much content. We weren’t wearing our ads in sufficiently. I still think there’s more we can do. Where I think we’ll go further is, I’ll further be trimming agencies, not by a particular percentage, but to simplify our portfolio.

Are you prepared to pay more for media if that’ll ensure safer environments?
We’ve always paid very competitive rates, and we’ll continue to do so. I do believe we need to move to a single measurement system, and this will help in cleaning up the challenge of the supply chain. It’ll have a much better impact on user experience, and it’ll help us optimize. You can only spend your dollar once, and you need to spend it wisely, and I don’t intend on spending any more than I need to in digital media.


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