Q&A: How Unilever’s CMO Is Trying to Help Make Digital a Safer Space for Brands

Keith Weed calls on platforms to step up efforts to combat divisive content

Keith Weed is cracking down on YouTube and Facebook.
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Unilever CMO Keith Weed put the advertising community on notice Monday during a keynote speech at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, Calif. Weed called for tech platforms—namely Facebook and YouTube—to step up their efforts in combatting divisive content, hate speech and fake news.

“I don’t think for a second where the internet right now is how the platforms dreamt it would be,” Weed told Adweek in an interview at the event. “Things have just moved so fast; technology’s changed so quickly. There are so many unintended consequences now.”

Weed controls about $9 billion in advertising across all of Unilever’s brands like Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and Axe, so it’s no surprise the mandate raised more than a few eyebrows.

Much like Procter & Gamble CMO Marc Pritchard—who spoke at the IAB’s 2017 event and outlined a multipronged, yearlong plan—Weed is looking to pressure tech companies to increase their resources on cleaning up the platforms or risk losing multimillion-dollar budgets.

But unlike Pritchard, Weed is not giving the platforms a public ultimatum. He’d rather get into conversations about the nitty-gritty details in private and claims he’s already shifting money around.

Adweek spoke with Weed at the IAB event about what needs to change in digital marketing and how Unilever’s media agencies play a role in making Unilever’s goals attainable.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: What’s not working for you in digital marketing?
Keith Weed: We’ve been talking about the three Vs—viewability, verification and value—for over three years now when not very many people were talking about this. Last year, a lot of companies and advertisers started to talk about it and that’s really what I’m trying to encourage this year is to get more people on board.

We have leading industry viewability standards. I don’t agree that half the pixels for two seconds is a viewable standard. I [would] never buy a TV ad if you told me I’m going to have half the pixels [on the screen]. I’m working with GroupM and others on a test right now [measuring] video standards in-feed and we continue to do the work there.

What I’m trying to do now is move the agenda on for one big reason: This has gone beyond us talking internally within the industry about the efficiencies of the media supply chain. This is now impacting trust as a societal level, which I think brings great urgency.

So how do you put pressure on the platforms?
I believe the best way is not to create ultimatums and cut spend and walk away because frankly then you just leave people to find their own way forward. The beginning of last year, many big advertisers walked away from YouTube and were very outspoken about that. We were equally outspoken by staying with YouTube [and] have stayed all the way through.

In doing so, we have positive conversations with them. Would you prefer to engage and listen with someone who is still engaged with you or not hear anything because the other person just walked away?

That’s a really interesting point: It takes two to tango. If you decide, “We’re going to pull $400 million out and it’s going to be a veiled threat,” does that actually help either the industry or society at large? I’m not quite so sure.
 I mean, ultimately, you can move money. We are already moving our money. We’ve been very clear about what our standards are in viewability and third-party verification and our spend has already moved against that.

How much have you moved?
I haven’t gone public, but we have moved a meaningful amount based on standards that we’ve set.

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