Unilever, the company behind brands like Axe, Lipton, and Dove, spends approximately $2 billion each year on digital advertising, much of it on social media platforms. Now, in a speech given by their head of marketing, Keith Weed (a.k.a K-Ganja), they’re threatening to lower their social media ad spending to a slightly lower figure: zero.

CNN received a transcript of a speech Mr. Weed is expected to deliver today at an advertising conference in California. In it, he uses forceful language to deride Facebook and others for operating “an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.” Recognizing the role of Unilever and other advertisers in maintaining this ecosystem, he continues, “We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain … which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.” In light of this, he warns, social media platforms had better clean up their act before other “advertisers stop advertising.”

Dapper MF’er Keith Weed

According to the BBC, Unilever also released a list of advertising “pledges,” which include:

  1. Not investing in platforms that do not protect children or create division in society
  2. Only investing in platforms that make a positive contribution to society
  3. Tackle gender stereotypes in advertising
  4. Only partner with companies creating a responsible digital infrastructure.

While (3) should be easy—notably, get ride of those Dove ads—(1) and (2) sound laughably vague. They won’t invest in platforms that “create division”? Does that include sports blogs where one team is supported at the expense of another? What about a movie review site where commenters are encouraged to voice differing opinions? As for the “positive contribution to society,” I’d be interested to hear how they quantify that one. Number of trees planted?

Facebook stalking [Image Courtesy Patrick Wittke]

This continues the procession of formerly tech-eager execs washing their hands of the digital infrastructure. The difference here is that more than just bad press, Unilever can actually damage bottom lines—significantly. The question will be if other, less-recognizable brands will follow suit. While Unilever already has recognizable brands, making their pulling off ads less risky, many firms do not. However, being such a behemoth, Unilever’s threats also have the potential to scare social media platforms straight.


Feature Image Courtesy Kat Smith