Unilever CMO Says Marketers Must Take More Responsibility for Brand Safety

By Suzanne Vranica Features Dow Jones Newswires

Google and YouTube have a responsibility for the content they make available, but advertisers also must make sure they are paying close attention to how they buy digital advertising, according to Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing officer.

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Speaking at a panel event hosted by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, the well-known marketing executive said it's up to brands to take better advantage of the safeguards that are available to them and companies should be paying closer attention to how they use automated ad-buying systems.

"Some marketers likely have woken up to the fact that they might not have been on top of buying media in the way they thought," he said. "It's easy to say it's someone's fault [rather] than actually say, 'I should have been buying differently,'" he added.

Part of the problem, Mr. Weed said, is that many advertisers are likely driving to find cheaper inventory, which tends to be "low brow."

In March, a long list of companies such as PepsiCo, Inc., Wal-Mart Stores and AT&T Inc. pulled their ads from YouTube after ads were discovered running alongside objectionable content such as videos promoting terrorism. While many advertisers have begun to advertise on YouTube again, several big brands such as Procter & Gamble have not fully returned to the platform.

Unilever, one of the world's largest advertisers with brands such as Dove and Hellman's mayonnaise, didn't pull out of YouTube after the brand safety firestorm erupted, because it didn't find a lot of problems with where its ads were appearing and the issues it did find were attributed to human error.

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The company decided to work through the problems rather than pull back, Mr. Weed said.

Still, Mr. Weed said that marketers need to push to improve the overall digital advertising business.

"We need to make sure the digital supply chain is less murky," he said, pointing to a wide range of issues such as bot fraud, lack of ad viewability and ad-blocking.

Over the past few years, Unilever has been among the most aggressive at pushing for more transparency from Google and Facebook. A few years ago, Mr. Weed called for the tech giants to "stop grading their own homework, " and called for the industry to demand independent measurement of their digital advertising.

The consumer product titan, along with other advertisers, has been successful in getting the digital giants to bend, in the past. In late 2015, Facebook and YouTube agreed to allow advertisers to use independent measurement firms to verify what portion of their ads can be seen by viewers.

As more issues arise in the digital ad ecosystem, many marketers have signaled that they are placing more emphasis on having their ads appear on premium content. Mr. Weed said that Unilever has found that the content in which an ad appears helps ads to perform better.

Write to Suzanne Vranica at suzanne.vranica@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 21, 2017 11:21 ET (15:21 GMT)