Marmite maker Unilever threatens to pull ads from Facebook and Google

The consumer goods multinational Unilever is threatening to withdraw its advertising from online platforms such as Facebook and Google if they fail to protect children, promote hate or create division in society.

In a speech later today, Keith Weed, the Unilever chief marketing officer, will say that, as a brand-led business, Unilever “needs its consumers to have trust in our brands”.

Unilever is the world’s second largest marketing spender, after Procter & Gamble, and spent €7.7bn (£6.8bn) last year advertising its brands, which include PG Tips, Marmite, Dove and Persil. The company has trimmed its ad production as part of a cost-saving drive; it is making fewer TV ads and has halved the number of ad agencies it uses to 1,500.

Weed will tell major advertising, media and technology companies gathered at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in Palm Desert, California: “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.

“And we cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain – one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers – which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.”

Silicon Valley’s tech companies are under mounting pressure to clamp down on online harassment, fabricated political content, hate speech and content that is harmful to children. Google said in December it would hire thousands of new moderators after coming under fire for allowing child abuse videos and other offensive content to flourish on YouTube.

Weed compared cleaning up the digital supply chain with efforts made by Unilever to find sustainable sources for its food ingredients and other raw materials.

“Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate,” he plans to say. “We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”