Improving ad quality will solve the industry’s digital issues

Previewing his Cannes Lions keynote session, Unilever chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed says focusing on quality and diversity will make consumers more open to ads where they see themselves reflected.

Unilever marketing boss Keith WeedIt’s time to reset. Over recent months we have seen several important issues – brand safety, ad fraud, incorrect billings, diversity in advertising to name a few – flare up, incite outrage and then drift back away again from the public consciousness. These are all important issues, and deserve our continued attention. But instead, as an industry we have focused and refocused our tunnel vision on the matter right in front of us at the expense of the previous problem.

If we are to stand a real chance of tackling the endemic issues of our industry it’s time to start thinking much more holistically about how they interrelate, and how we can solve them. Making real, lasting, impactful difference is not achieved by quick, reactive fixes. It requires systemic shifts in the way we work, think and create. For me it is about simplification, in several key ways.

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Firstly, it is about tackling the ‘structural’ issues to bring a new level of transparency to the digital ecosystem. It’s about how we build the architecture, the pipes, of the digital landscape, and who has access to what. Only when we address the walls and layers of complexity which abound in an integrated way through mature conversations and with a collaborative mindset will we build an environment where our brands can really thrive.

The number of people blocking ads is rising. The way to tackle this is to improve the quality.

At Unilever, we are committed to tackling this with our partners, to building a better, simpler, more transparent system together – and have been for some time. I’m absolutely all for holding others to account, but I firmly believe that it’s through working in partnership that we will shape and build the system that works best for everyone.

Secondly, to continue the analogy, it’s about the quality of what we put down the pipes. We are living in exciting times, with a multitude of channels available for us to connect with our consumers. But at the same time, the risk of fragmenting our brands has never been stronger.

In parallel, the number of people blocking ads is rising. The way to tackle this is to improve the quality. Put simply, it’s about creativity. We need to flex our creative muscle to build brand communications that really resonate with people.

Cannes Lions diversity focus

Unilever’s moves to reduce the number of our ads and review our agency roster are certainly part of this drive. We want to create space for our brands to be nimble and agile, reacting to local market conditions and competitors, while leveraging global scale and consistencies. One part of that is creating more thematic ads that resonate deeply with our consumers, and that air for long enough to build a connection with the brand and the deep social themes they address.

Aside from the moral and societal imperative, there is a clear business case for removing stereotypes from advertising.

Another part is thinking carefully about the diversity we are portraying in our ads – and consciously working to counteract the use of unhelpful stereotypes. We know that 40% of women say they do not identify at all with the women they see in ads. And yet ads that are progressive in their portrayals of women are 12% more impactful.

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Aside from the moral and societal imperative, there is a clear business case for removing stereotypes from advertising. Unilever led the charge on this last year at the Cannes Lions with our #Unstereotype commitment, and I’m looking forward to putting another big marker in the sand next month at Cannes again.

At the moment I’m very focused on how we tackle these various issues holistically to build a better industry, and this year at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity I’m going to be addressing them on stage. I’m delighted that I’ll be joined on the main stage by Lydia Polgreen, the new editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. It certainly promises to be a frank and entertaining exchange of views.

You can vote to get this session broadcast live from Cannes on YouTube by visiting the Cannes Lions website – voting closes on 30 May. I hope to see you there.