Consumer giant Unilever has threatened to stop advertising on Google and Facebook unless the tech giants do more to tackle illegal content on their ad networks. Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer companies, responsible for brands such as Dove, Domestos Ben & Jerry’s, Lynx, TRESemmé and an entire fleet of household names that spend big on advertising.

In other words, losing Unilever as a paying customer would be a huge loss to Google and Facebook. Which is precisely what the company’s chief marketing officer threatened to do on Monday, unless the advertising giants earn back the trust lost in recent years.


‘Social media must win trust back’

Unilever’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, on Monday described the likes of Google and Facebook as “a swamp”, tainted with fake news and content that promotes racism, sexism, extremism and a number of other social issues.

The marketing exec says Unilever can’t continue to associate itself with platforms that allow such content to be accessed and shared by so many people.

“As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands,” he said in a statement ahead of his speech at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, California, on Monday. “We can’t do anything to damage that trust — including the choice of channels and platforms we use. So, 2018 is the year when social media must win trust back.”

Unilever is the world’s fourth largest advertiser, only trailing behind Proctor & Gamble, Samsung and Nestlé. In 2017, the London-based firm spent $8.6 billion on advertising across its army of household brands, which means anything it says has clout in the industry.


A new kind of pressure on Google, Facebook

Both Facebook and Google were quick to responded to Weed’s comments, insisting they are working towards the same goals. “We fully support Unilever’s commitments and are working closely with them,” Facebook said in a statement. While Google echoed a similar sentiment in its own statement:

“Keith has always pushed us and the industry to be better,” Google said in its own statement. “There is nothing we take more seriously than the trust and safety of our users, customers and partners, and we will continue to work to earn that trust every day.”

Either way, both tech giants are facing new kinds of pressure as advertisers and law enforcers start to place boundaries. This week a German court also ruled that Facebook’s use of personal data is illegal due to not getting the necessary consent from users – and this is before GDPR kicks in. While Google faces continued pressure from global regulators regarding antitrust issues with India being the latest to fine the search giant – this time to the total of $21.1 million.

How much this will change the way Google operates remains to be seen, but 2018 looks like an interesting year to see how the power balance between tech giants providing ad platforms and the brands paying for them shifts.