CONSUMER goods giant Unilever has been urged to back local news publishers after it threatened to pull advertising from digital giants which are used to “breed division”.

The consumer goods giant – whose brands include Marmite, Dove and Ben & Jerry’s – is concerned about the spread of illegal and extremist content online.

Its marketing chief Keith Weed has met with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snap and Amazon, to stress that Unilever does “not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society”.

He said: “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.

“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children - parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us.”

Unilever cited research showing that trust in social media has hit a new low as a result of failed action over misleading or unlawful content – and said that while 2017 was the year of mobile video and voice, 2018 will either be the “year of trust” or the “year of techlash”, where the world will turn on tech giants.

Mark Masters of the ID Group, an author and content marketing expert who is organising the You Are the Media Conference in Bournemouth this year, said: “There is a lesson here for all businesses. We all need to be constant with delivery that advocates an authentic and credible persona both online and offline.

“What Unilever are saying is, ‘We are looking to be responsible, what about you?’ At a similar point last year brands such as Pepsi, the British government and Johnson & Johnson pulled out of advertising on YouTube because banners appeared over videos posted by extremist groups.

“Companies today have a transparency problem. Plus with the unease and fuelling of the fake news fire, we all participate in a misinformed world. It further highlights the lack of trust between consumers and business as highlighted by the recent Edelman Trust Barometer. What Unilever are doing is looking to make their own stand. This is a noble move to make.”

Henry Faure Walker, chief executive of the Packet's publisher Newsquest, responded to Unilever’s Keith Weed in a post on the networking site LinkedIn.

He urged Unilever to back 1XL, the national digital advertising partnership set up by Newsquest and other regional publishers, comprising 800 local news websites across the UK. He said: “If Unilever is genuinely committed to ‘only advertising in responsible platforms that create a positive impact in society’, I give you local news brands: 1XL now reaching over 24 million UK adults a month through #trustedlocalmedia. Let’s talk.”

Newsquest websites are now read by over 70% of the population in many of its towns and cities across the UK.

* Newsquest is running a series of free seminars aimed at guiding businesses through the digital marketing world. The Packet’s event is on Thursday, March 8, at the Greenbank Hotel, Greenbank, Falmouth and includes a free ‘health check’ worth £150.

To book a place, visit