Home Lifestyle Receipes ‘Control in a digi-ecosystem is very hard’: Can Unilever deliver its pledge to end marketing to kids?

‘Control in a digi-ecosystem is very hard’: Can Unilever deliver its pledge to end marketing to kids?

‘Control in a digi-ecosystem is very hard’: Can Unilever deliver its pledge to end marketing to kids?

Unilever has said it will stop marketing its brands to children under the age of 16 across both traditional and social media. The company stated that this puts it ahead of most regulations governing advertising to children worldwide.

Enhanced marketing principles include promises not to target under 16s with ‘any marketing or social media communications’. Unilever’s entire food and beverage portfolio will be affected, including ice cream. Unilever has stopped promoting brands in schools unless they are invited to participate in educational programs. And in 2020 the company said it will stop marketing foods and refreshments to children under the age of 12 in traditional media and under the age of 13 in social channels. This update is the most significant and challenging. It focuses on the company’s digital efforts.

From January 2023, Unilever will not collect or store data on under 16s. It will no longer use influencers or celebrities who are either under 16 or whose ‘primary appeal’ is to children and it will provide ‘clear and prominent disclosure’ of provisions to influencers, limiting child appeal to influencer content. The commitment includes online behavioural targeting of those under 16 years old as this is a form of online targeted advertising, FoodNavigator understands.

“Recognising the power that social media and influencer marketing can have on children’s choices, we believe it’s important to raise the bar on responsible marketing to a minimum age of 16 years old across both traditional and social media,” Unilever’s President of ice cream Matt Close said.

“By making these changes, our goal is to continue to reduce children’s exposure to advertising from the food and beverage industry, and instead support parents to select appropriate treats, to be enjoyed from time to time.”

But, in the digital world where brands only have so much control over who is exposed to their content, is this easier said than done? Adam Freeman (Managing Partner, digital marketing agency MediaVision) said that Unilever must overcome certain challenges to fulfill its commitment to this goal.

“Control for a brand in a digi-ecosystem is very hard. Unilever is saying there is a difference between active and passive advertising… They are going to make active changes to how their brands interact with families,” Freeman suggested.

GettyImages-Solshock school children kids teens

Can Unilever control the audience that its advertising reaches online? / Pic: GettyImages-Solshock

Digital advertising is ‘like the Wild West’

Perhaps the biggest challenge that Unilever faces is the fact that digital advertising, targeting and data collection – in many ways the entire digital ecosystem – is relatively unregulated, uncontrolled and – until recently at least – unscrutinised compared to the physical sphere.

“From an industry point of view, [digital advertising] is like the Wild West… The internet is the only place in our world where kids are treated the same as adults,” Freeman observed. This is difficult. Although GDPR is available in the EU, it’s not applicable to consumers elsewhere in the world .” Big tech companies such as Apple and Google have been adjusting their tracking and targeting policies. Apple now offers users the option to opt-out of their activities being tracked. Google has adjusted its cookie policy. In June last year, Google said it will phase out third party cookies from Google Chrome by late 2023. According to the tech giant, the decision should be made as part of efforts by the web community to create ‘open standards’ that will ‘fundamentally improve privacy on the internet’. This would give people greater transparency and control over the use of their data.

“Third-party cookies are often used by marketers and advertisers to track users’ activity across multiple sites, to better understand their behaviour and preferences, as well as to create tailored, relevant advertisements,” D aniel Schmidt, biz dev and FMCG Director at loyalty solution provider Loylogic told FoodNavigator recently . ” Food and beverage companies risk being completely disconnected from customers.”

This is certainly an important shakeup in marketing. Freeman doubts that the changes made will protect children from unwanted advertising. “Big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple do nothing that doesn’t help their own business model… Platform owners have the biggest opportunity and have done the least to control the content children are exposed to online.”

In this context, he applauds Unilever’s efforts. This is an excellent, courageous, and sensible decision. With their scale of investment, they can make a real difference,” he told us.

Building and deepening relationships through content and education

Unilever spends around EUR7 billion a year on advertising its brands, according to financial disclosures. FoodNavigator has learned that Unilever does not intend to cut its marketing budget.

Unilever will have to make significant changes to the way it spends its cash in order to fulfill its promise to stop advertising to children. According to an insider, the Walls-toMagnum company will change how it interacts with various target audiences to “ensure brand growth is always delivered upon foundations of responsible advertising”.

GettyImages-Pauws99 - Unilever Wall's ice cream

Unilever will stop directly advertising its ice cream brands to kids / Pic: GettyImages-Pauws99

Freeman suggested that this will come back to active and passive choices. Context as an advertising strategy is returning in a world of targeted advertising that is becoming more difficult. Context is the content that you use to promote your brand. It’s an option for brands. The company has some control over organic search results. It can upgrade and downgrade different brands in order to reach the right audiences.

Unilever’s dependence on other channels – such as gaming sites and third-party apps – means that the company is working closely with its partners to encourage and promote better processes for accurate targeting. FoodNavigator is aware of this. Freeman, on the other hand, believes that Unilever must limit its partnerships in order to fulfill its promises.

Freeman believes that Unilever will invest more in digital channels. This includes educational channels for parents, and areas where the group has the ability to build relationships, such as subscription services, clubs and delivery.

The interesting thing about this is that advertising targeting children should not be viewed as selfish. This strategic change aligns with wider industry trends and Unilever’s overall strategy to create brands “with purpose”. The brands are rich with meaningful stories, such as Hellmann’s work on food waste and Ben and Jerry’s deforestation efforts. These complex stories can be communicated in compelling ways to allow Unilever brands connect with diverse audiences and create deeper relationships with customers.

Explaining the value Unilever is adding to the communities it serves is a clear-cut loyalty opportunity.


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