Adimo Comment: Why Unilever's latest decision on data is a good move for the industry

April 20, 2022

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FMCG giant ‘raises the bar’ by not collecting or storing data of under 16s, not using ‘kidfluencers’ and limiting influencers that appeal to children.

In a bold move, Unilever has announced it will stop marketing its food and beverages to children under 16 years old, across both traditional media and social media.

The UK-based Marmite and Ben & Jerry’s owner already restricts marketing to children under 13 years old.  Now, Unilever has updated its global principles for responsible marketing to children and will not be targeting children under 16 years old with any marketing.

The deadline for its brands to comply is January 2023. The ban goes further than most global food and beverage industry restrictions which focus on children under 13 years old.

The Magnum ice-cream owner said it “needed to take an even more proactive stance in the field of marketing to kids” as the brand places a greater premium on responsible advertising.  

Its newly-announced plans include not using influencers, celebrities or social media stars who are under the age of 16 or primarily appeal to children under that age.

The FMCG group said it would stop promoting its brands or products in schools, with the exception of participation in educational campaigns when requested.

Unilever’s enhanced principles, which are industry-leading, include:

  • Not targeting children under 16 years old with any marketing or social media communications.
  • Not collecting or storing data on children under 16.
  • Not using influencers, celebrities or social media stars who are under the age of 16 or primarily appeal to children under the age of 16.
  • Providing clear and prominent disclosure of provisions to influencers and limiting child appeal to influencer content.
  • Continuing to refrain from promoting our brands or products in schools, with the exception of participation in educational campaigns, when specifically requested.

Matt Close, President Ice Cream, Unilever said: “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.

“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.”

Will other brands follow?

While the move goes above current standards on data collection, the move from such a significant advertiser could spark similar movies from other brands ahead of tightening regulations across the world. Marketers have been increasing scrutiny for collecting data on children using apps and social media platforms, while facing a growing number of data privacy laws.

Many brands are flocking to the metaverse, virtual online spaces that are popular with kids thanks to services like Roblox and Fortnite. But the metaverse has increased industry concern regarding child safety and privacy, while not having some of the same established safety rules  of digital marketing.

Difficulties in negative targeting: a shift to contextual ads?

Gavin Stirrat, COO, Adimo, said the move “could well indicate an important trend of major, influential brands taking more control of the environments in which their marketing and advertising is experienced.

“It will be interesting to see how their strategy evolves as a result of this decision’, Stiratt continued. “With the imminent demise of third-party cookies making targeting - or negative targeting, as in this case - more difficult on the open web, it could mean they shift spend to run more contextual ads.

“Alternatively, spend may move to the walled gardens, with their authenticated logins. However, with many brands publicly expressing concerns about the divisive impact some platforms are having on society, and their desire to support more diverse high-quality media, this may not align with Unilever’s broader brand objectives. It is also well known that it is easy for under age children to make up a date of birth when they set up social media profiles, to gain access to these sites.

“The answer to this strategic challenge may be to focus on sites where the authenticated login includes a verified date of birth. This is commonly achieved by linking credit or debit card details to the login. As a result, D2C channels and retail media could both be beneficiaries. With eMarketer reporting retail media spend in the US growing by 53.4% in 2020 to $31.49bn, this is already a significant advertising channel. Decisions like this one from Unilever could accelerate this opportunity even further.

“Finally, Unilever and other brands looking to take similar action will inevitably look to increase the influence and conversion from the channels they own, principally their own websites. Historically this was a challenge for FMCG brands, however with new innovations in shoppable media and last mile logistics made easier with new delivery partnerships, this starts to look like a smart strategic move by Unilever. It will be interesting to see how other major FMCG brands respond in the months ahead.”

Voluntary restictions ahead of legislation

In 2003, Unilever was one of the first companies to apply specific measures for the marketing of its food and refreshment products to children, and the company has continued to lead in adopting new and improved principles.

The last major update was in 2020, when Unilever announced it will stop marketing and advertising foods and refreshments to children under the age of 12 in traditional media, and under the age of 13 via social media channels.

Unilever’s marketing and point of sale communications comply with all relevant country laws and regulations, as well as self-regulatory codes. In some countries, including for example the UK and Portugal, existing codes and laws mean that these new principles are already either partially met, fully met or exceeded.

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