Unilever’s chief digital and commercial officer is on edge: the global internet is changing. But that won’t necessarily make it better. In fact, it could make things worse.
“As we begin to create and invest in the next environment where people spend their time and money, we need to be clear about what we’re building and what we need to prevent – amidst all the hype – to ensure that people don’t. I don’t have a scam-ridden experience,” said the advertiser’s Conny Braams. at an event organized by the World Federation of Advertisers in Athens, Greece, yesterday. “The currency of Web 3.0 is not crypto, it’s trust.” she says.
That is to say, moving to a decentralized version of the Internet, or Web 3.0, is a chance to ditch some of its most dysfunctional elements. A shift from a “winner takes all” mindset to a “community first” mindset. It won’t be easy, of course, given that some of the Internet’s most influential stakeholders have more incentive to change tact than others.
Nevertheless, the lessons learned with hindsight are instructive. Braams described these lessons to Digiday and, more importantly, how they inform Unilever’s approach to building businesses in the real world, social media – and increasingly in virtual environments.
Lessons learned from serving at the pleasure of kings
There are many words that could be used to describe the bogus relationship between the biggest tech companies and the advertisers who fund them, but nothing sums it up as “dysfunctional.” Even when marketers wanted to spend less on big platforms, they didn’t. The reach of these platforms has overshadowed the risks of working with them time and time again. It doesn’t have to be that way in Web 3.0, Braams said. Not if these companies’ stranglehold on rich data is broken. For the first time, it’s a possibility.
“Consumers will own and subsequently have more control over their data,” Braams said. “In turn, they will be able to make more conscious choices about what happens to their data. And it is this heightened awareness that will prevent much of the fallout that we are currently seeing in privacy.
At least that’s the hope. The value of this new internet can easily be confused with the pitfalls of the current one. As Braams pointed out: “The challenges and concerns of today’s consumers will only be amplified in an environment where personal data becomes more personal. Regulation alone is not enough. Self-regulation alone is not enough. Self-control is not enough. »
If knowledge is power, knowing what you don’t know is wisdom
Braams does not treat in absolute terms. She can’t say with any real certainty that Web 3.0 won’t end up in the same mess as its predecessor. She does, however, understand the limits of her knowledge and how it helps her avoid repeating the same mistakes – especially the arbitration problem at the heart of online media. Companies have built trillion-dollar businesses on the idea of sucking up as much consumer data as possible, before packaging it up to sell for a premium. This has given consumers an abundance of content and advertisers unprecedented reach – tech companies have taken advantage of this opportunity.
“I don’t have the authority to know what we need to do specifically to prevent Web 2.0 issues from happening again, but I do know that we’ve learned a lot from all of these unintended consequences,” Braams said. “Not only do we have a clearer view of everything from a data-driven economy to how algorithms process content, but we also know how bad actors can really harm people virtually as well as their lives. life more broadly.”
Take transparency, for example. Big tech isn’t exactly known for being clear about how ads work or where data goes, leaving advertisers like Unilever to fill in the gaps. Trust markets, data clean rooms, and internalization are just a few of the ways the advertiser has tried to achieve this clarity over the years. Expect these attempts to continue into Web 3.0.
Braams elaborated on this point: “We have the power to invest in the solutions and services that we believe are the right ones to build for this new phase of the Internet.”
Sustainable investing was once considered a niche. Now, it’s something marketers can no longer afford to ignore, especially when it comes to the content they fund. The problem is more acute online. Since the emergence of the brand safety crisis in 2017, platforms have let legacy ad verification companies measure their inventory, which has limited campaign insights. In response, companies like Unilever and Heineken have demanded real data from these verification companies, especially to see how they match the standards set by the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM). There is often nothing under the hood, it is thought, beyond a press release. This takes on another dimension in a decentralized internet where the goal is not just to weed out bad actors, but to educate them.
“We’ve learned through initiatives like GARM to understand what we want and don’t want when it comes to working with responsible platforms and within the broader responsible infrastructure,” said Braams. “People want the brands they buy to behave in a more careful and conscious way.”
Can tracking be saved for Web 3.0? The better question might be should it even exist?
Unsurprisingly, Braams isn’t sure either way. There is simply too much uncertainty around the future of tracking to have a clear view of what to do. What she is certain of, however, is the need to experiment with different solutions, from proprietary to contextual identifiers. No player has an edge as marketers like Braams explore all options. Whatever the outcome, data protection will be key, she continued. Otherwise, the advertising industry finds itself in a situation where whole swaths of indirect providers are able to obtain and process huge amounts of personal data in a very opaque environment.
“The personal data we have now as advertisers is usually limited to a few traits we know about people, but with Web 3.0 it becomes so much more,” Braams said. Think about it: the more control people have over data, the more likely they are to share with companies they trust in exchange for a service or product they deem to be of equal value. The concept is quite deep on closer inspection, continued Braams: “More people will start to wonder what they are getting in return for sharing their data. Do they like targeted advertising, for example, or would they prefer a personalized product instead? »
Commerce has undergone irreversible changes over the past few years, slowly moving towards an open economy for creators and buyers. The gap between e-commerce and media platforms has thus narrowed. As Braams explained, “E-commerce platforms give marketers the ability to convert sales and build a brand, while media platforms allow us to do the reverse.”
Yes, this blurring of lines between marketing and sales was in play long before today. But it got to a point where the line was so blurred that retail media became a strategic way to invest in Unilever’s brands, Braams said. The company’s media spend evolves accordingly. “Our investments in retail media are increasing, but we want to ensure that the consumer has a consistent experience across these different transactions.”
The trend has been in full swing for a few years and promises to shift into high gear in Web 3.0. Braams’ tenure is proof of that. His role changed earlier this month from Chief Digital and Marketing Officer to Chief Digital and Commercial Officer.