Unilever is to ramp up its digital marketing strategy, in a move that could see the start of a further shift in fmcg activity to the web.

The company has become the first major advertiser to sign up to Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings, with nearly 40 brands, including the likes of Ben and Jerry’s, Lipton and Dove. The new service measures the effectiveness of online campaigns.

If successful, the alliance looks certain to see Unilever switch more of its advertising online.

Nielsen’s system, due to be rolled out in the UK in the next year, combines traditional-style audience panel interviews with a hi-tech new pixel-tracking system that can detect when a particular display or video advertisement is shown in a browser.

“In our business, we look for the best marketing return on investment and the best tools to gauge that,” said Jennifer Gardner, director, media investment and partnerships at Unilever. “The Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings platform is an exciting resource that brings a more rigorous standard to our online campaigns and consistency in measurement strategy across our portfolio of brands. We are excited to be at the forefront of the industry, taking full advantage of this new standard to help us more exactly understand and interact with our audiences online.”

Despite a massive shift of fmcg spend to online already, the sector has suffered from a lack of established currencies, unlike more traditional media such as TV.

However, last year a report by GFK claimed the return on investment for online activity was more effective than any of the main traditional sectors. It found the average return on £1 of marketing investment in television, press and outdoor in short-term sales ranged from £0.53 to £0.66, while the ROI for online was £0.75.