There was a great deal on internet chatter over the weekend regarding brands (both major and minor) pulling their ads from YouTube following the revelations from the ongoing investigation from The Times, which found that ads from brands including L’Oréal, the Guardian and the Cabinet Office had been appearing next to extremist content online due to the nature of Google's programmatic advertising algorithms. The investigation found that ads from the aforementioned brands and others had appeared next to extremist content as, as such, were inadvertently funding it. For example, a L’Oréal ad promoting the Prince’s Trust appeared on a video posted by hate preacher Steven Anderson, while the Guardian found ads for its membership scheme on videos posted by Britain First. The government has also found that its ads were appearing next to inappropriate content and, as such, it has temporarily restricted ads from appearing on YouTube and is summoning Google for discussions at the Cabinet Office to “explain how it will deliver the high quality of service that government demands on behalf of the taxpayer.”
“As we are not satisfied that YouTube is currently a safe environment we have removed all Channel 4 advertising from the platform with immediate effect” Dan Brooke, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at Channel 4
As a result of the recent controversies, Channel 4, Transport for London and The Guardian are just a handful of the brand to pull all advertising from YouTube with immediate effect. The ad industry in general has also been more strident in its views. ISBA is now urging Google to “immediately review its policies and controls” on how advertising is placed and. ISBA is calling on Google to immediately withdraw from sale any ad inventory that it cannot guarantee is safe. For example, it suggests Google should review the practice of placing ads immediately against newly-uploaded YouTube content, before it has been classified. Advertisers are also being urged to ensure they have the most stringent policies in place to ensure ads appear in brand safe environment. JICWEBS and the Digital Standard Trading Group certify companies for their online brand safety processes.
“It is vital that Google, DoubleClick and YouTube uphold the highest standards in terms of openness, transparency, and measures to avoid advertising fraud and misplacement in the future” David Pemsel, CEO at The Guardian
Adland also stepped up to the plate in a big way this weekend in the shape of the Havas Group, which noted it would be freezing all YouTube and Google Display Network ad spend until further notice, with CEO Paul Frampton saying it has a “duty of care” to clients to ensure brand safety.
The advertising giant said it had taken the decision on behalf of its UK clients which include O2, Royal Mail, the BBC and Dominos. It will, however, not be pulling investment from Google Search ads which are verified. Havas said the move was a direct result of the latest revelations, and that Google has been unable to provide reassurances and guarantees that their video or display content is classified either quickly enough or with the correct filters.
“We have a duty of care to our clients to position their brands in the right context where we can be assured that that environment is safe, regulated to the degree necessary and additive to their brands' objectives” Havas CEO, Paul Frampton
Whether other agencies follow the lead set by Havas remains to be seen, but last week at the Guardian Media Summit, The&Partnership founder and CEO Johnny Hornby said the tech giants needed to act quickly and stop paying lip service to the issue of ad fraud in particular. WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell also used the panel at an IPA event last week as a platform to lay into Google's UK & Ireland boss Ronan Harris concerning the responsibility of companies such as Google and Facebook when it comes to setting the standard for measurement errors and ad fraud, with the advertising mogul claiming that he felt the major digital players were “not doing enough.” We reported last week how Harris defended the company’s record on ad viewability and transparency and insisted that other stakeholders in the digital economy must play their part in improving standards.
“Whatever Google’s editorial policy, advertising should only be sold against content that is safe for brands” Phil Smith, ISBA’s Director General
However, in a more recent blog post, Harris has admitted that he feels Google could be doing more. The post explains: “We know we can and must do more. We’ve heard from our advertisers and agencies loud and clear that we can provide simpler, more robust ways to stop their ads from showing against controversial content. While we have a wide variety of tools to give advertisers and agencies control over where their ads appear, such as topic exclusions and site category exclusions, we can do a better job of addressing the small number of inappropriately monetised videos and content.We’ve begun a thorough review of our ads policies and brand controls, and we will be making changes in the coming weeks to give brands more control over where their ads appear across YouTube and the Google Display Network. We are committed to working with publishers, advertisers and agencies to address these issues and earn their trust every day so that they can use our services both successfully and safely.”
We'll be providing more on this story as and when it breaks, because I get the feeling this one is going to run and run!
Neil Eatson, CEO and Founder at Appraise Digital
The news that brands including Channel 4, L'Oréal and the Guardian have pulled their advertising from YouTube highlights the need for robust, third-party regulation in the media industry. Advertising giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have been making a more concerted effort to implement measures to promote brand safety, but with the sheer volume of content on the internet, they can’t get it right all the time. In vetting their own content, these companies are essentially marking their own homework. Instead, we’re in great need of a completely neutral body to moderate the industry, protecting advertisers, media agencies and consumers alike. Who should lead this group? Definitely not Facebook, or Google. At a minimum, this needs to be IAB led, if not government too.
In the meantime, brands and agencies need to work together to make sure that all involved parties know where adverts are being placed, and at what costs. For advertisers, knowing how and why your cash is being spent today requires both a deep technical knowledge and the time to investigate it thoroughly. The first step is to question everything in the technology stack, then take back ownership of the problem. A marketer armed with the correct knowledge and insights will always arrive at the right outcome for their business.
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.