Google has apologised for allowing ads to appear alongside offensive videos on YouTube as more high-profile firms pulled their advertising for British markets from Google sites.
The British government has suspended its advertising on YouTube after some public sector ads appeared next to videos carrying homophobic and anti-semitic messages, prompting a flood of major companies to follow suit.
Marks & Spencer, Vodaphone, Sky and several leading high street banks were the latest in a string of firms to pull the plug on their Google advertising.
We take responsibility
At the annual Advertising Week Europe event in London on Monday March 20, Matt Brittin, Google’s head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “You have probably read stories about brands appearing next to content. I want to start by saying sorry and we take responsibility for it”.
He said the company was working on ways to improve its ad placement system, admitting: “Clearly we need to do more on that.”
But he would not say if it would actively seek out inappropriate material on its sites.
Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and chief executive of WPP, which is the world’s largest advertising firm, feels Google should do more. He said: “They can’t sit there and say we are digital engineers and are not responsible. They are responsible and get on and accept it and police it properly.”
“We have always said Google, Facebook and others are media companies and have the same responsibilities as any other media company. They cannot masquerade as technology companies, particularly when they place advertisements,” Sorrell added.
Duty of care
French advertising giant Havas, whose UK clients include O2, EDF and Royal Mail, was the first to temporarily withdraw its advertising from YouTube and Google on Friday March 17. The company is reported to spend about 201.6 euros million annually on digital advertising.
Havas made the decision after talks with Google bore little fruit.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted the company’s UK chief executive, Paul Frampton, as saying Google had been: “Unable to provide specific reassurances, policy 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 in the UK marketplace 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. Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platform and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect,” he added.
At the advertising industry event on Monday, Michael Roth, CEO of Interpublic Group said: “It is important they make a concerted effort that the adverts are not presented next to offensive material.”
Clicks mean cash
The proceeds from the ads literally lines hate preachers’ pockets with every 1,000 clicks bringing them about seven euros. Other beneficiaries reportedly included a controversial Islamist preacher banned from the UK.
In a letter to Google, Yvette Cooper, who chairs the UK Home Affairs Select Committee, accused the company of “profiting from hatred”.
Google has been called to the UK Cabinet Office for a second time and will appear later this week following reports that UK government adverts had also appeared next to ‘inappropriate material’.
A government spokeswoman said: “Digital advertising is a cost-effective way for the government to engage millions of people in vital campaigns such as military recruitment and blood donation.
“Google is responsible for ensuring the high standards applied to government advertising are adhered to and that adverts do not appear alongside inappropriate content. We have placed a temporary restriction on our YouTube advertising pending reassurances from Google that government messages can be delivered in a safe and appropriate way.
“Google has been summoned for discussions at the Cabinet Office to explain how it will deliver the high quality of service government demands on behalf of the taxpayer.”
Given that the bulk of Google’s 69.7 billion euros revenue in 2015 came from its proprietary advertising service, Google AdWords, it certainly seems to be in the company’s best interests to heed calls for an overhaul in its advertising practices.
Who has paused their ads?
The companies include O2, EDF, Royal Mail, Vodafone, Sky, HSBC, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland, McDonald’s, L’Oréal, Audi, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Argos, the BBC, the Guardian and the British government.
theregister</a>:<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Google?src=hash">#Google</a> promises policy review after big brands pull <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/YouTube?src=hash">#YouTube</a> ads <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/advertising?src=hash">#advertising</a> <a href="https://t.co/6D6ChoIgOJ">https://t.co/6D6ChoIgOJ</a></p>— Roberto Re (RobRe62) March 20, 2017