News

POV: Google and YouTube Brand Safety

Background

There have been multiple reported brand safety issues relating to advertising adjacencies on Google / YouTube and other sites. In short, brands have found their advertisements connected with hate speech and offensive content that they would wish to avoid being associated with their brands. Worse, due to model operated by YouTube and other sites, these ads are financially supporting the organisations creating the offensive content. These issues are currently reported as related to advertising through Google’s UK operations.

Details and Implications

YouTube is un-curated. It deploys brand safety technology but it is not infallible. While brand adjacencies to bad content are minimal, however horrible, an additional immediate issue in respect of brand reputation is the featuring of these instances in media with far wider reach than the concerning adjacency itself. The recent issues have been covered widely by The Times, The Guardian, BBC, Sky, The Financial Times, The Independent, The Sun, Wall Street Journal and many more national, international and trade publications in the UK and beyond.

In response to this issue, many advertisers have chosen to withdraw or pause their investments in Google and YouTube until there is more clarity over the situation. GroupM is not currently advising the withdrawal of advertising from Google / YouTube, but has been vocal, along with WPP, in pushing for more responsibility over the issue from the major digital platforms.

Sir Martin Sorrell has spoken widely about the need for more responsibility to be taken by the major digital platforms: "I think the most constructive way of doing it is getting Google and Facebook to understand the problem, which I think they do, and to get them to step up to control it just like any other media right now would in a traditional sense,” he told CNBC.

Matt Brittin, Google’s head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, apologised to the assembled audience (and those watching online) at Advertising Week Europe in London. Watch the Ad Week Europe session here.

Today (March 21st 2017), Google’s Chief Business Officer Philip Schindler announced in a blog post (https://blog.google/topics/ads/expanded-safeguards-for-advertisers/) Google’s intention to tighten controls and improve systems. We will update our guidance to clients as soon as details are known.

Summary

Digital advertising on platforms where content is user-generated and not curated has inherent brand safety risks. GroupM vigorously pursues every brand safety precaution and technology available to mitigate these risks, and we encourage all clients to make use of these tools.

At the highest levels, we have communicated with Google, Facebook, Snapchat and other partners to encourage their development of solutions. However, a 100% foolproof system may not be possible. It’s important that brands know this and proceed with caution – as well as with available safety tools.