Google Responds After The Guardian and BBC Pull Advertising

The perils of programmatic

When The Guardian decided yesterday to pull all of its ads from Google and YouTube in response to the discovery that its ads were sharing space with what The Guardian’s Jane Martinson described as “extremist material,” Guardian chief executive David Pemsel said that the publication would keep its ads off those platforms until Google could “provide guarantees that this ad misplacement via Google and YouTube will not happen in the future.”

The Guardian, who noted that the problem was coming from advertising placed through Google’s AdX service, was not the only organization to make that decision. The UK government, the BBC and Britain’s Channel 4 have all pulled their advertising since yesterday after discovering the very disturbing glitches in programmatic advertising’s automated ad placement process.

Here, from The Times, is a sample of where their ads had been showing up:

David Duke, the American white nationalist, Michael Savage, a homophobic “shock-jock”, and Steven Anderson, a pastor who praised the killing of 49 people in a gay nightclub, all have videos variously carrying advertising from the Home Office, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, Transport For London and the BBC.

Mr Anderson, who was banned from entering Britain last year after repeatedly calling homosexuals “sodomites, queers and faggots”, has YouTube videos with adverts for Channel 4, Visit Scotland, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Argos, Honda, Sandals, The Guardian and Sainsbury’s.

Google U.K.’s managing director, Ronan Harris, responded in a post today, writing that Google “invest[s] millions of dollars every year and employ thousands of people to stop bad advertising practices,” but acknowledged that, “with millions of sites in our network and 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, we recognize that we don’t always get it right.”

While he wrote that the issue applied to a “very small percentage of cases,” The Guardian’s Rupert Neate, relying on figures provided by marketing experts, set the minimum amount that purveyors of hate speech have earned from YouTube ads at $318,000.

Harris noted that Google does provide advertisers with options for selecting specific topics and categories to avoid when displaying their ads, which includes a YouTube-specific “sensitive social issues” category described on the AdWords Help page as including “discrimination and identity relations, scandals and investigations, reproductive rights, firearms and weapons, and more.”

Harris promised to examine Google’s ad policies ultimately aimed at providing companies with a greater say in ad placement on YouTube and Google, writing:

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 monetized 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.

The momentum on the ad withdrawal is not limited to the UK, with French advertising company Havas Worldwide, which has a significant amount of British business, also announcing it won’t be spending money on Google ads in the UK.