Big advertisers leave YouTube after campaigns appear next to offensive content: Do SMEs need to worry about ad placement?

Advertisers are leaving YouTube in droves after it was found their advertisements were inadvertently appearing next to offensive or disturbing video content.

Car manufacturer Holden has suspended its programmatic advertising on the platform, telling Fairfax it “in no way supports the content our advertising has been inadvertently associated with by Google”, after reports its promotional materials appeared alongside a video featuring a mens’ rights activist which included insults towards businesswoman Ita Buttrose.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks, Verizon and AT&T are just some of the major US names that have pulled their digital advertising on Google’s video sharing platform, reports

Advertisements from these companies and many others have reportedly been appearing alongside inappropriate, racist, or disturbing content on the platform.

For SMEs advertising on the popular website, one expert advises to stay vigilant and be ready to pull advertising spend, but notes this can be par for the course when advertising on third party websites.

SMEs shouldn’t be afraid to take down ads

Jessica Humphreys, director at digital communications firm Social Concepts, tells SmartCompany there’s a “need for concern” when SMEs advertise on third party sites, and believes advertisers should take the lead from companies like Holden.

“You don’t want your ads next to content not aligned with your business’ values. Take a lesson from the bigger companies and be ready to pull your advertising spend,” Humphreys says.

Humphreys believes most consumers are savvy enough to know it’s not the business presenting the views shown in the associated videos, but acknowledges there will always be an outspoken handful looking to “make a big splash”.

“It’s important not to panic. Be aware of what’s going on, and assess the risk to your brand,” she says.

Google is currently looking for a solution to the issue, however, chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet Eric Schmidt told Fox Business last week the company “can’t guarantee” the issue won’t keep happening.

“We can’t guarantee it, but we can get pretty close,” Schmidt said.

“We match ads and the content, but because we source the ads from everywhere, every once in a while somebody gets underneath the algorithm and they put in something that doesn’t match.”

Account-level controls a must

Humphreys says the platform is looking at implementing account-level custom controls for advertisers to make it easier for them to exclude sites and channels from serving their ads.

“They need these account-level controls as the blanket approach doesn’t work, it needs to be customised,” she says.

In a blog post from Google’s chief business officer Philipp Schindler, he explains the company is also revisiting its policies and implementing further safeguards for advertisers.

“We have strict policies that define where Google ads should appear, and in the vast majority of cases, our policies and tools work as intended. But at times we don’t get it right,” Schindler writes.

“I wanted to share that we’ve already begun ramping up changes around three areas: our ad policies, our enforcement of these policies and new controls for advertisers.”

These controls include the ability for brands to “fine tune” where their ads appear and methods to make it easier to exclude specific sites from serving their ads.

For advertisers wanting to act quickly if they find their ads alongside inappropriate content, Humphreys advises the first point of action should be to pull the advertising spend.

“If you’ve had clients or customers contact you about the situation, make a public statement outlining that your brand is not associated with the values shown in the content,” she says.

“There shouldn’t be any long-term impact as long as you act quickly and make it clear you don’t support the messages being sent.”

SmartCompany contacted YouTube but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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5 years ago

How can people be that stupid?

It’s not that (if I work for Coles) my Coles advert is next to a terrorist video that I am watching. It’s because I work for Coles, or I have an interest in supermarkets, or looked at some fresh meat adverts or web sites recently.

The advert shown is related to the viewer, not to the content being viewed.

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