Google apologises and promises to accelerate review after ad controversy

Google EMEA president Matt Brittin has committed to improving control and enforcement after ads were found next to extremist content on YouTube, but Unilever’s marketing boss says brands must also take responsibility.

Google will focus on improving its policies, simplifying controls for advertisers and beefing up its enforcement as it accelerates its review into brand safety concerns.

Speaking today (20 March) at Advertising Week Europe, president of Google EMEA Matt Brittin said the search giant wants to “raise the bar” for safe advertising by improving three key aspects of the service.

“Within YouTube and the Google display network we need to consider, what do we categorise as being safe for advertising? So we’re reviewing those policies and looking at how we define hate speech and inflammatory content,” said Brittin.

“We also found in some cases advertisers had the controls, but weren’t fully using them as they are quite granular. If the controls are there, but they’re too complex that’s our problem. So we’re simplifying the controls and looking to set the defaults to a higher level of safety.”

When I’ve had conversations with some of the advertisers, generally I’ve found it’s only a handful of impressions and pennies not pounds.

Matt Brittin, Google

The third aspect being targeted for improvement is enforcement. Brittin stated that millions of dollars was being invested in “thousands of people” whose job it is to ensure “bad advertising” does not slip through the net.

“Within 24 hours, 98% of flagged content is reviewed, but we can go further and faster, and expedite more in that respect,” Brittin stated.

“On YouTube we took 300 million videos out of ad monetisation because they weren’t appropriate for advertising last year, and 100,000s of sites out of the AdSense network. So we’re always looking at how we can make that safer and clearly we need to do more.”

READ MORE: Google under fire as brands pull advertising and ad industry demands action

To date a slew of high-profile brands have pulled spend from Google over fears their advertising was running on sites promoting hate and extremism. Over the weekend Vodafone, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) joined the growing list, which already includes McDonald’s, L’Oreal, Audi, the BBC, Sainsbury’s and Argos.

Tesco is also thought to have “paused” spending on YouTube and today Marks & Spencer confirmed to Marketing Week it was pausing activity across Google platforms to ensure brand safety.

These global brands join Havas UK, which on Friday became the first major global marketing company to pull its display ad spend from Google and YouTube.

Issue impacts ‘pennies not pounds’

While apologising to any brands concerned that their advertising had appeared next to extreme content, Brittin was keen to play the issue down.

“I want to start by saying sorry. We apologise when anything like that happens and we take responsibility for it.

“When I’ve had conversations with some of the advertisers, generally I’ve found it’s only a handful of impressions and pennies not pounds. But – however small or big the issue – we need to improve and get better.”

When asked whether the cost incurred by brands pulling ad spend from Google had run into the tens of millions, Brittin responded by saying he was not interested in the financial impact.

“To be honest I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in making sure our products and services work well, and we get that right in the short, medium and long term.

“And I think it’s entirely right for advertisers to look at what’s going on and make their own decisions informed by the facts, as well as what they read in the press.”

Sharing the stage with Brittin, Unilever global CMO Keith Weed confirmed that the FMCG giant has not pulled ad spend from Google, but that it is monitoring the situation.

“Don’t think for a second we’re not having the right conversations, we’re just having the right conversations among ourselves,” he said.

“We haven’t suspended advertising here in the UK on YouTube because we’re tracking the situation, where it is right now, and we will follow it. I will make whatever decision I want to do as and when, but we have not yet been affected here.”

Brands must take responsibility

On the issue of raising standards, Weed advised brands and agencies to address the big issues collectively in order to make a difference.

“I think from a brand owner, marketer or advertiser perspective we need to smarten up as well. So I’m every bit for holding Google, Facebook or Twitter accountable, but we also need to hold ourselves accountable for using the tools that are at our disposable,” said Weed.

He pointed to programmatic as a sector where brands often race to buy the cheapest, rather than focusing on tying down ad fraud and working hard not to leave their brand exposed.

READ MORE: Google claims its third-party verification is ‘best in class’ as it launches new ad features

While he welcomed more voices joining the ad fraud, brand safety and viewability debate, Weed urged the industry to agree on the standard it is aiming for, particularly with regard to online viewership.

“A view is a 100% view. The idea that the standard could be 50% of the pixels for two seconds is extraordinary. It would be like me explaining to a friend we sold 100 PG Tips, but when you opened it you found 50. Bizarre,” he said.

“It doesn’t pass the common sense test, so how can we as an industry say we are willing to pay for 50% of the pixels? Would you buy a TV ad with half of it covered up? The standard we are going for is a common sense standard. So I’m all for more voices coming into this, but at the right level. I want to keep the bar up and pull the standards of the industry up.”