UK advertisers split over ending YouTube boycott after brand safety scandal

While some brands such as McDonald’s and RBS have resumed spending on YouTube, the majority including M&S, Tesco and Pepsi have not as they wait for ‘guarantees’ from Google.

marks & spencer
Marks & Spencer is one of the brands yet to return ad spend to YouTube

UK advertisers including Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Pepsi are still withholding ad spend from YouTube despite moves by its parent company Google to allay marketers’ concerns over brand safety.

The majority of brands that have spoken to Marketing Week have said that while they are “encouraged” by Google’s attempts to make the way it serves ads on YouTube more transparent and to provide better guarantees, they still need more before they resume advertising.

Dan Brooke, Channel 4’s chief marketing and communications officer, tells Marketing Week that the brand “remains extremely concerned” and that it does not yet feel “adequate assurances” are in place.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer’s marketing boss Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne recently told Marketing Week that the retailer “will not be going back” until it “confirmed and solidified protection. Aviva, Tesco and Pepsi have also confirmed that they are still withholding spend.

“The situation remains unchanged at present; we are not advertising on You Tube. We continue to discuss the issues involved with the relevant advertising partners.”

Update 12 May: Toyota has also said it is still withholding spend while Nestle says it has nothing has changed in its approach although it has no further comment. A Toyota spokesman says: “The situation remains unchanged at present; we are not advertising on You Tube. We continue to discuss the issues involved with the relevant advertising partners.”

Google has made a number of moves to try to allay marketers’ worries after an investigation by The Times found ads from big brands were appearing next to unsavoury or illegal content posted by groups including terrorists, white supremacists and pornographers.

For example, it has restricted where ads appear so they are only served if a creator or channel has more than 10,000 views. It has also hired people to help monitor the site for content that advertisers might not want to appear next to and introduced new rules so content is more likely to appear in genres and channels that are brand safe. It has also promised third-party verification.

However, David Wheldon, president of the WFA, which represents the interests of brand marketers, says Google’s issues remain an issue globally, as evidenced by discussions taking place at its recent event in Toronto. He expects this to remain the case “until the digital duplicity stops”.

And Phil Smith, director general at UK trade body ISBA, says while its members have welcomed the steps Google has taken, they still need evidence that those efforts are having a positive impact.

The marketers that have returned to YouTube

Not all advertisers are as worried, however. McDonald’s has confirmed to Marketing Week that it is back advertising with YouTube. “In line with other major advertisers, we have resumed marketing via this channel after changes had been made and further reassurances provided regarding the filtering of inappropriate and unacceptable content.”

Wheldon, who is also CMO at RBS Group, says his brand has “mostly returned” its spend, having been encouraged by Google’s response, although he cautions that there is still more for Google to do. Johnson & Johnson is also understood to have returned to YouTube, according to AdAge.

Marketers’ view

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of customer, marketing and M&, Marks & Spencer
We are not going back [to Google or YouTube] until they have basically confirmed and solidified the guarantees and protection that are required not just for our brand but many others too. There is rightfully still a lot of sensitivity in the marketing community around Google and The Times investigation. Google is progressing nicely with their changes, but they are not quite there yet. There is clearly still a little bit of ground they need to cover.

Dan Brooke, chief marketing and communications officer, Channel 4
We remain extremely concerned about Channel 4 advertising being placed alongside highly offensive material on YouTube. We have yet to receive adequate enough assurances from Google that it is a safe environment and until that time we will continue to take advantage of other platforms for our advertising.

Phil Smith, director general, ISBA
ISBA has welcomed the steps that Google is taking to address these issues. For our members to feel assured that YouTube is a platform on which they can advertise effectively and safely, they need evidence from Google that its actions are having a positive impact. Our members are looking for clear metrics, which demonstrate the effectiveness of its measures. They look forward to the promised integration of third-party verification and would like to see progress towards allowing the introduction of third-party vetting tools.

David Wheldon, CMO, RBS
We’ve mostly returned [our ad spend] because Google has responsed well in terms of the primary issue around brand safety and making sure they take steps to make sure brands are as safe as they can be. White listing, making sure they take bad stuff down fast, reacting to incoming [content] faster than they did before – you need to give them full credit for those changes. But Google still needs to be more cautious around where our brand goes and who they share it with.

There are still many others who are not entirely confident they have fixed everything on Youtube and are still proceeding with caution. If I put my WFA hat on then I was recently in Toronto and it was clear when I got there that this remains a global advertising issue. It will remain that way until this digital duplicity stops.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Hobbs and Leonie Roderick

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