Google Changes Ad Policy to Better Reflect Advertisers’ Brands

After facing months of backlash for unintentionally funding extremists through advertising, Google announced a public apology, along with steps the company is taking to help advertisers avoid ‘objectionable’ content and provide more advertiser control over where ads appear.

“We know advertisers don’t want their ads next to content that doesn’t align with their values,” said Google’s chief business officer Philipp Schindler in a blog post. “So starting today, we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content. This includes removing ads more effectively from content that is attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender or similar categories.”

Google will implement a new ad policy with tools for advertisers to further control their brand, such as changing the default for brands to exclude objectionable content. The company said it will fine-tune the controls for advertisers to exclude specific sites of their choosing. They also said transparency and visibility to advertisers is paramount and, in tandem, with new hires specifically to monitor ads and the ad policy, Google believes these safeguards respect advertiser values and renews its commitment to brand safety.  

This public apology comes after months of advertisers boycotting and retracting YouTube ads in fear of their content being viewed next to extremist or terrorist content. Wagdi Ghoneim’s Youtube channel, for example, featured advertisements from the BBC, Boots and Channel 4. Ghoneim, an Egyptian-Qatari Salafi Muslim preacher, is banned from the UK for provoking and vocally supporting terrorist acts to his 207,000 subscribers. His channel has 31 million views.

Since the story broke in February, over 300 American and UK companies have pulled their ads on Youtube since the story broke in February. According to The Guardian, extremists and hate preachers may have made approximately $318,000 from ads placed alongside Youtube videos.

Andrew Orlowski, staff writer for the UK publication The Register, said in an interview with MediaFile that he believes Google wouldn’t implement a new ad strategy or policy unless it’s threatened with criminal penalties.

“Because Google enjoys such a strong position in the digital advertising market, any change will only come about from a prolonged boycott by advertisers,” Orlowski said.

Google has made an approximately 149,000 dollar cut from advertisers against objectionable content, according to The Guardian. The company uses programmatic advertising to digitally sell and book ad content for YouTube and its other websites. The Guardian explains the process as being similar to Ebay, where publishers have ad inventory available through auction exchanges and brands use ad agencies to bid for slots. The advertiser can buy the type of audience they want to reach, but does not know what that audience is viewing or where it will be viewed. This can lead, and has led, to ads being placed next to inappropriate content that is causing this controversy.

Advertisers that have boycotted so far include AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon Wireless Inc., Honda, Volkswagen, and many more international companies. AT&T, the fourth largest advertiser in the U.S., invests heavily on Google’s video and display advertising network and spent a total of $941.96 million in advertising last year, according to Bloomberg. Their boycott along has serious implications for Google advertising future.

One example shows The Guardian’s advertisement on top of a YouTube video showing ISIS propaganda. (The Times of London)

As YouTube is rapidly growing, this ad controversy could cause monetary losses for Google. Google generated $4.4 billion in fourth-quarter revenues, and Bloomberg estimates that YouTube is a large contributor to that number with billions each year from advertising alone.

Another example shows Walmart’s ad in tandem with extremist group Animal Liberation Front’s video. (The Times of London)

Orlowski said advertisers are driving the outrage against Google’s ad policy, and even though YouTube has come under fire for their ad policy before, the boycott of over 300 companies has pushed the issue to the forefront. Google made programmatic advertising more popular, giving digital advertising a more open market to flourish.

Orlowski, however, said that this model has caused issues before and that Google’s current ad crisis is just a larger-scale of problems that already existed.

“Brands and agencies have been critical of the returns on digital advertising, given the high rate of fraud, and the lack of transparency on ad viewability and where the advertisements go. Most notably Martin Sorrell (WPP) has threatened a return to traditional media,” Orlowski said.

As ad revenues for both Google and the advertiser are at risk, Google must cultivate trust back into their advertising strategy and regain its losses.

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