Google braces for twin assault over ads placed next to extremist content
More questions from MPs as ad industry weighs in Big brands quick to react by pulling advertisements
Google executives are bracing for a twopronged inquisition from the advertising industry and the government over the company’s plans to stop ads being placed next to extremist material.
Many big-name companies, advertising firms and government departments have either pulled their ads from Google and its YouTube video site, or are considering doing so, with the media firm Sky, the telecoms company Vodafone and three banks adding their names to a growing list over the weekend.
The internet group’s European head, Matt Brittin, is one of two Google executives due to speak at the annual Advertising Week Europe event, attended by large companies in the advertising world.
Sources said Brittin was likely to face a flurry of questions about how ads for big brands had ended up attached to videos by extremists including hate preachers and the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The ads help fund payments to the people who post the videos, with every 1,000 clicks worth about £6. Experts estimate this could have been worth £250,000 to extremists.
Brittin will be among the first people to address delegates, speaking today alongside Unilever’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed. Unilever declined to comment on whether it had suspended advertising through Google.
Leading advertising agencies have been quick to react, with the French marketing firm Havas, whose clients include the telecoms company O2 and Royal Mail, pulling its ads late last week.
Publicis, the world’s third-largest advertising firm, said it was reviewing its relationship with Google and YouTube. The largest advertising group, WPP, via its media-buying division GroupM, has stopped short of cancelling ads but has asked clients how they wish to proceed.
GroupM’s chief digital officer, Rob Norman, told Sky News that Google should apologise publicly to companies whose reputation has been “compromised”.
Mark Howe, head of Google’s agencies business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, will also speak at Advertising Week Europe. His responsibilities, according to a company biography, include ensuring that Google “builds lasting and trusted relationships with its customers”. Brittin and Howe will be exposed to questions from advertising luminaries at the start of a week in which Google executives will have to explain themselves in a second meeting about the matter with government ministers.
In a letter to the company, the chair of the home affairs select committee, Yvette Cooper, accused it of “profiting from hatred”.
Last week senior figures from Google were summoned to the Cabinet Office because of concerns that taxpayer-funded ads were appearing alongside “inappropriate” YouTube videos. Google executives apologised but were told to return to the Cabinet Office this week with a plan and a timetable to remedy the problem.
Big advertisers have pulled business from Google in the past week, with Vodafone, Sky, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland becoming the latest to suspend their ads. Other large brands to pull their ads include McDonald’s, L’Oréal, Audi, Sainsbury’s, Argos and the BBC. Government spending has also been suspended. Tesco is understood to have “paused” spending on YouTube. BT said: “We take our responsibilities as an advertiser seriously and have a robust set of safeguards in place to make sure our adverts don’t appear on websites or content which may be dedicated to offensive themes.”
Google is yet to reveal what it plans to do, but it is understood it will offer to provide advice to advertisers on how to make better use of existing tools to prevent unfortunate juxtapositions. It is also expected to take a wider look at how ads are placed, including whether it has put sufficient preventive measures in place.
“We’ve heard from our from our advertisers and agencies loud and clear that we can provide simpler, more robust ways to stop their ads from showing against controversial content,” Ronan Harris, managing director of Google UK, said last week.
The Guardian is among the organisations to have withdrawn advertising. Ads for the Guardian’s membership scheme are understood to have been placed alongside extremist material after an agency acting on the media group’s behalf used Google’s AdX ad exchange, which in turn uses an automated system known as programmatic trading.