Are companies really in control of where their advertising is viewed?

In the past week there has been an avalanche of reports from the UK where Google has lost its leash on its third party advertising placements…resulting in hefty losses, damaged reputation and an uproar of angry companies. And they have every right to be. Google, according to The Guardian, has been documented placing advertisements along side objectionable content including material that promotes terrorism, extremists, hate preaching, rapists apologising and even white nationalist David Duke who is the former Ku Klux Klan leader.

Extremists alongside The Guardian promoting their membership plans.

Neo-Nazis National Rebirth of Poland  placed next to the BBC’s The Last Kingdoms promotion.

As a result companies such as Marks & Spencers, McDonalds, Loreal as well as banks HSBC, Lloyds and big advertising/telecommunication companies AT&T and Verizon have pulled their advertising from Google. AT&T and Verizon who are now challenging Google as an advertising platform.

Now personally I didn’t see the big fuss. Sure if I owned a company I would prefer my brand not being associated with that type of material, but would consumers care? Would it have such an impact to influence consumers purchasing behaviours?  I know for me it wouldn’t. I know that the brands aren’t in any way associated with the videos on YouTube, they are just the necessary checkpoint you have to pass/endure to gain access to that BuzzFeed video you’ve been hanging to see all week…  but for those who are a stranger to the evolution of technology it may cause some confusion. However no matter your stance, Google should of had safeguards for situations like this. Especially when some ads were being placed on unsanctioned sites.

Matt Brittin, Google’s Head Chief of Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Que in the apology statement from Google’s European Chief Matt Brittin who stated, “policies would be revised for identifying inappropriate material”, now hang on, are you telling me the advertisement placement system Google had running wasn’t effective? Were the companies aware of this? Surely when placing advertisements for third parties, your next priority is to decide where those advertisements are going to be placed? Especially when YouTube is mass forum of free speech from all over the world.

The companies that have been effected have now potentially suffered brand damage. Brand damage at the high exposure of 1.3 billion people who use YouTube. Now even if Google does come out with a new algorithm that dictates where your advertisements will be placed and to what sort of content, how do we know its fool proof this time? Will it ever be? Google has been called out to proactively seek inappropriate content… which sounds near impossible.

Google Headquarters in London

The problem is that so much content is being uploaded every day, specifically 300 hours of YouTube content is uploaded every minute according to Statistic Brain. Is it reasonable to expect that every video will be properly screened?  As time goes on technology use will only grow and so will the boundless digital platforms to advertise on. Or is this a risk that digital advertisers will now have to accept?

My advice to companies still wanting to participate in digital marketing advertising  via third parties is this… do your due diligence when selecting an established provider. Design appropriate processes in order to minimise reputation damage if any should occur and most importantly prepare for the risk that one day it may go all wrong. Unfortunately in this day and age we are still working out the kinks and any one of us can fall victim to it.

One thing is for sure… the absence of human involvement in the marketing process, in utilising relevant judgement and market knowledge, has the capability to cause some serious issues.

Check out this interesting read on how to make your brand more human in the ever increasing connectivity to technology!

UPDATE: YouTube is now blocking advertisements from appearing on videos with less than 10,000 views. The idea is that inappropriate videos won’t generate that many views, saving companies from being associated with them. However, this is a temporary fix and will have to wait for a more concrete solution!


5 thoughts on “Are companies really in control of where their advertising is viewed?

  1. Hey,
    Really interesting post, i agree with you that as a consumer I dont really pay attention to the advertising on the side of the page, but if i were the company (paying a lot of money for ads), I’d be pretty pissed off.

    However, as you said, every minute there are hours upon hours of youtube content being uploaded, and it would be impossible to sift through all the content in order to decide where is it acceptable to place an ad.

    I think that even if Google did create a new algorithm, there would still be a few videos that fall through. But at the end of the day Google is trying its best to rectify the issue.

    I think consumers also need to take everything they see online with a little grain of salt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes definitely agree that it will be a challenge for Google to find an effective 100% solution to this, it will be interesting to see what happens… and yeah when you put it like that, I guess I would be pissed spending a few million on advertising for it to be alongside extremists !!


  2. I do agree with you when you say that consumers shouldn’t associate advertisements with content BUT do you think subconsciously this could effect how we see brands at a supermarket or even driving past them? It could be very possible that an extremist party advertisement being shown before a first-person shooter game may influence how I see that game in the future without directly remembering that event.

    However, I am a bit confused – do you think Google should have adjusted their 3rd party advertisements or do you think they should have kept it that way?


    1. Good point, I didn’t think about that it could definitely impact people on a subconscious level. In fact if you see the advertisement associated with that type of material repeatedly I would say it has a high chance of happening…

      Look, I don’t mind the advertisements being alongside that type of objectionable material. However, Google, as an advertising platform should of had foolproof algorithms in the first place to prevent situations like these. But the question now is whether Google can even control this with content constantly growing…


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