Going to extremes


May 3, 2017

I was interested to read a few weeks ago that French media group, Havas, had pulled all its spend from Google and YouTube. Why? Because, unlike more traditional media, where both brands and agencies alike can be sure no undesirable content will randomly appear, in the new digital world, ads have increasingly been sitting alongside what can only be described as extremist content.

As an example, an ad for L’Oréal promoting the Prince’s Trust, appeared on a video posted by a hate preacher, whilst the Guardian newspaper discovered that ads for its membership scheme had appeared on videos posted by extremist group Britain First. The UK government has also found that its ads were appearing next to inappropriate content, and, as a result, has temporarily restricted ads from appearing on YouTube.

All of which makes me wonder: should any of this extremist content be visible at all?

Whilst we live in a democracy and all of us have the right to freedom of speech, there should always be a line drawn when it comes to extreme views – particularly when those views incite hatred. That this content can still find its way onto YouTube and other similar online platforms makes me wonder just how stringent Google’s internal procedures actually are… and whether they are perhaps more concerned with profit-making and user numbers than ridding the web of hate speech.

Perhaps this new backlash from advertisers will make them think. But with YouTube now playing such a prominent role in the media plans of so many brands, you do wonder just how many will follow the example set by the Guardian. As David Pemsel, the Guardian’s CEO, puts it, “given the dominance of Google, DoubleClick and YouTube in the digital economy, many brands feel that it is essential to place advertising on the platform… it is therefore vital that the highest standards of openness and transparency are upheld at all times. Measures to avoid advertising misplacement must be taken. It is very clear this is not the case at the moment.”

So, what has been Google’s response? Initially, not that encouraging. The company’s Vice President and MD for the UK and Ireland, Ronan Harris, defended Google’s record on ad viewability and transparency – and said that others must play their part in improving standards. However, he has recently admitted that Google could be doing more, stating that “we can do a better job of addressing inappropriately monetised videos and content” and that “we will be making changes to give brands more control over where their ads appear across YouTube and the Google Display Network”.

Perhaps some signs of positive changes to come, then. But the crucial question for me is, again, should any of this kind of content be appearing at all? Until Google answer that, all brands and advertisers should think twice before using the platform.

by Dave Washer

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