Google executives are bracing for a two-pronged inquisition from the advertising industry and the British government over the company’s plans to stop advertisements being placed next to extremist material.
A slew of big-name companies, advertising firms and government departments have either pulled their adverts from Google and its YouTube video Web site or are considering whether to do so, with media giant Sky, telecoms group Vodafone and a trio of banks adding their names to a growing list over the weekend.
Matt Brittin, president of Google’s Europe, Middle East and Africa business and operations, is one of two of the company’s executives due to speak at the annual Advertising Week Europe event, attended by major companies in the advertising world.
Sources said Brittin was likely to face a flurry of questions about how ads for major brands ended up attached to videos by extremists, including hate preachers and 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 (US$7.45). Experts estimate this could have been worth £250,000 to extremists.
Brittin was among the first people to address delegates, speaking yesterday 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 French marketing firm Havas, whose clients include O2 and Royal Mail, pulling its advertisements late last week.
Publicis, the world’s third-largest advertising firm, said it was reviewing its relationship with Google and YouTube.
The world’s largest advertising firm WPP, via its media-buying division GroupM, has stopped short of canceling ads, but has written to major clients asking them how they wish to proceed.
GroupM chief digital officer Rob Norman told Sky News that Google should apologize publicly to companies whose reputation has been “compromised.”
In a letter to the company, British Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused the company of “profiting from hatred.”
And senior figures from Google were summoned to the British Cabinet Office last week over concerns that taxpayer-funded advertisements were appearing alongside “inappropriate” YouTube videos. Google executives apologized, but were told to come back to the office this week with a plan and a timetable to remedy the problem.
The decision by Vodafone, Sky, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland to suspend their ads, follows action last week by other major brands including McDonald’s, L’Oreal, Audi, Sainsbury’s, Argos and the BB. Government spending has also been suspended, while Tesco is understood to have “paused” spending on YouTube.
“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 Web sites or content which may be dedicated to offensive themes,” BT said.
While Google is yet to reveal what it plans to do, it is understood that advertisers will be told that they might not be making enough use of existing tools and it will offer to provide advice on how companies can better use these.
The Guardian is among the organizations to have withdrawn its 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 uses an automated system known as programmatic trading.