Google Ad Crisis: Consequences For The Digital Marketer

By Colin Brown, Chief Operating Officer, Digilant

‘The Times’ unearthed a massive scandal in digital marketing this March. The British newspaper broke the news on YouTube and Google’s placement of ads alongside content associated with political violence, extremist religious propaganda and other offensive content incongruent with the messages of brands and organizations advertising on the platforms.

Upon discovering this extreme lack of oversight, the United Kingdom suspended all advertising through the search engine until it received a complete guarantee that all necessary filters would be implemented to ensure that the incident wouldn’t repeat itself.

In the following days, the phones in the offices of top ranking executives at Google and YouTube didn’t stop ringing. Huge advertisers followed suit with the British government, halting their advertisements on the platforms. One of the most notable agencies to pull their ad spend from Google was the Havas Group. Havas is responsible for managing nearly 650 million dollars in digital ad spend, of which about 225 million dollars belonged to companies running campaigns in the United Kingdom, such as the BBC, Clarks, Dominos, and Hyundai, among others.

The Mountain View tech giant watched as its shares plummeted in the stock market as everyone from multinational corporations to small independently-owned businesses began withdrawing their advertising budgets from YouTube and other platforms. The list of nearly 300 companies that withdrew their investments included some of the biggest brands in the world, like AT&T, Verizon, and Johnson & Johnson.

The most pressing concern surrounding the search engine’s crisis was the enormous economic blow that resulted from it; according to calculations from global investment group, Nomura, Google could lose more than 7% of its revenue in 2017, which would translate to approximately 750 million dollars. Their earnings totaled 7.8 billion dollars in Great Britain alone in 2016 and that figure will likely be much lower this year.

However, Google rushed to address the concerns of its shareholders, informing their clients that they’re moving forward with the creation of tools to detect and eliminate content related to the defense of terrorism, incitation of violence, xenophobia, homophobia, and all forms of radicalism. Their response to the crisis has at the very least allowed for its stock to recover significantly after reaching rock bottom on March 24th.

Of course, it isn’t easy to control what content is uploaded to YouTube with 300 hours of video being shared every minute. According to the platform’s data, YouTube has around a billion users (a third of the world’s internet users) that watch videos for 3.25 billion hours with billions of plays in only a month’s time, largely attributed to subscriptions to the channels of recognized influencers and other less-famous, but nonetheless noteworthy YouTubers.

Despite the power and influence still held by YouTube, what happened will contribute to a rebalancing of the distribution of global advertising investments. An eMarketer study conducted prior to the scandal estimated that YouTube and Google would receive 60% of the 203 billion dollars in revenue generated from digital ad buying, but actual revenue will very likely fall short of that estimate after news of the crisis was made public by ‘The Times.’  While there is still uncertainty for the future, it’s undeniable that brands that want to relate as fully as possible with their audiences can’t simply remove their ads from YouTube.

Reliable Partners

As is customary, every crisis provides an opportunity to make improvements and the solution lies in technology. There are already formulas, algorithms, and data-driven tools available to prevent ads from ever appearing alongside undesirable content. The players that participate in the intelligence and data-driven digital marketing ecosystem provide sufficient guarantee that an advertiser will almost never see their ads placed with compromising or low-quality content.

In fact, this problem is one that even the most experienced companies have overcome, those that strengthen their services by acquiring secure data and placing ads on guaranteed inventories. Ultimately, it’s the programmatic partners who are the first to be concerned with improving the user experience, ensuring that only relevant and novel advertising is delivered to each user, that brands have the peace of mind that their media budget will be used to place their ads on the sites of reliable publishers. It’s all about generating qualified traffic, which takes brand safety and reputation into consideration so that the brand’s online presence strengthened and values are maintained.

Constantly improving upon existing technologies is a crucial process for programmatic media providers. When well developed and responsibly managed, those technologies allow for advertising in a safe and controlled environment.

At Digilant, we have data solutions that enable clients to control brand safety. Advertisers are becoming increasingly demanding with how and where they advertise and we want to meet their needs. In order to achieve this, we always try to stay a step ahead with transparent processes from the moment we begin working with a client until their campaign is complete. It is crucial that upholding brand reputation remains a key priority for any media buying partner, so that programmatic continues to be the best solution for a business seeking to grow their digital advertising spend.

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