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Brands and Media Agencies Send Google an Ultimatum: Evolve or Else

26 March 2017

 

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By Patrick Coffee

 

“Google’s next step is simple: they must acknowledge that they cannot grade their own homework.”

That’s one top media agency executive’s take on the scandal that has threatened to engulf the search and video giant over the past few days after AT&T, Verizon, J&J and pharma giant GSK became the latest big brands to pull all advertising from YouTube over disagreements on controversial content—including videos supporting terrorist groups like ISIS.

A fight years in the making

“This is not a new topic,” said David Cohen, North American president of IPG’s strategic global media unit Magna. “I’ve been talking about brand safety in the digital space for 20 years.”

In other words, YouTube and other user-driven platforms have always hosted offensive content. So why did the problem come to a head now?

According to a media executive, who spoke to Adweek on condition of anonymity due to client sensitivities, “We’d just hit the tipping point where most advertisers believed” that YouTube had become as essential as broadcast television when the latest screenshots of ads running over extremist videos brought the house of cards tumbling down.

Developments in advertising technology also played a key role. “The programmatic world is evolving so quickly that tech is moving faster than humans can manage it,” said Melissa Lea, U.S. managing director at global consultancy R3.

When asked about YouTube’s crisis on the final day of the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, Denise Colella, svp of ads at NBC Universal, called programmatic “a double-edged sword,” adding, “There is a lot of efficiency and automation to be had, but then there’s also the danger of open market places.”

NBCU only uses private marketplaces, which are seen as less risky.

"This was the 'jump the shark' moment for Google in terms of going from tech to media."
-Landor chief strategy officer Thomas Ordahl

Backed into a corner

Google has adopted a defensive posture while other platforms address the problem in their own ways. Instagram, for example, just announced a two-factor authentication process that covers suspect photos or videos with a screen after the company’s review team has “confirmed they are sensitive.”

To date, Google has issued non-specific statements to media outlets, a pair of blog posts meant to reassure advertisers and an email sent to key industry players like IPG that elaborated on planned policy changes.

“Their post was pretty light in terms of details,” said Cohen, who expects the “Don’t Be Evil” company to announce a comprehensive round of updates focused on increasing its algorithms’ sensitivities to offensive content as early as next week. Regarding the aforementioned email, he added, “I think, had they implemented these changes, that 90 percent of the placement of ads in non-safe environments over the past month could have been prevented.”

One longstanding issue, however, has yet to be resolved. “We are pushing them hard to allow third party companies into the Google ecosystem—not to report after the fact, but as a preventative measure,” Cohen told Adweek, referencing providers like DoubleVerify. “That is not available today.”

Source: www.adweek.com