Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually on digital advertising in the UK, with Goggle and YouTube raking in a huge chunk of it. But brands are finding their ads on sites with white supremacist material or pornography, and in jihadist recruitment videos on YouTube. That is not the bang for their buck that advertisers intended to pay for.
Havas clients alone spend nearly $190 million, and they, along with other ad giants, pulled all their advertising from Google and YouTube. Over 250 companies have suspended advertising on the two platforms. Now it looks as though the issue has crossed the pond, with AT&T and Verizon said to be pulling their ads as well.
The UK Cabinet Office demanded Google come in for a visit after the government found its own ads placed next to extremeist content, saying “Google has been summoned for discussions at the Cabinet Office to explain how it will deliver the high quality of service government demands on behalf of the taxpayer.”
The digital advertising industry is rife with fraud. An estimated 30% of digital ad spend is fraudulent - fake clicks generated by bots. According to a new study commissioned by WPP, that will amount to about 16.4 billion wasted dollars in 2017. That's a whole lot of money to pay for advertising that no one even sees.
Now brands are realizing that some of the genuine clicks and views originate from neo nazi, homophobic, or anti-semitic sites. YouTube is even worse, where ads run inside or in between back to back videos. Sandals Resorts ads were placed in ISIS videos. How incongrouous is THAT?
Advertisers are horrified to see their brands associated with such content. And ofcourse those ad dollars are wasted - not too many ISIS fighters are booking a romantic getaway at Sandals. Mercedes is another brand spotted in jihadist videos, and while jihadi fighters may enjoy driving a Mercedes, they aren't going to the dealership and purchasing one.
Not only are advertisers wasting their money, they are FUNDING TERRORISM. When someone views a video, they see the ads that are playing in it. The owner of the video gets paid every time someone plays the video. Also paid, of course, are Google and YouTube.
Brands and their agencies in the UK have been calling for an overhaul of practices by Google, YouTube, and Facebook to guarantee that the strict guidelines for ad placement will be adhered to. A recent investigation by the UK newspaper The Times put a spotlight on the situation, with their piece "Big brands fund terror through online adverts".
The Times notes that "An advert appearing alongside a YouTube video, for example, typically earns whoever posts the video $7.60 for every 1,000 views. Some of the most popular extremist videos have more than one million hits."
Digital advertising is an enormously complex business, growing exponentially more complicated as the process becomes almost entirely automated. Automated buying and selling of advertising means that advertisers have little control over where their ads appear, despite Googles assurances that brands will not find themselves positioned in highly objectionable places.