As digital ad spend continues its upward trajectory, recent weeks have put the spotlight on the channel’s murkier side, with YouTube suffering a full-fledged brand revolt over concerns ads are appearing next to racist, sexist or terrorist content. Now, the controversy has hit local shores, with Holden, Vodafone and Tourism New Zealand suspending their ads on the video-sharing website, while MediaWorks and FCB weigh in on the debate.
Holden New Zealand says its position is consistent with that of Holden Australia and General Motors globally, who have pulled their advertising in recent weeks.
General manager of corporate affairs Edward Finn tells StopPress in a statement that, "Holden in no way supports the content our advertising has been inadvertently associated with by Google. We're proud of our diversity credentials.”
“We value our good relationship with Google but in line with General Motors’ global response and Holden's diversity stance, we have instructed our media agency to suspend all advertising on YouTube until we are confident Google can protect our brand from inappropriate or offensive content. We'll work with Google to achieve this."
Vodafone New Zealand has also decided to follow its parent company’s global position, with a spokesperson stating that, “Like many other advertisers who are concerned about this issue, Vodafone NZ has paused advertising on all Google digital properties, excluding search – this applies to all Vodafone companies worldwide."
"We are now working with Google and our agencies to develop a new approach designed to ensure that Vodafone advertisements do not appear within harmful online content.”
In Australia, Holden and fellow car brand Kia were among the first companies to pull the pin on YouTube after it came to light their ads were appearing on a video featuring explicit misogynistic insults directed at an Australian journalist. A slew of brands, including Vodafone Australia, were quick to follow, such as Nestle, Bunnings, JB-Hi Fi, Foxtel, Caltex, and Telstra.
The issue has also spread beyond the private sector, with both Tourism Australia and the British government joining the global boycott. In the UK, Google was summoned by government ministers after it emerged that government advertising was being inadvertently placed next to extremist material. In Australia, AdNews found a Tourism and Events Queensland ad appearing alongside an Islamophobic video titled 'Priceless Reaction: This is how you silence a Muslim'.
In light of this, Tourism New Zealand has also stated it will suspend its activity on Google for the time being, but will resume its ads in the future following a review. General manager of corporate affairs Deborah Gray says, “We have paused our current YouTube and Google Display Network activity through AdWords (Google’s online advertising service that serves up advertising on platforms including YouTube).”
“We are in the process of reviewing our current exclusions list (where we manually choose what content types to exclude our advertising from) and we will implement changes to that list if we deem it necessary. We do know however, that we will continue to serve up advertising on YouTube in the future under tighter brand safety exclusions.”
Last month, Tourism New Zealand was called out on social media for allowing its ads to appear on controversial alt-right news site Breitbart. While the website was eventually added to Tourism New Zealand’s blacklist, it wasn't the first time a local company’s been called out for its Breitbart ties, with software company Xero forced to blacklist the site at the end of last year as well.
Media companies and agencies are also weighing in on the debate, with MediaWorks’ chief commercial officer Glen Kyne reminding brands that safer, more trustworthy avenues of advertising still exist.
“With this debate, we need to remember that in New Zealand there are locally produced premium websites available, such as ThreeNow and Vevo, that can commit brand safety to advertisers," says Kyne.
“We are also offering Kiwis premium ‘placed’ content rather than user-generated, thereby providing a safe environment where advertisers know where their advertising is placed and who is watching, just the same as advertising on TV."
“It's the age-old adage, the cheaper the cost – the higher the risk," he says.
FCB Media, whose clients include Westpac, Sony and Noel Leeming, has also provided a statement to StopPress which says that “FCB believes strongly in the need for brand safety across all media and have long-standing practices to deliver this for our clients. To this end, we have significant brand safety layers and exclusions already in place across our digital buying, tailored to individual brand needs.”
“We continually enhance these and welcome YouTube’s new ‘Sensitive Subjects’ exclusion types to add further granularity to this approach. We are in regular communication with our clients on this subject and are working through YouTube investment levels and brand safety measures on a client by client basis."
Media agencies and advertisers have been calling on Google to lower the rates of its premium inventory over brand safety concerns. GroupM's chief digital officer Rob Norman told the Financial Times that advertisers are looking for all of their ads to run against premium, targeted content to ensure brand safety, but did not feel inclined to pay premium rates.
While Google has been rushing to pull offensive content and shore up its safety measures for advertisers, chief business officer, Philipp Schindler, wrote in a blog post stating that Google “deeply apologised” to brands whose ads had become associated with hateful videos, and that YouTube would be “taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive, and derogatory content”.
However, Schindler also attempted to play down the issue earlier this week, stating that the problem affects “very, very, very small numbers”.