'I'm sorry' - Google chief apologises as more public sector bodies and brands speak out on extremist ads scandal

The EMEA boss of Google has offered an apology to public and private sector advertisers in a growing row over ads appearing next to extremist videos on YouTube.

A host of public sector institutions and brands have said they will halt advertising spending with Google, which owns YouTube, until it resolves the issue.

The row comes in the wake of a Times investigation, which revealed that campaigns by the likes of The Cabinet Office, Transport for London (TfL) and L'Oréal had appeared on YouTube alongside videos which included "rape apologists, anti-Semites and banned hate preachers".

In addition to the damage by association caused by ads appearing next to extremist films, advertisers have been unwittingly funding the creators of the content. 

We take responsibility for it… so I want to start by saying sorry. We apologise.

Google’s Matt Brittin

On Monday, Google’s EMEA chief Matt Brittin told the Advertising Week Europe Conference: "When anything like that happens, we don’t want it to happen, you don’t want it to happen, and we take responsibility for it… so I want to start by saying sorry. We apologise."

Public sector organisations, including the Cabinet Office, which looks after advertising for the Government Communications Service; Transport for London; the BBC; and Channel 4, have all said they will pull advertising until Google addresses the problem.

TfL said it had policies in place with its media-buying agency to prevent its ads appearing against inappropriate content, including a ‘negative word list’ and reviews of advertising partners that do not allow it to "monitor brand safety".

A spokesperson told PRWeek: "Our media agency MEC, working on our behalf, has a wide range of systems in place to guard against our adverts running alongside unsafe content. Something has clearly gone wrong in this case, so we have immediately instructed them to pause all YouTube advertising until we are satisfied with the strength of YouTube’s brand safety measures."

Meanwhile, a growing list of high-profile brands have deserted Google, pulling their ads while it deals with the problem.

These include supermarket brands Marks and Spencer and Tesco; banks HSBC, RBS and Lloyds; and car manufacturers Toyota, Audi and Volkswagen, as well as L’Oréal and The Guardian.

Commenting on its reasons, an M&S spokesoperson said: "In order to ensure brand safety, we are pausing activity across Google platforms whilst the matter is worked through."

In all, it is reported that 250 companies have joined in the protest and temporarily pulled advertising.

Both Sky and Vodafone are also considering following suit.

Sky said: "It is clearly un­acceptable for ads to be appearing alongside inappropriate content and we are talking with Google to understand what they are doing to stop this happening."

Senior Google executives were hauled into a meeting with the Cabinet Office late last week for crunch talks, during which they apologised and promised swift improvements.

The Government spends millions of pounds on YouTube advertising, but will not spend any further money until it has been given assurances from the company that taxpayer-funded content will be handled appropriately.

Google was told that procedures would need to be put in place to ensure every penny of public money was spent properly on its sites.

It is totally unacceptable that taxpayer-funded advertising has appeared next to inappropriate internet content – and that message was conveyed very clearly to Google.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson on the results of its meeting with Google last week

A Government spokesperson told PRWeek: "It is totally unacceptable that taxpayer-funded advertising has appeared next to inappropriate internet content – and that message was conveyed very clearly to Google.

"The Cabinet Office has told Google it expects to see a plan and a timetable for work to improve protection of government adverts to ensure this doesn’t happen again. YouTube advertising remains on hold while that work is carried out."

Google executives were expected to return to the Cabinet Office this week for a follow-up meeting to explain what procedures they have put in place to strengthen advertising policies.

PRWeek’s sister title, Campaign, reported last week that Havas UK, one the world’s largest marketing-services networks, had pulled its spend with Google and YouTube, until it received a guarantee that its ads would appear in a "safe, regulated" environment.

Havas UK media clients include O2, Royal Mail, BBC, Dominos and Hyundai Kia and its spending on digital advertising is reported to be within the region of £175m a year.

We have a duty of care to our clients in the UK marketplace to position their brands in the right context where we can be assured that that environment is safe.

Paul Frampton, UK chief executive, Havas Media Group

Paul Frampton, chief executive of Havas Media Group in the UK and Ireland, told PRWeek sister title Campaign: "We have a duty of care to our clients in the UK marketplace to position their brands in the right context where we can be assured that that environment is safe, regulated to the degree necessary and additive to their brands’ objectives.

"Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platform and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect."


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