Big brands pull ads from YouTube in widening boycott over placement alongside ‘appalling content’
If Google cannot lure back advertisers, it could result in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue
An advertising boycott of YouTube is broadening, a sign that big-spending companies doubt Google’s ability to prevent marketing campaigns appearing alongside repugnant videos.
PepsiCo, Wal-Mart Stores and Starbucks on Friday confirmed they have suspended their advertising on YouTube after The Wall Street Journal found Google’s automated programs placed their brands on five videos containing racist content. AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Volkswagen and several other companies pulled ads earlier this week.
The defections continued even after Google apologised for tainting brands and outlined steps to ensure ads don’t appear alongside unsavoury videos.
It is not an easy problem to fix. Google depends mostly on automated programs to place ads in YouTube videos because the job is too much for humans to handle on their own. About 400 hours of video is currently posted on YouTube every minute.
The company has pledged to hire more people to review videos and develop even more sophisticated programs to teach its computers to figure out which clips would be considered to be too despicable for advertising.
On Friday, Google stood by its earlier promise, signalling the company’s confidence it will be able to placate advertisers. As part of that effort, Google intends to block more objectionable videos from ever being posted on YouTube – an effort that could prompt charges of censorship.
Some outraged advertisers have made it clear they will not return to YouTube until they are certain Google has the situation under control.
“The content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our company values,” Wal-Mart said.
Besides suspending their spending on YouTube, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo and several other companies have said they will stop buying ads that Google places on more than 2 million other third-party websites. If Google cannot lure back advertisers, it could result in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Most analysts, though, doubt the ad boycott will seriously hurt Google’s parent, Alphabet.