World Watch

YouTube brand safety issues alarm advertisers and agencies

While publishers and ad tech vendors have long wailed that the walled gardens of Facebook and Google are the real ad blockers, their advertising walls are now taking a beating amidst the world’s biggest advertising groups who are relooking at their relationship with revelations that ads are still appearing next to unsuitable content on YouTube.

Reportedly, at a recent industry conference, agency heads and trade bodies urged Google to come upon with a solution. And to put money making priorities aside…

According to eMarketer, Google dominates search while Facebook rules display, both companies are part of holding group Alphabet. Facebook’s US display business will jump 32.1% to $16.33 billion, and Google search ads are expected to chalk up $28.6 billion in revenues this year.

Advertisers and ad agencies are visibly upset and concerned about digital brand safety.

In fact, the UK government which earlier summoned Google to explain why their ads are running alongside inappropriate video content, including terrorist propaganda, has all but cancelled advertising on Google and Facebook last week. Together with The Guardian, Channel 4, L’Oréal and Havas Group UK.

Yesterday, Marks & Spencer Group PLC became the latest company to suspend its advertising from Google.

The Drum, a global media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe, has reported that Johnny Hornby, the founder and chief executive of The&Partnership, said he wanted three things to happen:

1. Allow the opening of all platforms to third-party ad verification technology for fraud and brand safety.
2. Create and enforce more robust rules and guidelines for content categorisation.
3. De-monetise all content that cannot be guaranteed as brand safe, especially new content.

Girish Menon, CEO of GroupM Malaysia echoes what Hornby says, and told MARKETING, “The current crisis is not a new situation, as we have known and discussed with Google before that the process YouTube follows for curating content is not up to par with GroupM clients and industry standards on brand safety.” He adds…

• As a standard operating procedure, our digital specialists are following our Brand Safety playbook in setting up campaigns to mitigate the brand safety risks on video platforms…
– Exclusions of content categories, keywords, placements – our specialists keep an updated list of keywords and placements to exclude non brand safe environments in YouTube. They can also exclude UGC video content (moderated & unmoderated) on request.
– Maintain and enforce updated blacklists and whitelists on advertiser level for programmatic sites and domains that prove not trustworthy are added to a blacklist, and brand safe domains that perform well are added to a whitelist. Both lists are updated and reviewed regularly on an advertiser level to take their brand safety requirements into account.

• Our agency planners present alternative options of video platforms, which permit 3rd party ad verification to be deployed to utilise an additional layer of intelligence to minimise risks on Brand Safety, ad fraud and low viewability for our client’s campaigns…
– Contextual layer for brand safety – tools like Grapeshot provide contextual negative targeting to ensure we avoid unsafe content (applies to text on the page). This includes the following keyword categories (Crime, Adult, Military, Terrorism, Tobacco, Downloads, Arms, Death/Injury, Spam, Drugs, Obscenity, Hate Speech).
– Fraud detection – use of automatic fraud detection algorithms which automatically shuts off any source that is sending non-human traffic (NHT) or any other violations (i.e. rotating placements or ad tags, bots, obfuscated domains, invalid IP addresses, unclassified toolbar, stacked or nested iFrames, undisclosed incentivized clicks and other flags such as hidden ad placements, etc.).
– Viewability – Ad verification partners like Moat and IAS are used to track and measure a viewability score of inventory within our system. Publishers with low scores are deprioritized until action is taken to uplift their viewability.

Says another industry source who used to lead a media specialist agency, “My opinion is currently the risks is beyond merely advertisers. As copyright holders of content, Google has trampled over our rights by allowing unfettered piracy in the name of consumers. For far too long they have hidden behind the convenience of merely being a platform without the responsibility it entails. That day of reckoning is near.”

Kenneth Yu, Digital SEO lead at Spurpress, adds, “Platforms like Google and Facebook has taken advantage of the fact they are advertising channels with no historical precedence and held a monopoly on new mediums, hence getting away with playing by different rules for a long time. However, in the age of new competitors in the space and a greater demand for accountability, Google’s ad fraud tech has not kept up with the demands of more savvy brands. Beyond the obvious issue of brand compromise due to association with negative elements, the underlying issues of eroding ad ROI and Google possessing their own client servicing department (ignoring conflict of interests with the various agencies) have probably as much to do with this impasse as anything reported so far.”

Bala Pomaleh, CEO of IPG Mediabrands Malaysia, says,”IPG Mediabrands Malaysia is working closely with IPG Mediabrands WW to protect the interest of all our clients. We believe these incidences are minimal in Malaysia but agree it is essential that issues such as viewability, brand safety and fraud are addressed in the market as serious priorities. We apply brand safety 100% of the time across the campaigns executed on YouTube. This includes working closely with Google Malaysia on recommendations for channels to exclude; categories, blacklisting and keyword exclusions, and third party ad verification solutions.”

He continues, “Over the past year, Google/YouTube has integrated with three of the top verification suppliers (Moat, Integral Ad Science, Double Verify), and has recently agreed to undergo an MRC audit of their viewability data. Further action is advised to cleanse inventory supply and eliminate offensive and inappropriate content. Our teams are, and continue to be vigilant in monitoring fraud, viewability, and brand safety across the board to help mitigate the risk of these types of incidences.”

Prashant Kumar, Senior Partner at ENTROPIA says, “Given that YouTube or Facebook are based on user content, despite their best efforts, it’s not going to be easy. Having a third party verification or filtering technology is a good idea as such technology can work around the standards the industry sets for itself. These technologies already exist and at Entropia we have been regularly deploying them.”

Deepika Nikhilender, CEO of CtrlShift adds, “We fully empathize with advertisers’ concerns. While no agency or buyer can have full control of the digital advertising value chain, minimising the risk of ads appearing next to unsafe content is a top priority for us. We offer brands multiple ways to avoid it including white-listing and the latest brand safety tools. We also include premium and audience layered marketplace​s​ which automatically restrict ad placements to high quality environments so you can achieve scale​,​ without compromising on safety.”

Brett Watson, Principal of MARKETING INC., is more brutal, “Google placing ads on inappropriate YouTube videos really is inexcusable. YouTube has the ability to classify any video they display and match it to appropriate advertising. The problem is say for example let’s say you use Google to advertise your new men’s deodorant aimed at teenagers 16 to 18 year olds. Google have limited websites that they can run these ads on, so they display your ads on inappropriate YouTube videos. This way Google can come back to you and say your ad was seen by the right demographic and take your money – if you set a budget with Google, they will never miss a chance of spending it all!”

Khoo Kar Khoo, ex Head of MarComms at Nestlé Malaysia and now Director of digital field survey company GigaGigs, adds, “I view this as a very positive development in the digital advertising and media scene, in moving into a more transparent and credible client investment environment. MAA has been a key player in initiating digital online tracking and measurement since the start of the digital advertising in this market, together with the cooperation and support from MDA. The main intention was to familiarise all the online portals with key trackers that will help advertisers in justifying their investment and thus promoting the growth of the investment in a sustaining manner. As the potential of online investment is growing fast in this market, it is in the best interest of the players and the industry to come together to accelerate accountability and transparency in the way business is managed now.”

Alan Tan, Head of Digital Marketing at Allianz Life Insurance Malaysia Berhad says, “This requires effort from both media agencies and Google. Media agencies: carry out proper training for the people who are setting up the ad campaign. Managers should do their due diligence to QC and ensure the culture of negating the “inappropriate” categories and provide better targeting. Google: continue to educate both media and clients the safety measures to take when advertising on their platforms. While third party verification tools are suggested by a few agencies, it is still  just a tool and we’ll still see the same issues if the person managing fails to apply best practices.”

The Wall Street Journal has reported yesterday, “An executive for Alphabet Inc.’s Google apologized for commercials that appeared before extremist videos on its YouTube site and said it would simplify tools that enable advertisers to control where their ads appear.”

“Google already provides such controls, but advertisers weren’t using them perhaps because they were too complex,” reminds Matt Brittin, Google’s president for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “If the controls are there but people aren’t using them, that’s our problem,” he added at an Advertising Week conference in London this week.

In India, YouTube acknowledged yesterday it might have made a mistake, saying in a tweet, “Some videos have been incorrectly labeled and that’s not right. We’re on it! More to come.” The restriction on the vows video was lifted by Monday afternoon. But others – including one from YouTube celebrity Tyler Oakley titled “8 Black LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Inspire Me” – remained on YouTube’s age-restricted list.

Editor’s Note: We approached Google Malaysia for comments and were directed to this site for the time being:

We also connected with Facebook, who refused to comment. 


FAME STARTS HERE: APPIES Malaysia 2017 Open for Entries

Win at the APPIES and shine for the rest of the year!

Almost all of last year’s winners for APPIES Malaysia went on to win big in regional and global awards shows which is why we are bringing back Malaysia’s “TED for Marketing” for its second year!

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Our 2016 winners pitched their cases to key decision makers from Shell Malaysia, Huawei, CIMB and more!

This year’s judging panel will be equally if not more dynamic and leading the panel will be APPIES Malaysia’s Chief Judge Rakesh Mohan – Chairman of Unilever Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia & Laos.

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Entrant campaigns must have run between April 2016 and April 2017 in any of these six categories – consumer durables, consumer services, food and beverage, non-food FMCG, business services, as well as government, cultural, social and environmental campaigns.

All entries should reach us before the closing deadline of 30th April 2017. For further details on this year’s APPIES Malaysia click here or visit

This year’s APPIES Malaysia will be held at Eastin Hotel on June 1st & 2nd.

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