Yet more companies are pulling their ads from Google and YouTube because of fears the ads would appear alongside offensive content, according to a new report in the Wall Street Journal.
Per the Journal's testing, ads for companies like Coca-Cola and Microsoft showed up on five racist and antisemitic YouTube videos, despite Google's recent promise to overhaul its advertising system. The Journal story didn't describe any of the objectionable videos in detail, but the reporter, Jack Nicas, tweeted some examples, including a Crest toothpaste ad running before a video titled "A 6000 Year History Of The Jew World Order".
According to the Journal, Walmart, PepsiCo and Dish Network will pull all ads from Google, including YouTube, except those present on targeted search results. FX Networks said it would pull all of its Google ads. Starbucks will pull just YouTube ads, and a spokesperson sent Gizmodo the following statement about the debacle:
We were shocked to learn about our brand being depicted in an inappropriate way. It does not align with our vision and values as a company. Our content should not have appeared before the video referenced or any videos like it. It has since been removed. We are currently in discussions with Google/YouTube to determine the best way to prevent this moving forward and have pulled our ads until we are confident that measures will be in place to adhere to our brand guidelines.
In a statement, a PepsiCo spokesperson echoed those sentiments:
We are deeply concerned and terribly disappointed that some of our brand ads have appeared alongside videos that promote hate and are offensive. PepsiCo has taken immediate steps to remove all advertising from non-search platforms until Google can absolutely ensure that this will not happen again. PepsiCo has a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion, and content like this violates our core values.
Earlier this week, Google announced sweeping changes intended to ensure the "brand safety" of its advertisers, including allowing advertisers to exclude certain sites or channels across all of their campaigns at once. The day after the changes were announced, however, several companies, including AT&T and Johnson & Johnson, said they were going to pull their ads from the internet giant.
The Journal report quoted an unnamed executive at one of the companies who expressed disappointment with Google's response. The company "had assured us over the past few days that our brands were safe from this type of content," but now "it's clear they couldn't give assurance," the executive said.
Asked about the Journal report, a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo:
We don't comment on individual customers but as announced, we've begun an extensive review of our advertising policies and have made a public commitment to put in place changes that give brands more control over where their ads appear. We're also raising the bar for our ads policies to further safeguard our advertisers' brands.
The events of this week leave plenty of difficult questions for Google. As Nicas pointed out, we're now at the point "where a reporter spending few hours on YouTube can spark big brands to pull spending on Google". Google frequently points out that 400 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and, as Alphabet chairman and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt admitted this week, the company "can't guarantee" that these ads won't ever run alongside offensive content.
While it's unlikely these ads only started appearing on awful videos in the last couple of weeks, the recent media coverage makes the position untenable for brands. They simply can't take that risk if it threatens their profits — because, like Google, these companies are really only concerned about their bottom line — at least not while people are paying attention to the issue. As more and more brands pull out, the pressure will likely build for others to do the same.