Are your ads helping to fund terrorist organisations like Islamic State? Sure, it sounds like an absurd question, but this is the shocking reality a number of brands have found themselves in recently, as their ads have been discovered running alongside extremist content on YouTube.
An investigation carried out by The Times last month found that hundreds of organisations’ ads were appearing on websites dedicated to propaganda from Islamic State, white supremacists, and other terrorist groups. Brands affected include Disney, John Lewis, Thomson Reuters, Honda, Halifax, Waitrose and Argos.
“When it comes to content on YouTube, we remove flagged videos that break our rules, and have a zero tolerance policy for content that incites violence or hatred,” states a Google spokesperson. “Some content on YouTube may be controversial and offensive, which is why we only allow advertising against videos which fall within our advertising guidelines. Our partners can also choose not to appear against content they consider inappropriate, and we have a responsibility to work with the industry to help them make informed choices.”
Jaguar has pulled all of its UK digital advertising in the aftermath of this discovery, and Mercedes-Benz has called for a thorough review of its advertising practices. Across adland, blame has largely been apportioned to the automation of placing ads through programmatic advertising.
“Programmatic advertising is a big concern for us and the whole advertising industry,” says trade body ISBA’s Hicham Felter. “There is a greater risk of ads appearing in violent, pornographic, extremist and other unsafe brand environments because of the volume and speed at which programmatic trading is carried out… The suspicion is that the surge in programmatic trading is being fuelled by the profit media agencies can make, rather than because it delivers better results for their clients.”
P&G’s Marc Pritchard has described the media supply chain as “murky at best, fraudulent at worst,” and has called for greater transparency and accountability in the process of media buying — hopefully just in time to prevent any similar future brand disasters.