"They cannot masquerade as technology companies, particularly when they place advertisements."
The CEO of the world's biggest advertising agency holding company, WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell, has said the recent advertiser boycott of YouTube — after their ads were found appearing next to inappropriate, and in some cases extremist content — hammers home his long-held view that Google needs to take on the responsibility of a media company.
Brands including The Guardian, L'Oreal, and UK government-funded organizations such as the Home Office, BBC, and Royal Navy, have all suspended advertising on Google after discovering their ads had appeared next to undesirable content across the online company's websites.
The UK government summoned Google to appear before its cabinet office on Friday to "explain how it will deliver the high quality of service government demands on behalf of the taxpayer."
Google responded to the developing situation on Friday, admitting in a blog post it can "do a better job" on brand safety and committing to update its ad policies and tools to give brands more control over where their ads appear.
In a statement sent to Business Insider, Sorrell — whose advertising agencies spent around $5 billion on Google ads last year — said:
“We have always said Google, Facebook and others are media companies and have the same responsibilities as any other media company. They cannot masquerade as technology companies, particularly when they place advertisements. GroupM, which has led or supported every industry initiative to raise standards in the digital media supply chain, is talking to the digital media owners at the highest levels to encourage them to find answers to these brand safety issues. At the same time GroupM continues to advise clients to use all the available brand safety tools to mitigate these risks.”
GroupM, WPP's media buying and investment arm, isn't advising clients to suspend advertising on Google altogether (unlike a suggestion from another WPP agency founder, The&Partnership's Johnny Hornby earlier this week), but rather that they use tools to help mitigate some of the brand safety risks across all platforms.
On Snapchat, for example, GroupM recently sent clients a memo warning that ad placements on Snapchat's Stories can carry the risk of appearing next to unsavory content generated by users, including pornography. GroupM advised clients concerned of this happening to advertise within the app's Discover or curated Live Stories sections, or pay for sponsored filters and lenses instead.
In a statement sent to Business Insider on Friday, GroupM said a "100% foolproof system may not be possible" when it comes to platforms where content is user-generated and not curated.
Speaking to Business Insider, GroupM chief digital officer, said about the current ad misplacement issues facing YouTube: "It would be appropriate for Google to be explicit about the problem faced by advertisers in terms of the impact to their reputation and to be explicit to the public that it was not the brand endorsing that content."