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UK Brands Balk Over Google-Related Brand Safety

Household names join newspapers and government in spending pause

March 21, 2017 | Marketing | Advertising

The slow-to-ignite backlash against revelations about ads placed on Google properties appearing alongside—and thereby funding—creators of controversial, often extremist content, has accelerated, with several household names joining the likes of the UK government and several news organizations in pulling or contemplating a pause in their advertising until assurances about brand safety are better met.

Since last Friday the UK companies that have gone public with plans to pull or have been said to be actively contemplating a pause in their Google-related advertising in the UK include retailers Marks & Spencer, Argos and Sainsbury’s; UK-based financial firms the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and HSBC; and international heavyweights Audi, L’Oréal and McDonald’s, according to reports by the BBC and The Guardian.

The UK unit of France-based ad agency Havas also announced its intention to hold the local advertising of its UK clients—although possibly a bit too quickly for some. According to The Drum, Havas Group CEO Yannick Bolloré tweeted on Friday that he was “completely unaware of the Havas UK decision with Google” and reportedly told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the decision did not “correspond to the position of the Group” and that “personally, I find it very good to offer customers on a case-by-case basis [to remove advertisements] ... but I find it a bit extreme to do it for them.”

Speaking at the Advertising Week Europe conference in London yesterday, Matt Brittin, Google’s head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, reportedly said: “I want to start by saying sorry to the brands affected by this. I take the issue very seriously and I apologize in the instances where that may have happened.”

At a briefing with journalists at the Advertising Week event, Brittin was quoted as saying: “There are brands who have reached out to us and are talking to our teams about whether they are affected or concerned by this. I have spoken personally to a number of advertisers over the last few days as well. Those that I have spoken to, by the way, we have been talking about a handful of impressions and pennies not pounds of spend—that’s in the case of the ones I’ve spoken to at least. [But] however small or big the issue, it’s an important issue that we address.”

Brittin reportedly told journalists that Google is looking to “raise the bar” when it comes to assessing the brand safety of content on its platforms. According to The Guardian, Google executives will meet with the UK’s Cabinet Office later this week to discuss the issue.

—Cliff Annicelli

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