Australian advertisers quick adoption of online advertising without a proper understanding of the technology has led to the current controversy surrounding Google and its various platforms, according to Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy.
Local advertisers and brands have been suspending Google ad spend in droves due to their marketing materials appearing in unsafe online environments. Telstra is the latest to join the movement, which is significant as industry experts estimate the telco spends more than 50 per cent of its advertising budget on digital.
Others companies to have boycotted Google include Holden, Kia, Toyota, Ford, Vodafone Hutchison Australia, Nestle, Foxtel, Bunnings and Caltex.
The boycotts give an ironic ring to Google’s boast on the advertising page of its website: “Location, location, location! Regardless of how great your ad is, it probably won’t perform as well if it doesn’t appear in the right places”.
Mr Allen believes advertisers should have been more forward thinking when approaching the digital sphere.
He said advertisers and agencies rushed in an overreaction to digital forms and products. This occurred before proper protocols were in place and before any decent research was even identified, he said.
“Still many of these platforms have no decent research.
“The claims they are making may or may not be true, yet we rushed headlong into it. We were right at the front of early adoption of most of these platforms and only now, in the last year, have questions started to be raised.”
The issues plaguing Google are mostly centered on video sharing site YouTube. As 300 hours of user generated content is uploaded per minute to the site, it has been difficult for advertisers to ensure content appears next to appropriate channels due to the unspecific nature of programmatic placement.
Mr Allen says the rush by brands to leave the platform is warranted.
“It’s a really big problem. Because of YouTube and Google advertisers have programmatic platforms, but don’t seem to have a solution to controlling this. They have had to abandon it quickly,” he said.
A Google spokesperson said that steps were being taken to better ensuring brand safety.
“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. While we recognise that no system will be 100 per cent perfect, we believe these major steps will further safeguard our advertisers’ brands and we are committed to being vigilant and continuing to improve over time,” they said.
The safest method offered to advertisers is ‘Google Preferred’, a collated list of YouTube creators who create brand safe-content marketed towards the 18-34 year old market.
This system is also inherently flawed. In February, Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie, was criticised for numerous videos including anti-semitic jokes and showing Nazi imagery in his recent videos. The site’s most popular creator was quickly removed from Google Preferred and had the second season of his premium content on paid service YouTube Red cancelled. He was also dropped from Disney.
Google’s chief business officer Philipp Schindler said in a statement the company would be introducing new tools to allow advertisers greater control. The changes include safer brand defaults, simplified management of exclusions and more fine tuned controls.
News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson believes that through this controversy, Google needs to acknowledge its role as a publisher and not just a technology company.
“Google has been reactive in their response to controversy, and you do wonder whether they will start to invest more and frankly be more candid about their role as a publisher,” Mr Thomson said in a speech In Hong Kong on Wednesday.
“They claim to be a technology company, and that absolves them of any responsibility of what they publish.
“There’s no doubt that certain digital advertising on Google and Facebook work very well, no one is questioning that, but the scale of their influence, the mis-sold perception of perfect reach, these things will play themselves out,” he said.
Mr Thomson also said that advertisers were partly to blame for keeping clients uninformed.
“Until very recently, these agencies have not properly informed their clients about the potential consequences of advertising in the twilight zone of Google and Facebook,” he said.
In light of the digital “twilight zone”, Mr Allen believes that these issues will “absolutely” push advertisers and brands back towards traditional types of media including news media and television.
Mr Allen believes that these issues will “absolutely” push advertisers and brands back towards traditional types of media including news media and television.
“Brands are very used to being able to control the space in all the old media types. But, with programmatic in particular, it is not as easy to control and you don’t always know where you message is going to be. You can in the end see everywhere you message is going to be displayed but you can’t always see the kind of content it it’s going to be aligned with.
“Cheap and cheerful is the over hanging aura of what were are talking about and cheap and cheerful rarely has any control in it. Usually you can guarantee you will end up in front of the wrong audiences,” Mr Allen said.
Holden was the first Australian company to withdraw funding one of their ads appeared next to misogynist content. Outrage started in the UK following an article from The Times exposing brand safety issues.