Monday 24 April 2017

Steve Dempsey: Google seeing ad sense but it needs to deal with other issues too

To date the solution Google's proposing has amounted to giving advertisers greater control over where their ads appear (Stock picture)
To date the solution Google's proposing has amounted to giving advertisers greater control over where their ads appear (Stock picture)
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Poor Google. In the last week a host of heavyweight advertisers paused their ad campaigns because the search giant has been unable to guarantee that ads won't appear alongside unsavoury content like racist or extremist videos. First was the UK branch of Havas, which suspended its campaigns last Friday.

They were quickly followed by a host of brands in the UK, including the BBC, Marks & Spencer, HSBC, McDonalds and the UK Government. AT&T was the first US brand to follow suit And in Ireland Core Media decided to pause all advertising with YouTube and the Google display network on Wednesday.

"It's clear that Google needs a bit more time to find a comprehensive solution," said Core Media's chief digital and data officer, Justin Cullen on Wednesday. "This is a big problem and it's a problem to be solved by technology.

"At the moment, certain parties are tampering with the metadata behind the videos that they're posting on their YouTube channel, which is getting around the algorithmic checks that Google has in place. Google is one of the most advanced technology and data science companies in the world. So if anyone can solve this particular problem, they can. We trust in them that they can do it. But for now, they need more time to find a solution."

To date the solution Google's proposing has amounted to giving advertisers greater control over where their ads appear. Advertisers will be able to exclude specific sites and channels from all their AdWords for Video and Google Display Network campaigns. And there's a new default setting for campaigns that automatically excludes websites and videos that are deemed potentially objectionable.

"We'll be hiring significant numbers of people and developing new tools powered by our latest advancements in AI and machine learning to increase our capacity to review questionable content for advertising," said Google's chief business officer, Philipp Schindler. "In cases where advertisers find their ads were served where they shouldn't have been, we plan to offer a new escalation path to make it easier for them to raise issues. In addition, we'll soon be able to resolve these cases in less than a few hours."

But to be fair to Google, it's not like it's been sitting on its hands up to this point. Last year the company claims to have removed nearly 1.7 billion bad ads, axed over 100,000 publishers from its AdSense programme and pulled ads from over 300 million YouTube videos.

It also recently provided its army of quality raters (yes, Google has thousands of contractors worldwide who evaluate search results) with updated guidelines on upsetting and offensive content. Upsetting-offensive content includes anything that promotes hate or violence, contains graphic violence, or (and how's this for a broad definition) "other types of content which users in your locale would find extremely upsetting or offensive".

But the problem really is broader than just Google. "There is a lot attention on YouTube in particular," says Cullen. "But the reality is, when you have an open source network -which is what the internet is - it highlights the need for controls to be put in place in terms of the dissemination of information. Traditional media owners are subjected to certain regulations and restrictions. Whereas technology companies they don't see themselves as media companies, and don't act in the same way to responsibly deliver content to consumers."

With all this turmoil there's a potential upside for traditional media outlets, which could be pitching themselves as safe and trusted platforms Channel 4 was quickest off the block. It has released research that claimed ads on broadcasters' video on demand (VoD) channels were cheaper and more engaging than video ads on YouTube and Facebook. The TV station subjected viewers to eye-tracking and skin conductance analysis in their homes, and also tested implicit responses with 1,000 people.

The results showed VoD ads garnered 3.5 times greater attention levels than ads on YouTube, and viewers typically watch these ads in a more attentive state. The research showed VoD ads are more likely to be watched from start to finish. Around 70pc of Facebook users were seen to actively scroll past video ads while 73pc of YouTube videos and ads were played in the background, while users did something else. So while brand safety may be the crux of the stand-off with advertisers, attention and visibility may be the real challenges the search giant needs to address.

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