WSJ Crisis of the Week: Google Faces Advertisers’ Wrath

Schwartz Media Strategies’ CEO, Tadd Schwartz, shares with the Wall Street Journal his crisis communications plan for Google after negative backlash from advertisers who found their ads playing on extremist websites.

By Ben DePietro

Alphabet Inc. and its Google unit are facing a crisis after advertisers became angry their ads were found on extremist videos playing on
YouTube. The issue prompted several major advertisers to suspend their YouTube and Google Display Network advertising. Others reduced spending. Still, a week after it first apologized, ads still were appearing on racist and anti-Semitic YouTube videos.

Google said it would better police the websites and videos using its platforms. The company commented in two blog posts. In the first, a Google U.K. executive wrote that while the company’s policies intend “to prohibit ads from appearing on pages or videos with hate speech,” and while those controls “work as intended” in most cases, the company doesn’t “always get it right.” In the second post, the company’s chief business officer says Google is conducting an “extensive review” of its advertising policies and tools and is making changes to give advertisers more control over where their ads appear.

The experts analyze how well Google is doing in confronting this controversy.

Tadd SchwartzTadd Schwartz, president and chief executive, Schwartz Media Strategies: “Google’s response to advertisers’ concerns was timely and
thoughtful, striking a balance between explaining how its technology currently works, issuing a clear apology and outlining how it intends to improve its practices going forward. The real breakdown from a client-service and public-perception standpoint came when online ads kept appearing alongside extremist content, even after Google had publicly vowed to fix the problem.

“The world of internet advertising is a virtual black hole, and policing content is understandably difficult, so Google should have immediately and indefinitely halted all ad placements on questionable websites and alongside inappropriate content while it addressed the issue behind the scenes. This would have sent a clear message to the public it was taking the problem seriously, while easing concerns among clients.

“Now the burden shifts to Google’s ability to follow through with its commitment to winning back the trust of its advertisers. That’s the right message but it’s only rhetoric; the company’s actions will carry far more weight than its words.”