Understanding Google’s Advertising Problem

“Why does Rice play Texas?”

President John F. Kennedy, the “Moon Speech” Sept. 12, 1962

If you’ve been aghast at the reporting on Google’s advertising problem, it’s important to distinguish which is more shocking–that they did it, that they got caught, or that anyone thought it serious enough to report on.  Because it is an entirely predictable problem.

We wrote about the problem on MTP starting around 2012 or so with our coverage of the beginning of “programmatic trading” (“A New Meaning for Real Time Bidding: An artist’s guide to how the brands and ad agencies profit from advertising supported piracy“) with a link to this graphic from Advertising Perspectives post titled “Are Ad Exchanges and Real Time Bidding the Next Big Thing” (http://www.advertisingperspectives.com/adblog/media-technology/are-ad-exchanges-and-real-time-bidding-the-next-big-thing/).  The 2017 answer to that rhetorical question asked five years ago is obviously “yes”:


The issue for Google is that ads are served to users and not to the websites that share the revenue.  As the Wall Street Journal reported today:

When marketers or advertising agencies buy ads from Google and other online ad providers, those ads are typically targeted to people with certain interests or demographic profiles. In other words, they are buying a target audience, not space on particular websites. It is up to Google to target ads at the desired people. Even when ads appear on sites and videos marketers don’t want to be associated with, there’s every chance they’ve been delivered to people matching the desired profile.

The problem for ad networks utilizing this method is that when it comes to advertising, the context is everything.  (That’s why hundreds of the biggest brands in the world are bailing on YouTube.)

Just because you can target the audience doesn’t give much value if the context is wrong.  Even though the brand may not technically be buying space on particular websites, Google is serving the ad to an ad publisher which is why ads for certain goods seem to follow you around from site to site in Google’s vast network.  (Which is also how Google knows who to share the revenue with.)

In the case of YouTube, Google is serving the ad to itself through its own network–so Google has about as much control over the context as it seems likely anyone could have.

Yet Google is telling brands (and everyone else who will listen) that it’s just too hard to deliver both targeted users and acceptable context.  So is everyone just supposed to give up and let Google make the money because winning is hard and Google has a monopoly on digital advertising?

Why does Rice play Texas?

(by Chris Castle)

@thetrichordist: Timely Reprint: Do You Want Your Music Alongside Hate Rock Songs? Artist Face YouTube Music Dilemma

In light of the Google/YouTube boycott by brands whose ads have appeared next to hate speech. We thought we’d reprint this piece from November 2014!! Forget exploitative pay from Spotify! Do you want your music on YouTube Music? Will you be alongside Hate rock songs? Jihadi Recruitment Music Videos? Probably. YouTube is full of this.

via @thetrichordist: Timely Reprint: Do You Want Your Music Alongside Hate Rock Songs? Artist Face YouTube Music Dilemma — Artist Rights Watch

Advertisers Urge Google to Stop Selling Ads on YouTube

March 24, 2017 Leave a comment


When did Noah build the Ark, Gladys?  Before the rain…

From Spy Game, written by Michael Frost Beckner

Google’s got real problems with its failure to impose its YouTube terms of service before YouTube pipes dreck into your house by every means they can.  (We have yet to hear from cable operators about that, by the way.)  The whole point of having terms of service is to keep people from using the service in ways that violate those terms.  If YouTube lets videos onto its network and declares them in violation after their caught, isn’t that at least a bit like Noah building the Ark after the rain?  This is the fundamental reason Google are suffering the costs of scandal this week and looks like it will do for weeks and weeks to come.

Not only are Google loosing a pile of cash as advertisers withdraw from YouTube, Google’s stock price is down over 4% in a week.  Despite the colossally tone deaf efforts of the most senior Google executives to try to play down the scandal, brand after brand is cutting off YouTube and as near as I can tell, the entire Google network.  This doesn’t include search advertising as yet, but can search be far behind?  If Google can’t live up to the promises it has made to advertisers on YouTube, why would anyone believe them at all?

Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman and former CEO, told Maria Bartiromo just today that Google could not guarantee advertisers the brand safety that the monopolist Google promised them:  “What we do is, we match ads and the content, but because we source the ads from everywhere, every once in a while somebody gets underneath the algorithm and they put in something that doesn’t match.”  It’s not Google’s fault, you see, it’s actually the advertiser’s fault.

Schmidt then rather nonsensically doubled down and blamed advertisers for attempts to “sneak [ads] in underneath our rules and violate our terms of service.”  Right…because advertisers want to have their money go to hate groups so much that they hack the Google advertising algorithms?

The ISBA, the trade association for British advertisers, has announced what seems like a very reasonable approach to the problem that Google has created for itself:

ISBA would further encourage Google to withdraw immediately from sale any advertising inventory which it cannot guarantee as a safe environment for advertising, to restore advertiser confidence and to allow a thorough review of systems, processes and controls to take place. As a specific example, ISBA urges Google to review the practice of placing advertising immediately against newly-uploaded YouTube content, before it has been classified. Google should ensure that content is quarantined until properly categorised.

Don’t sell advertising on YouTube unless Google can live up to its promises.  Sounds reasonable, don’t it?  There’s a certain logic to it.

But the Daily Mail reports that “Google Still Don’t Get It“:

Matt Brittin, [Google’s] European boss, told a London advertising conference yesterday: ‘I want to start by saying sorry. We apologise when anything like that happens. We don’t want it to happen and you don’t want it to happen, and we take responsibility for it.’

But he added: ‘I’ve spoken to … some brands that are affected. In general I’ve found that it has been a handful of impressions and pennies not pounds.’

Household names and Government departments have been horrified after an investigation found their adverts running alongside YouTube videos by Islamic State preachers and white supremacists.

Google, whose motto is ‘Don’t be evil’, hands a slice of the revenue generated by adverts to the user who posted the content.

According to independent marketing experts, extremists have made around £250,000 from advertising on YouTube.

If Google’s blathering about “pennies and not pounds” sounds vaguely familiar, it should be.  These are essentially the same arguments Google made about brand sponsored piracy at the SOPA hearings (or as I call the hearings, the apotheosis of bullshit).

It really does come down to this:  When brands consider the risks of advertising on YouTube and Google’s own finding that 56% of digital ads served are never seen by humans, is it really worth it or can a brand find better ways to spend their money?  YouTube is going to have a hard time explaining whey they can’t keep the bad stuff out–aside from not wanting to bother with it until they get caught.

Blaming the advertisers or downplaying payments to the bad guys is just not the way to go here.

Rule Britannia

March 23, 2017 Leave a comment

His Jackness

The word “never” is best heard in its original British.  Whether it’s the delicious Churchillian triplets we could all do well to remember at the moment or the grand old song by James Thomson and Thomas Arne that foreshadowed Churchill’s immortal usage.  With suitable forelocking by the chorus and accoutrement, I give you Sarah Patricia Connolly, Commander of the British Empire.

Following the Money: Solutions for Google’s Problems with Defrauded Advertisers — Music Tech Solutions

Google’s UK Policy Manager Theo Bertram advised in 2012–“Follow the Money to Fight Online Piracy”. Google’s copyright lawyer Katherine Oyama endorsed this approach on behalf of Google before the U.S. Congress in 2011 (“We would publicly support legislation like what I described, the follow the money approach…”). Several UK banks and other advertisers are now doing just that according to the London Times.

via Following the Money: Solutions for Google’s Problems with Defrauded Advertisers — Music Tech Solutions

Jimmy Breslin RIP

March 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Who among us can change someone’s life with a couple thousand words written on a deadline?  Who can look at the same event that maybe millions of others see but bring out that nugget that everyone else completely missed?  A nugget of humanity that is essential to the true perspective of the story and vital to the roundness of the truth?

People often ask me what is the best preparation for persuasive legal writing.   Is it a degree from a fancy law school?  No.  A job in a big law firm or a judicial clerkship? No. It’s right there in front of you in today’s paper.

These writers are sometimes called “deadline artists” and you’ll find their words in the opinion pages of contemporary newspapers every day and have done for a hundred years and more.  These are the eternal wordsmiths whether the name is H.L. Mencken or Langston Hughes, Mark Twain or Damon Runyon, Will Rogers or Art Buchwald.

Or Jimmy Breslin.

If you haven’t read or read many of Breslin’s columns, you really owe it to yourself.  A few  suggestions–“A Death in Emergency Room One” and “It’s an Honor” on the JFK assassination, “Fear in Queens” about Son of Sam (a strange history), “A Part of a Cop’s Past Lies Dead” about the murder of John Lennon or “A Smile Gone, But Where?” on 9/11.

When you read these short stories masquerading as newspaper columns, remember the man wrote for immediate publication and under a deadline.

And also remember what he said of himself:  “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”


YouTube Finally Reaps What it Sows as UK Govt, The Guardian, the BBC and mega ad agency Havas cuta off ad spend

March 20, 2017 Leave a comment

It began around the time of SOPA.  Sources tell me that after meeting with a global ad agency and explaining to them how their advertising buys supported piracy, the source got a call from a well-known Google lawyer threatening him if he continued making that case to Google’s big advertising accounts.  Presumably, that threat was because the agency jumped on Google.

But nothing changed.

Harvard Business School Professor Ben Edelman took the lead on making the case for an advertiser’s bill of rights so that brands could feel like they knew where their ad spending was going and were getting what they paid for.  Seems logical, right?

But Google essentially told brands that you give us money and we serve your ad wherever we want to.  And nothing changed.

Ellen Seidler called out Google for selling ads on Megavideo.  Absolutely clear evidence that Google was doing the very thing they told advertisers they were not doing.  The Megavideo indictment alleges that Google had a direct agreement with Megavideo, confirming Ellen’s research.

And nothing changed.

MTP readers will recall how I posted example after example of Google distributing jihadi recruiting videos, “how to” videos on shooting drugs (who can forget “Banging Up for Dummies” and “Femoral Fiesta”, and blatant advertising for illegal drug sites–the same kind that Google paid a $500,000,000 forfeiture for supporting after signing a non prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice.

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And nothing changed.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood tried to serve a subpoena–just a subpoena–on Google for violating that non prosecution agreement.


At almost the exact moment, North Korea hacks Sony Pictures and Wikileaks releases thousands of internal emails from Sony that strangely enough contained only two from a google.com email address.  In another strange coincidence, a bill miraculously appeared in the Mississippi legislature that would have stopped funding for Hood’s investigation of Google.


That’s m-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i…

Google fought Hood every step of the way and ended up settling the case.  Why would they do that?  In my view, they did it because they were guilty and they knew it.

And nothing changed.

We always said that the only thing–the only thing–that would get YouTube to clean up its act would be if advertisers pulled the plug.  Why?  Very simple–for all of Google’s Silicon Valley goo goo about being good people, there’s only one thing that motivates that company–money.  And over 90% of the Google money comes from advertising.  So until advertisers start making noise and stop paying money, Google doesn’t care.

One reason they care about advertisers is the obvious one–advertisers can cut off the money and that’s a whole lot less ooh la la for Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt.


But the other reason, the less obvious one, is that there’s no safe harbor for advertising fraud.  No DMCA, no CDA.  State attorneys general have the absolute right to protect their citizens–corporate or human–from fraud.  And then you’re talking real money.

rubaish search

So now we find that the UK government, the Guardian, the BBC and the Havas mega ad agency are cutting off YouTube according to the Christian Science Monitor:

As an al-Shabab militant called for jihad inside Kenya, an ad at the base of his YouTube video urged viewers to “Book Now” for a Sandals tropical vacation. An armed neo-Nazi promoting Combat 18 was paired with a call to volunteer for the hospice charity Marie Curie.

Last month, an investigation by The Times of London detailed these as two examples of how major brand names frequently appear alongside hateful YouTube content. A separate article by The Guardian wrote that the UK revenue from these ads amounts to about £250,000, or $318,000, for “extremists and hate preachers.”

On Friday, ad agency Havas Media, whose high-profile clients include Hyundai and the Royal Mail, announced that it would stop placing ads on YouTube and its parent company, Google. The tech giant – which commands more than 30 percent of global online ad revenue and draws 90 percent of its own revenue by placing ads – was quick to respond.

We’ve begun a thorough review of our ads policies and brand controls, and we will be making changes in the coming weeks to give brands more control over where their ads appear,” wrote Google UK managing director Ronan Harris.
kolovrat 1
Ronan Harris–who looks suspiciously like one of those CAA mail room kids who got sent for coffee in their own 7-Series–had a typically Googlely response:
However, with millions of sites in our network and 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, we recognize that we don’t always get it right. In a very small percentage of cases, ads appear against content that violates our monetization policies. We promptly remove the ads in those instances, but we know we can and must do more.
Note the switch from hard numbers (“400 hours of video”) to “a very small percentage of cases [when] ads appear against content that violates our monetization policies.”  Google always switches from hard numbers to percentages when they are trying to deflect bad behavior.  So let’s say that 1% of the videos on YouTube were jihadi recruiting videos, how to build a bomb, white power, sell illegal drugs, or whatever.  That’s  4 hours of video per minute being uploaded to YouTube.  Oh that’s OK, right?  Because it’s a very small percentage….
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They really don’t get it, do they?  And isn’t the important thing that YouTube shouldn’t be distributing the videos in the first place?  It’s not just about the money, kids.  Money may have been what got their attention, but it’s not just about the money.
YouTube frequently tries to pass itself off as the new television (and they have a point there).  But if that’s true, can you imagine a network saying that they were broadcasting hate videos into your home just a small percentage of the time?
Google’s problems all come down to the same reason–YouTube is user generated with no controls other than after the fact if and when they get caught.
What would really get their attention would be if the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice opened a serious investigation into YouTube’s advertising practices.  That may well be coming since advertiser fraud is still advertiser fraud whether it happens in the U.S. or in Europe.


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