YouTube Extremist-Video Ad Controversy Prompts GroupM to Team With Brand-Safety Analytics Partner

With advertisers around the world still reeling from the revelation that their ads appeared in hate-speech videos on YouTube, WPP’s GroupM is taking a new step to reassure clients that their ads won’t show up next to undesirable content on the Google-owned service.

GroupM, the world’s biggest media-buying firm, on Wednesday announced a partnership with social-analytics provider OpenSlate to help advertisers analyze YouTube content for quality and brand safety.

GroupM said the new solution with OpenSlate will initially roll out in the U.S. and U.K., with plans under way to expand to additional international markets. The company said Google is enabling its partnership with OpenSlate to identify content that’s not brand-safe. Currently, GroupM’s clients are the only advertisers able to monitor content in the Google Preferred program — which comprises the most popular YouTube channels in specific categories — in this way.

Advertisers that have pulled ad spending from YouTube, and in some cases Google’s display advertising networks, include AT&T, Verizon, FX Networks, PepsiCo, Walmart, Dish Network, Starbucks, GM, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Johnson & Johnson and Lyft. That’s in addition to more than 250 U.K. advertisers who have frozen spending on YouTube, an exodus touched off by a report by the Times of London that ads from major brands were appearing in videos posted by white supremacists and other hatemongers.

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Some analysts expect the impact on Google’s bottom line to be minimal. But the company could lose up to $750 million in ad revenue from the controversy, according to an estimate released last week by Nomura’s Instinet.

According to GroupM, under the deal with OpenSlate the analytics firm will provide clients of its agencies additional controls and content safeguards to support their YouTube media buys. The solution will span both reservation media, including Google Preferred, and in auction-based inventory bought through AdWords or DoubleClick Bid Manager. Using OpenSlate’s data, clients will be able to better define the type of content that should be excluded from their YouTube media buys, the companies said. In addition, OpenSlate will provide GroupM agency clients with reporting that details exactly where their campaigns have run.

“Most brands today have scaled their advertising on digital platforms like YouTube, where most content is user-generated, but their needs for mature and safe ad products and environments persist,” Susan Schiekofer, chief digital investment officer at GroupM North America, said in a statement.

GroupM’s Schiekofer conceded that it’s not possible to eliminate all risk for advertisers when it comes to user-generated media, but she positioned the partnership with OpenSlate as an extra step it is taking to ensure clients’ brand reputations. Together, GroupM and Kantar account for over half of WPP’s more than $20 billion in annual revenue.

Google has publicly stated that it’s taking a number of steps to make sure ads are not placed against offensive content. The internet giant’s chief business officer, Philipp Schindler, wrote in a blog post last week that Google is improving the controls and reporting tools advertisers have about where their ads are displayed. He said the company also is hiring more staff and developing artificial-intelligence algorithms to better identify hate speech.

That hasn’t mollified the concerns of some major advertisers. Last week Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, said Google and other digital advertising platforms must do more to make digital advertising absolutely safe for brands. “Brands choose those platforms to work hard for them to achieve all of their business and brand building objectives. But the most important of those priorities is ‘to do no harm,'” Liodice said.

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