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More advertiser issues for YouTube after brands pull ads over drill video placements

By | Published on Tuesday 7 August 2018


An advertising industry analyst reckons that the latest falling out between a major brand and YouTube poses an opportunity for traditional broadcasters like ITV as they further expand their online offerings. This follows the news late last week that Mars had pulled all of its advertising off the Google video site after its products had been placed alongside music from the UK drill scene.

Mars pulled its ads after a commercial for Starburst appeared alongside a video from drill outfit Moscow17, who were in the news last week after one of their members – Siddique Kamara aka Incognito – died in a stabbing incident in Camberwell, south London.

Kamara was the second Moscow17 member to be killed this year, after Rhyhiem Barton was murdered in May. Meanwhile Kamara himself had been accused of involvement in another homicide – of Abdirahman Mohamed from rival group Zone 2 – but was cleared of those charges during a trial earlier this year.

The at times violent feuding between Moscow17 and Zone 2 and their related gangs has in part played out through music and videos posted to YouTube. This includes ‘diss tracks’ in which rival gang members taunt each other.

Confirming that it was removing ads from YouTube after appearing alongside the Moscow17 video, a spokesperson for Mars said last week: “It is unacceptable and disappointing to see one of our brands advertised alongside this video content. This clearly breaches our brand safety guidelines and Mars adverts should never run alongside such content”.

They went on: “We have taken the action to remove all our online advertising on YouTube and can confirm we are working with Google and our media buying agencies to understand what went wrong. Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube”.

In May, YouTube confirmed it had removed around 30 “violent” music videos from its platform at the request of London’s Metropolitan Police, in the midst of concerns about the link between video posts from the UK drill scene and rising knife crime in the capital.

Of course it’s all too easy to demonise entire genres of music when some of its makers are involved in violent acts. And obviously wider social issues, exacerbated in large part by government policy over the last decade, are key factors in the recent rise in knife crime in parts of London. But police argue that online messages posted by rival gangs are increasing tensions that can directly lead to violence.

Following last week’s events, a Google spokesperson said yesterday that: “We are actively working with the Metropolitan Police to review videos that may be connected with this incident. Along with others in the UK, we share the deep concern about this issue and do not want our platform used to incite violence”.

It’s not the first time brands have pulled advertising from YouTube because their commercials have appeared alongside controversial content. A flurry of advertisers bailed on the platform last year after a Times report on how big brands were being placed alongside videos posted by political extremists and groups promoting hate crimes and terrorism. In the wake of that advertiser exodus, Google insisted it would do more to monitor content on its platforms and enhance the ways in which adverts get placed.

But Ian Whittaker at Liberum Capital told ad industry trade mag Campaign yesterday that “there are no signs YouTube is closer to solving [this] problem. The seemingly endless wave of YouTube problems on this issue creates an opportunity for ITV to take a greater share of the very fast growing £1.7bn online video advertising market where it has a [less than] 6% share [versus] a 46% share of UK TV advertising”.

Following last year’s controversy around ads being placed with extremist content, the music industry’s Vevo platform talked up how it could guarantee that a brand’s ads would only ever appear alongside official artist videos. Though with music content being the issue this time, it could only capitalise on this latest fallout if it filtered videos pumped into its system via DIY music distribution services. And if it was willing to make an editorial call on what music videos could and could not carry advertising.