Coles latest brand to suspend YouTube ads

By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 25 February 2019

Big brands such as Coles, CommBank and Coca-Cola have stopped advertising on YouTube following revelations of a “soft-core paedophilia ring” on the platform.

The issue was discovered by blogger Matt Watson who uploaded a video explaining how YouTube’s recommended algorithm facilitates paedophiles’ ability to connect with each-other, trade contact info, and link to exploitive content in the comments.

In response Coles, Optus, CommBank, Woolworths and Coca-Cola have all stopped advertising on the platform.

In the US, Disney, Hasbro and Nestlé also pulled their ads over the issue, according to reports in NPR.

Coles has this morning confirmed to AdNews that it has stopped advertising on the platform.

AdNews understands Google held talks with top network CEOs last week to address the issue and that agencies are happy with how proactive Google has been.

YouTube owner Google said any content, including comments, that endangers minors, is “abhorrent” and that it has clear policies prohibiting it.

“We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that include minors,” a Google spokesperson said.

“There's more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.”

CommBank said it’s suspending ads on YouTube until the matter is fully investigated and resolved.

Woolworths has also halted its ads, saying it will continue to monitor the situation closely with its agency partners and Google.

Optus said it takes the integrity of its brand seriously.

“Optus immediately paused use of YouTube marketing when we learned of the situation,” an Optus spokesperson said.
“We have since been in discussions with YouTube on their management of this issue, and believe they are taking appropriate measures for an issue of this serious nature."

In addition to brands, the Australian government is hitting pause, saying its master media agency, Universal McCann, advised it that YouTube comments appeared to have been misused by third parties to encourage or facilitate inappropriate, predatory and exploitative behaviour.

“As a result, advertising by non-corporate Commonwealth entities conducted within Australia on the YouTube platform was suspended with effect from 19 February 2019,” a Deparment of Finance spokesperson said.

“The Australian Government, through its master media agency, has sought updates from Google (the owner of YouTube) on the steps being taken to address this issue.”

Dentsu Aegis Network tells AdNews that in response it recommended clients pause YouTube advertising for now. 

IPG Mediabrands Australia have also reportedly revealed a trading halt on the platform.

Omnicom Media Group hasn’t issued a blanket trading halt across YouTube but CIO Kristiaan Kroon said it’s taking the issue extremely seriously and working closely with Google to ensure its brands are protected. 

“Placing ads in the same environment as user generated content always attracts a varying degree of risk,” Kroon said.

“Inappropriate comments are also not a new issue. Many publishers opted to remove unmoderated comment years ago, putting user safety over increased engagement.

“We expect Google and YouTube to continually raise the level of control and transparency providing a safe and effective advertising environment for our clients.”

GroupM also hasn’t stopped advertising on the platform, instead opting for a case by case review of its ads.

CEO Mark Lollback said it takes brand safety incredibly seriously and has strict brand safety guidelines in place across all channels.

“There is always careful assessment of client spend on any social media channel or where there is exposure to user generated content and we will work with clients at an individual level to determine the best course of action in light of this issue.

“We understand there are brands that have been affected in Australia, and while the affected spend is incredibly small, and the impressions incredibly low, because of the highly sensitive subject, even one impression is too many.

“This is a serious issue and we will continue to monitor the situation and are working incredibly closely with Google on this, locally and globally, over next steps and updates.”

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