Google is trying to wash away concerns about brand safety, particularly on YouTube, but its position is precarious
Google is in a very, very, very tricky position because of an advertiser boycott that has seen huge brands pull ads after revelations that they were appearing next to offensive YouTube videos (and other objectionable content).
Late last month, more than 250 brands reportedly froze all their campaigns with Google aside from search, though some have since reversed course. Analysts at Nomura Instinet estimated that Google could lose up to $750 million from the boycott.
Now Google is on the offensive to try and wash away the concerns about brand safety.
Google did a big press push Monday morning, with its chief business officer, Philipp Schindler, talking to The New York Times, Bloomberg, and Recode. And his statements about the boycott showed how convoluted Google’s position is.
Google wants to look like it’s facing the problem head-on, while at the same time maintaining that it’s not really a problem in the first place.
“We take this as seriously as we’ve ever taken a problem,” Schindler told The New York Times. “We’ve been in emergency mode.” Emergency mode sounds drastic, and on Monday Google announced it was using a new machine-learning tool to identify offensive content, which Schindler told Recode was able to find five times more videos that weren't brand-safe than before.
So Google is taking action, and it wants the public to know about it. But at the same time, Google wants to stress that it wasn’t really a big deal anyway.
He echoed this language in another interview.
Okay, so if it’s such a small problem, is there a way to wipe it out altogether? "No," according to Google.
"Cutting away the ability for brands to truly interact with consumers by asking for one hundred percent safety is very, very, very unrealistic," Schindler told Bloomberg.
This last statement gives a window into the heart of the problem for Google. Google doesn’t want to guarantee that ads won’t appear on offensive videos. Rather, it wants to get that possibility to a small enough level where its brand partners won’t be upset about it anymore. That will likely happen when there stops being headlines about it.
Like with Facebook’s response to “fake news,” this position leads to the rhetorical jiu-jitsu of taking responsibility and action, while simultaneously admitting that realistically you will continue to allow some small percentage of the problem to happen on your platform.
Additional reporting by Julien Rath.