There’s something about Advertising Week Europe that seems cursed for the tech giants that the industry so relies upon. Last year Google’s EMEA president Matt Brittin took to the stage in London to apologise to advertisers who found their brands placed by Google next to extremist material. This year, the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal has meant it’s Facebook’s turn to face up to its failings, but Google’s 2018 address to the industry today was a clear attempt to demonstrate its remorse.
Matt Brittin was joined on the stage by Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president, ad & commerce, for a joint presentation sharing their vision for ‘Advertising That Works for Everyone.’
Matt began by asking the industry figures in the room to “take off your hats” and remember that “you, the people, are what makes advertising work”. Almost everything we do online is wholly or partly funded by advertising, he stressed, explaining why it’s vital that Google gets its ecosystem working for the industry.
He owned up again to the company’s mistakes, reminding the audience of last year’s apology for ads being associated with inappropriate content. “That was unacceptable,” he said. Since then Google has done a lot and, he admitted, still has a lot to do and recommitted to a “promise to make advertising work for everyone”.
People find advertising “annoying, or worse, malicious,” as Matt put it, facing up to the general challenges the industry is facing, such as a crisis of trust from consumers. “We have all got our work cut out.”
Google’s plan to meet these challenges is threefold: to make advertising work for people, publishers and advertisers.
On people, they’ve been listening to feedback from users on their ‘Mute This Ad’ programme and, Matt said, learned that “irrelevance is the biggest issue”.
Listening was a central theme of Matt’s presentation. “We’ve spent a lot of time listening more to all of you over the last year; listening to what’s said in public, in private sessions with advertisers, with agencies, with industry bodies and we continue to do that and we commit to doing that more on an ongoing basis. And we hear you,” he said, before listing the challenges advertisers have flagged up with them regarding transparency, safety and fraud protection.
On publishing, he acknowledged the societal shift that has changed the landscape: "This is a world where anyone with a smartphone is a publisher. And that’s phenomenal. That’s amazing; that’s a huge opportunity for everybody to be creative and to communicate. It means there’s a huge explosion of freedom of expression and freedom of speech."
But it has of course also opened the Pandora’s Box of fake news and opportunities for extremist views to find a voice.
Sridhar presented three commitments that Google is making to face these fundamental challenges. First, they will actively engage with their stakeholders more proactively. Second, they will act with urgency, aggressively, to make things better. And third, they pledge to communicate their commitment and progress so they can iterate and make things better.
He listed the changes they’d made for users first – added security in the form of things like encryption on Gmail and protection against phishing. Transparency to see what data Google has on you via your ‘My Account’ page, where users can choose to opt out of providing certain data for advertising purposes.
Given the choice, most users choose to continue giving this data, Sridhar revealed, because they want relevant advertising content. Naturally this ties in with the coming introduction of GDPR in Europe on which he said: “We have upcoming announcements.”
“There is tons of bad advertising,” said Sridhar, listing ads that employ phishing, lead to malware, promote “get rich quick” schemes and scams. To show how Google is combating this he borrowed some numbers from its 2017 Bad Ads Report
, released earlier this month, demonstrating that they disabled over 3 billion ads last year for providing a less-than-great experience to users.
The ‘Coalition for Better Ads
’ is now two years old and its research has provided standards that Google is committing to push for, fighting ads that cover a whole screen, autoplay video without consent and fail to provide options to click away, for example. Chrome will soon start filtering ads that don’t conform to the Better Ads Standard, he said.
In a comment that echoed Sir Martin Sorrell’s comments yesterday about his preference for tech industry self-regulation, Sridhar asserted, “we have created the right incentive for the ads ecosystem to police itself.”
Directly addressing the criticism the tech leviathan came under a year ago, he reiterated how seriously Google took that: “We said we needed to do a much better job of making sure advertisers had a strong say in what content their ads come up against.” In response it is on track to hire over 10,000 people working on platform and ad safety issues in Google. It is also using machine learning to detect extremist content alongside manual vetting for everything on Google Preferred
– the advertising platform including some of YouTube’s most popular content.
Google is in favour of independent standards such as those of the The Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) by JICWEBS. Sridhar mentioned that they are working with third parties on this, such as Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify.
Addressing the industry’s calls for more measurement of advertising on its platforms, he acknowledged a “strong need for commonly accepted standards by which advertising can be measured. It’s also clear to all of us that these metrics need to be verified by third parties and measured by third parties.” On this he noted that Google is working with AGF – the German association providing the official TV audience ratings – to have YouTube measured side-by-side against TV (when one audience member later asked about taking this kind of action in the UK, Matt admitted it was “frustrating as a Brit to see the Germans working faster than us” and mentioned that Google is working to strike up a similar relationship with BARB
For publishers, Sridhar brought up the new Google News Initiative
, announced earlier this week to combat fake news and support legitimate publishers online. Alongside this is Subscribe with Google
, allowing users to subscribe to participating news sites using their Google login details. He also mentioned the fight against counterfeit ad views using ads.txt files
In conclusion, Google says it has been doing a lot of soul searching recently on issues around trust, the legitimacy of content, real users, brand-safe content and a fair value exchange between advertisers and users. “The last year has been a bit of a whirlwind for all of us,” said Sridhar, but assured the audience that the team at Google are all “super focused” on this problem. Even though there’s “clearly lots more to do.”