PepsiCo, Walmart, Starbucks boycott Google/YouTube after ads appear next to ‘appalling’ videos

PepsiCo, Walmart, and Starbucks have joined the international boycott against Google’s YouTube and suspended advertising on the video-sharing service over mounting concerns that their ads may have run next to “appalling” videos.

Some advertisers said they won’t return to YouTube until they are certain Google has the situation under control.

“The content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our company values,” Walmart said in a Friday statement.

The company, alongside PepsiCo and several others, said they will also stop buying ads that Google places on more than two million other third-party websites, AP reported.

Verizon and AT&T, along with UK retailer Marks and Spencer and L’Oreal, pulled ads from YouTube earlier this week. AT&T said it is removing the ads from the non-search inventory on Google because its “ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” the company wrote in an email, Reuters reported.

If the search giant fails to win back advertisers, this could potentially result in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. “The bigger risk is this seems to be a backlash against programmatic advertising in general,” analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research told Reuters on Thursday. “There’s this worry that you no longer have control over where ads appear,”he added.

Moody’s Investor Service predicted the backlash won’t last long because Google is “laser-focused” on cleaning things up on YouTube, AP reported.

The Wall Street Journal found that Google’s automated programs placed their brands on five videos containing extremist content.

Speaking at a press briefing at the start of Advertising Week Europe in London on Monday, Google apologized for tainting some brands, and pledged to ensure the ads will not appear alongside extremist videos.

“It is a good opportunity for me to say, first and foremost, to say sorry this should not happen and we need to do better,” Google’s EMEA president of business and operations, Matt Brittin, said.

Google relies mostly on automated programs to place ads in YouTube videos. The company’s EMEA president of business and operations, Matt Brittin, said 400 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube each minute, adding that 98 percent of “removals” take place within 24 hours, NBC reported.

Ensuring brand safety, however, is a real challenge, Brittin noted. “It is not as simple as it might seem, so you might say: Why don’t you just exclude content that relates to war or that relates to politics? Well actually if you were to do that you would exclude important news content or documentary content.”

“It’s not our job to be a censor, it’s for the government,” Brittin said, as cited by Business Insider.

“So, you will find online content that you violently disagree with, that you find incredibly distasteful, but that is a legitimate point of view and not illegal. And that is one of the joys of the web and the voices that are there. That’s different to the issue of what’s safe for advertisers, which is more tightly defined.”