Pulling Ads from Google: Smart Move or PR Stunt?

Recent headlines and Tweetstorms about Google ads—specifically ads on the Display Network and YouTube—appearing alongside potentially offensive domains or videos have caused an increasing number of globally recognized brands to pull their whole Google advertising budget. Take Pepsi, the latest domino to fall, for example; they “just pulled all ads from Google and YouTube.”

removing ads from gdn and youtube

While this creates the illusion that these brands are doing “the right thing,” it’s little more than an ill-informed, feel-good PR stunt.

Here’s some potentially shocking information: Google is a search engine, a smart advertising company, and a bastion of innovation. It is not a moral compass.

As such, there are websites on the Google Display Network and videos on YouTube that may very well offend or upset some people. It makes sense for Google to cast as wide a net as possible: a broader network of websites running AdSense and videos bookended or interrupted by ads means more revenue. Inevitably, this net will scoop up driftwood, garbage, and the occasional body part. 

However, since advertisers pay for clicks or impressions, and Google cares about its customers continuing to pump billions per annum into advertising, it behooves Google to give advertisers some measure of control over where their ads are shown.

In fact, these controls have existed for some time now; you just have to know where to find them.

By simply dropping all of their Google ad spend on principle, these brands are going to lose out on valuable advertising opportunities that, for the most part, would have had limited affiliation with any kind of offensive content. For “limited” to become “zero,” all it takes is an understanding of negative placements and content exclusions.

How to Prevent Your Ads from Appearing on Offensive Content

If you feel there are websites or YouTube channels that don’t align with your brand, you can eliminate them from your campaigns with ease.

Here’s how.

Google Display Network: Negative Placements

 display network campaign ad exclusions

There are two ways to eliminate websites that trade in offensive content from your GDN advertising strategy. The first involves making sweeping changes to the types of website eligible to display your ads using “Site Category Options.” The second involves curating a list of custom placements that you’ll add as campaign-level exclusions.

The easy, catch-all way

You, too, can cast a wide net.

By using site category exclusions, you can negate websites that Google has identified as fitting into one or multiple categories from your Display campaigns. You can find this option at the bottom of the Display Network’s “Placements” tab.

display network site category exclusions 

While this isn’t going to eliminate all potentially offensive websites, content, and placements that your banner creative might appear near, it’s an excellent start.

The #granular way

If you already know there are specific websites you’d like to avoid, there’s no need to leave their exclusion to chance.

excluding display network placements 

Negating specific website is like the bizarro version of Managed Placements. All you need to do is enter a single site (or list of them) in the field depicted above and Google will stop showing your ads there. You can leverage placement exclusions across all Display and Remarketing campaigns, ensuring your ads avoid any content that exists in opposition of your brand’s mission.

YouTube: Content Exclusions Settings

Today, the ability to control the types of videos your ads are shown on is more limited that the controls available to advertisers on the GDN; per Google, that’s going to change soon (more on that in a moment).

youtube ad content exclusions 

For now, advertisers making use of pre-and-midroll creative can adjust their content exclusion settings from the default, “all content except mature and unlabeled content” to the more discerning “all content except mature, unlabeled, and sensitive subjects.”

Again, this isn’t a perfect solution; it’s ostensibly the YouTube version of site category exclusions.

Coming soon though…

Google’s New Expanded safeguards

Starting in Mid-March, Google rolled out a suite of advertiser-focused measures they’re calling them “Expanded Safeguards.”

Per Google, these changes will make it easier for advertisers to control when and where their ads are served. Google aims to establish a “safer default for brands,” adjusting automatic settings to make site and YouTube channel exclusions easier. This means companies can balance morality and business growth without feeling compromised.

In relation to video specifically, there’s talk of tightening safeguards and making it easier for advertisers to eliminate offensive content placements. Google’s also taking a hard look at what kind of content (paid or otherwise) should be allowed to exist on YouTube.

It’s also worth noting that brands can opt into the original, broader audiences if they choose.

Mark’s Take: Eliminate Bad Placements, Not You AdWords Account

When the first wave of advertiser backlash began back in November, our resident data scientist Mark Irvine wrote about excluding ads from certain sites. When asked to touch on brands pulling their ad spend from Google, here’s what he had to say:

 “A few months ago we began to notice that clients became more selective in how they bought programmatic ads. Before November, our clients didn’t think twice about their ads appearing across 1 million different sites (in fact, that was considered a value prop). Over the past few month, though, about 40% of our clients have asked about removing different controversial sites and content categories from their targeting. Google’s ad inventory is large enough that removing 1 domain or one category of domains doesn’t strictly limit your reach on the platform nor does it reduce spend.”

In short, the GDN and YouTube are so large that eliminating one or even a whole industry’s worth of websites and video will have no discernable impact on your advertising.

In Conclusion

If you implement negative placements and content exclusions, you can continue using AdWords with a clear conscious and without passing on valuable prospects and brand-building opportunities. No gestural morality needed.

Moving forward, Google’s promise to provide more in-depth reporting on video ads. They’re developing tools and throwing money behind new measures to improve their ability to identify questionable content, and escalation procedures to fix issues that slip through the cracks in “less than a few hours.”

About the Author

Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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