Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Marks & Spencer Pulls Ads From YouTube Over Offensive Videos

Updated on
  • U.K. retailers John Lewis, Sainsbury also suspend their ads
  • Google says it’s sorry and is working on fixing the problem

Marks & Spencer Group Plc and other U.K. retailers pulled advertising from Alphabet Inc.’s Google, adding to the list of brands fleeing the search-engine giant over concerns that their spots were appearing alongside offensive clips on its YouTube video-sharing site.

“In order to ensure brand safety, we are pausing activity across Google platforms whilst the matter is worked through,” M&S said in a statement Monday. John Lewis Partnership Plc and J Sainsbury Plc also suspended YouTube activity.

The moves by the retailers build pressure on Google to better police YouTube so that offensive material -- such as videos promoting terrorism or anti-Semitism -- doesn’t appear alongside ads. The search-engine giant said in a blog post Friday that it would give clients more control over where their ads appear on YouTube and the Google Display Network, which posts advertising to third-party sites.

Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Sainsbury acted after the U.K. government, the Guardian newspaper, British banks and other marketers pulled advertising from YouTube. French advertising company Havas SA said it was removing certain clients’ spots from the site after it failed to get assurances that they wouldn’t appear alongside offensive videos.

“We have strict processes in place to prevent our adverts from appearing alongside inappropriate online content,” Sainsbury said in a statement Monday. “It is unacceptable that Google is allowing our ads to be placed alongside these videos on YouTube.”

Matt Brittin, Google president for business and operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, apologized for the problem, saying the company was simplifying controls for advertisers and speeding up reviews of content flagged by users as potentially offensive.

“Our policies and tools work well in the vast majority of cases,” he said at an advertising conference in London on Monday. “We have a review underway on how to improve, which has been going on for some time, and we’re accelerating that review.”

‘Economically Accountable’

Michael Roth, chief executive officer of Interpublic Group of Cos., warned that the New York-based advertising company would also pull ads from YouTube if it doesn’t police the platform more thoroughly to avoid awkward juxtapositions for advertisers.

“If they can’t fix it, we’re not going to participate,” Roth said at the the conference. “They have to put systems in place that look at placement. The best way to fix it is to hold them economically accountable.”

Brittin declined to comment on the financial impact on Google. One big advertiser, Anglo-Dutch consumer-products company Unilever, said it was sticking with YouTube for now.

“We haven’t suspended in the U.K. on YouTube because we’re tracking the situation,” Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed said at the Advertising Week event in London. “I will make the decision as and when.”

(Updates with John Lewis in second paragraph.)
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