- Major drugmaker Johnson & Johnson has halted all global advertising on the video-sharing site YouTube in response to concerns product marketing appeared next to offensive content such as hate speech.
- J&J joins a growing list of large corporations, including major advertiser AT&T, that have opted to pull advertising from running on the Google-owned media channel.
- Alarm began to spread following an investigation by the British newspaper The Times which found advertising from well-known brands appeared next to content from extremist groups. ISBA, a U.K. advertising association with over 400 corporate members, urged Google shortly thereafter to review its policies and withdraw any ad inventory it could not guarantee wouldn't appear next to offending material.
YouTube is a major advertising channel and one of many platforms in Google's Display Network that generates billions in ad revenue for the search giant.
Ads run on YouTube or other channels are automatically placed on websites and videos. Google has tools that prevent brand's messaging from appearing next to controversial or offensive material, stopping ads from serving on over 300 million YouTube videos last year, according to a blog post from Ronan Harris, the managing director of Google U.K. last week.
But, in wake of the public relations backlash, Google has admitted that ads have displayed next to offending content in a small percentage of cases.
"Recently, we had a number of cases where brands’ ads appeared on content that was not aligned with their values," Google's Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler said in a more recent statement posted Mar. 21. Schindler said the company has been conducting an "extensive review" and has enabled new controls to allow brands to more easily curate where advertising may appear.
Still, the concern among advertisers appears substantial.
"Johnson & Johnson has decided to pause all YouTube digital advertising globally to ensure our product advertising does not appear on channels that promote offensive content," the pharma giant said in a statement.
AT&T went a step further, removing its ads from all non-search platforms.
"We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate," and AT&T spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms."
British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline is also reported to have paused advertising on YouTube, and several other pharma subsidiaries are members of the British ad association ISBA which had expressed alarm last week.
Pharmaceutical companies, however, may be less affected globally than other advertisers. Most developed countries, with the notable exceptions of the U.S. and New Zealand, prohibit direct-to-consumer marketing of drugs, limiting the potential for product marketing to appear next to inappropriate content on consumer channels like YouTube.