In a matter of days, a growing list of major brands—including McDonald’s, Audi, The Guardian, and the BBC—have pulled their advertising business from Google and YouTube, after discovering that their advertisements had appeared alongside extremist content.
It’s not just commercial brands that have been affected. The U.K. government has also suspended its YouTube ad content and summoned Google to appear before the Cabinet Office “to explain how it will deliver the high quality of service government demands on behalf of the taxpayer.” According to Channel 4, another company that has been affected, the decision to pull its advertising came down to concern about YouTube’s ability to foster “a safe environment.”
Advertisers and those placing ads owe it to their customers, as well as the brand itself, to ensure that ads are placed responsibly. That requires transparency—advertisers and the companies behind these brands should be aware of where ads will appear—and a commitment to avoiding websites that offer or promote offensive and illegal content. This is particularly critical for addressing online piracy, since sites offering pirated works rely heavily on advertising revenues to generate profit. According to a 2015 study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and EY Media, pirated or infringed content accounts for $2.4 billion in “lost revenue opportunity cost” from the digital marketing, advertising, and media industry. What’s more, websites that illegally reproduce and distribute copyrighted content often lure vulnerable and unsuspecting users with the promise of “free” content, only to infect their computers with malware. Not only is the costly for the consumer—stolen credit card and bank information, identity theft, computer damage, etc.—but combatting malware costs the digital marketing, advertising, and media industry an additional $1.1 billion to combat. Without transparency and accountability in the digital advertising ecosystem, brands may find it difficult to prevent their ads from funding such sites.
It’s about brand integrity and deciding what your company represents, and where it draws the line, whether on television, over the radio, in print, or online. Earlier this month, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG)—a U.S.-based organization which works to eliminate ad fraud, combat malware, fight internet piracy, and promote transparency on the internet—announced a new initiative aimed at helping brands do just that. In partnership with the U.K.-based Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards in the UK and Ireland (JICWEBS) their mission is “to tackle criminal activity and clean up the digital ad supply chain.” This is welcome news for all parties, because when legitimate ads appear on illegitimate sites, it not only harms the creators and innovators whose work is being stolen, it also harms the brands being advertised.
Terrica Carrington is the Copyright Counsel at Copyright Alliance.
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