A report that some of the world's biggest brands are inadvertently funding extremism and pornography through programmatic ads has prompted Mercedes-Benz to review the platforms and channels it considers safe.
Along with the likes of Marie Curie, Thomson Reuters and Halifax, the car giant was named as one of a number of brands to have been unwittingly opening up revenue streams for terrorists and white supremacists by advertising on their sites and next to their videos on YouTube.
The investigation by the Times claimed that an ad for the new Mercedes E-Class saloon runs was run next to a pro-Isis video that has been viewed more than 115,000 times.
The automarker's parent company, Daimler, told The Drum in a statement that it dissociates itself from all forms of discrimination and extremism.
It said that in order to ensure its ad placement adhered to its already "strict" policies on the matter that it uses both programmatic whitelists and blacklists coupled with filter tools.
Even with well-managed blacklists troublesome website can wiggle through the filters, meaning buyers have to carry out site-by-site audits for sensitive categories. Consequently, the German car marque has asked all of its markets and media agencies to review, and "if necessary update" these directories to lessen the risk of its ads being misplaced.
The brand admitted that in many markets is it currently working exclusively with approved lists (ie whitelists), but hinted this may change, saying: "Well-maintained and up-to-date non-approved lists, which are managed manually, can be an alternative."
"Mercedes-Benz has strict media guidelines, which our markets and our media agencies adhere to," the spokesman said, "these prohibit the use of platforms and channels that are not compatible with our principles, such as those with extremist or politically polarising, discriminatory, sexist or criminal content."
"We have asked our colleagues in the markets and our media agencies to contact all relevant advertising networks to make sure that advertising is only displayed in accordance with our strict media guidelines," the company added.
While Mercedes-Benz' is reviewing the matter is unlikely to completely pull ad spend from mammoth platforms like YouTube. Instead, however, it could plump to stop buying against certain categories within YouTube's walls, using blacklists to categorise content based off contextual filters and keywords. When probed to clarify what "review and update" meant in terms of its whitelists and blacklists Mercedes-Benz told The Drum that it had nothing further to add to its parent company's statement.
YouTube video typically earns whoever posts the content $7.60 for every 1,000 views, with the Times noting that some of the most popular extremist videos have more than one million hits.
YouTube wasn't the only platform mentioned in the Times' explosive report today, with the newspaper stating that during its investigation it had also found ads for John Lewis, Dropbox, Disney embedded on sunnah-online.com - a site which hosts lectures by extremist Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips and imprisoned terrorist Esa al-Hindi. Llyods Bank, meanwhile, was found to be advertising on eramuslim.com, a site banned last month by the Indonesian government for allegedly promoting hate speech.
The Drum reached out to both Argos and Waitrose, two other brands mentioned in the report, and both gave less in-depth statements then Mercedes.
"At Argos we have strict processes in place to prevent our adverts from appearing alongside inappropriate online content, including YouTube videos," a spokesperson said. "We can reassure customers that we monitor our advertising and regularly review our processes to ensure they are as robust as possible. If our adverts inadvertently appear alongside inappropriate content, we take immediate action."
Waitrose said that both the digital agencies and publishers it works with have human and tech vetting processes in place to monitor and regulate the websites where we advertise. "We are looking into why our adverts appeared on these sites and how this happened," added the John Lewis-owned supermarket.
The Times report comes as the boss of one of the world's biggest advertisers, P&G's Marc Pritchard, has issued a call to agencies to bring transparency to the “murky at best, fraudulent at worst” media supply chain.
He joins a growing number of clients now looking to put their money where their mouths are - including McDonald's and L'Oreal - when it comes to challenging agencies and media owners on issues around viewability and fraud.
Speaking at the Westminster Media Forum Seminar on Priorities for Digital Advertising, Pete Edwards, chief strategy officer at Engine UK said of the programmatic terror dilemma: "The levels of abdication of ownership and responsibility in the digital space has been shocking in some client organisations. They’ve believed the hype of the data which businesses are giving them and the effectiveness and efficiencies of media spend. They must take ownership and control and rule or be ruled by technology."
"There are too many vested interests," he added, saying: "It's unacceptable. Particularly in a channel that can be and should be more measurable. We've been fiddling while Rome burns."