Havas Group UK is pausing all YouTube and Google Display Network ad spend until further notice, with chief executive and country manager Paul Frampton saying it has a "duty of care" to clients to ensure brand safety.
The advertising giant said it had taken the decision on behalf of its UK clients which include O2, Royal Mail, the BBC and Dominos. It will not pull investment from Google Search ads which are verified.
The decision comes weeks after an initial Times investigation, which claimed household names were inadvertently funding extremism by serving ads next to content from terrorists and neo-nazi groups. It has provoked debate in the industry and earlier today the Guardian took the dramatic step of canceling all ads on Google and YouTube in protest following further revelations from the Times.
Havas said its move was a direct result of the latest revelations and that Google has been unable to provide specific reassurances and guarantees that their video or display content is classified either quickly enough or with the correct filters.
When approached by The Drum Google had no comment on the matter.
"We have a duty of care to our clients in the UK marketplace to position their brands in the right context where we can be assured that that environment is safe, regulated to the degree necessary and additive to their brands' objectives," said Frampton.
Havas' has said its halt on investment will remain until it is confident in the YouTube platform and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards it and its clients expect.
"Our teams are working with the brands we represent to select alternative partners where we are confident of the third party verification and safety guarantees," said Frampton.
His official statement echoes comments he made earlier on Twitter:
— Paul Frampton Calero (@Paul_Framp) March 17, 2017
When claims first emerged that brands were funding extremism and pornography through programmatic ads without prior knowledge, several - including Mercedes-Benz and Thomson Reuters, suspended elements of digital advertising while they investigated the matter with their agencies.
Havas, however, is the first major global marketing network to freeze Google and YouTube spend for all UK clients with Frampton saying it had taken steps to protect its brands in absence of "reassurance or change in policy from YouTube".
The blow for Google comes after it was forced to review its UK policies after the UK government and others pulled investment earlier today.
"Google is responsible for ensuring the high standards applied to Government advertising are adhered to and that adverts do not appear alongside inappropriate content," said a government spokeswoman today (Friday 17 March).
“We have placed a temporary restriction on our YouTube advertising pending reassurances from Google that government messages can be delivered in a safe and appropriate way."
Speaking to The Drum earlier this month, Google's managing director for the UK and Ireland, Ronan Harris said he wanted to address advertisers' mounting concerns over transparency and brand safety.
"I want to listen to the concerns: I want to hear them and I want to talk about what we’re doing and discuss whether there are things we can do better," he said, admitting that Google "got plenty of phone calls" from clients after the Times exposé.
At the moment, Google - as well as Facebook - is facing growing questions from marketers around issues like transparency and ad fraud. Both have bowed to third-party verification in recent months, introduced audits and in some instances even promised improved data but top names in the industry still remain unconvinced about where exactly their media investment is going.
A few days ago at the Guardian Media Summit The&Partnership founder and chief executive Johnny Hornby said the tech giants needed to act quickly and stop paying lip service to the issue of ad fraud in particular.
“They need to act quickly, like now, and make a promise to invest a proper amount of money against a deadline. We need to say that we won’t sit on another panel in Cannes and have this same discussion,” he asserted.