Google’s brand safety crusade hits setback as Mars pulls YouTube advertising

Moscow 17 member Siddique Kamara died from stab wounds this week

Mars has suspended all YouTube advertising after a pre-roll ad for Starburst was shown before a video fuelling London gang violence.

The spot had been loaded into an upload of a film from Moscow 17, a drill music group. Drill is characterised by gritty, violent lyrics and has been cited as the soundtrack to ongoing gang warfare in London, as rival groups often use music videos and tracks to provoke one another.

Mars said it was “unacceptable and disappointing” to see one of its brands advertised alongside the video content in question and confirmed it would not advertise on YouTube until “appropriate safeguards” are put in place by Google.

A spokesperson for the company said: “This clearly breaches our brand safety guidelines and Mars adverts should never run alongside such content. We have taken the action to remove all our online advertising on YouTube and can confirm we are working with Google and our media buying agencies to understand what went wrong."

The issue will no doubt factor into Mars' ongoing media agency review, which is expected to conclude by the end of 2018. At present Mars employs MediaCom to handle its global media planning, while media buying is split between MediaCom, OMD and Starcom.

A Google spokesperson stated: "We are actively working with the Metropolitan Police to review videos that may be connected with this incident. Along with others in the UK, we share the deep concern about this issue and do not want our platform used to incite violence."

They added the company has a dedicated relationship with law enforcement in order to distinguish artistic license from actual threats in cases such as this, and has blocked videos that contain individuals brandishing weapons in a threatening manner since 2018.

The news will come as a headache to the tech giant, which appeared to have remedied brand safety complaints in recent months. In January this year, the company rolled out a suite of products to tackle ad misplacement, including stricter criteria for content monetisation on YouTube, manual reviews on Google Preferred and greater controls for advertisers on what they deem as ‘appropriate content’.

Moscow 17 videos regularly rack up 15,000+ views, taking them over the 10,000 view threshold that content creators need to reach in order to qualify for monetisation. Channels also need 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time over the past 12 months in order to make money from ads.

Last year saw the likes of M&S, HSBC, McDonald’s and Audi pull spend from YouTube in response to brand safety fears.

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