Google is disputing the accuracy of new research that indicates that Google has been violating its own standards for placing ads on third-party websites about 80% of the time.
The research in question, by brand analysis firm Adalytics, based on data from more than 1,100 brands and billions of ad impressions between 2020 and 2023, gained attention through a Wall Street Journal report this week.
In addition to displaying ads on YouTube, Google’s proprietary cost-per-view, choice-based TrueView platform serves video ads to millions of apps, and across the web to sites in the Google Video Partner (GVP) program. Advertisers buying the skippable, in-stream TrueView ad format are supposed to pay only "for actual views of their ads, rather than impressions," per Google's own description. Google’s policies state that TrueView ads must be skippable (after five seconds, a prompt should ask viewers if they want to skip the rest of the ad) and audible, and that video ad plays must be initiated by viewer action, not passive user scrolling.
But Adalytics' report asserts that "for years, significant quantities of TrueView skippable in-stream ads, purchased by many different brands and media agencies, appear to have been served on hundreds of thousands of websites and apps in which the consumer experience did not meet Google’s stated quality standards. For example, many TrueView in-stream ads were served muted and auto-playing as out-stream video or as obscured video players on independent sites. Often, there was little to no organic video media content between ads, the video units simply played ads only."
One example cited by the Adalytics report: 90% of the budget for one Fortune 500 brand's in-stream, skippable TrueView campaign, costing tens of thousands of dollars, ended up going to GVP mobile apps and websites, and only 10% to YouTube channels.
Large TrueView campaigns can cost upwards of $75,000, according to the report.
Running on "small, muted, out-stream, auto-playing or interstitial video ad units running on independent websites and mobile apps" may have cost media buyers "up to billions of digital ad dollars," Adalytics asserts.
According to WSJ's coverage, Samsung, Disney+ and Johnson & Johnson, as well as government entities including the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Army and Medicare, are among the advertisers that have been affected.
“Google must fix this and fully refund clients for any fraud and impressions that failed to meet Google’s own policies,” Joshua Lowcock, global chief media officer at ad agency UM Worldwide, told WSJ.
Some ad buyers have asked for refunds, according to statements provided to the Journal, although Google is said not to have issued any makegoods on challenged TrueView buys as yet.
In response to the assertions, Google told WSJ that the research “makes many claims that are inaccurate and doesn’t reflect how we keep advertisers safe,” and that it adheres to strict policies for ad placements on third-party sites, regularly removing ads from partner sites that violate their policies.
Google also said that it will take any appropriate actions once they have been given the opportunity to review the full report.
Note: This article has been updated. Following posting, Google sent press a link to a blog in which the company says it seeks to "set the record straight about the options available to advertisers and the investments we make in ensuring brands can reach high-quality audiences across this [GVP] partner network."
Among other points, Google asserts that the "overwhelming majority" of video ad campaigns (TrueView is not specifically mentioned) run on YouTube, but video advertisers "can also run ads on GVP, a separate network of third-party sites, to reach additional audiences, if it helps them meet their business objectives." Adding GVP sites can be effective in increasing a campaign's targeted reach, Google says.
Google also says that advertisers "can clearly see that their ads may run on third-party sites via GVP during the campaign setup," that they have the option to opt out at any time, and that they can also decide where their content may appear.
In addition, Google asserts that 90% of ad inventory across the GVP network is viewable, and that in addition to enforcing strict policies for GVP publisher sites through internal practices, Google partners with independent third-party verification companies including DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science and Moat.