- Speaking at the IPA's Festival of British Advertising in London Friday, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said Google has to "step up and take responsibility" for bad media hosted on its platform, according to Business Insider. Ronan Harris, Google's U.K. managing director, was also on the panel. WPP is the world's largest ad holding group and Google is the world's biggest digital ad platform.
- Sorrell's call to action follows a recent report in the U.K. newspaper The Times that uncovered many brands' advertisements appeared around content linked to terrorist and hate groups, either on Google's YouTube or other, hate-related websites. Some of the ads were placed in these spaces by Google's own technology.
Business Insider reports that, when Harris attempted to defend his company, Sorrell sniped back: "You haven't allayed [advertisers'] concerns," he said, pointing to three U.K.-based clients who recently brought up the issue of brand safety to him. Sorrell added later, "You have to take responsibility for this as a media company."
Sorrell has been a vocal critic of the Google-Facebook duopoly in digital advertising, and the Times report lends credence to the idea that major gaps persist in these tech giants' walled gardens despite a heightened awareness toward things like fake news and extreme material. For marketers, ad placements around such bad media can tarnish brand image and credibility merely by association, on top of helping monetize offensive content.
To bolster brand safety, and to improve networks overall, Sorrell suggested ad platforms make more data available to third parties for targeting purposes, per Business Insider — an idea which the big platforms are resisting, citing privacy concerns.
"Privacy is used as a fig leaf not to do things," the WPP head said at the panel. "If walled gardens are not prepared to show their data, it's getting increasingly difficult."
Though Sorrell spoke primarily on Google, he also took shots at Facebook. Facebook has been heavily criticized, not only for hosting fake news, but also for a series of major metrics errors that surfaced last year.
Sorrell suggested that, if other companies engaged in the faulty practices Facebook has, they would be "out of business," per Business Insider.
Sorrell's pointed criticisms follow a similar call to action from Procter & Gamble's Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, who began demanding Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation for metrics like viewability across advertising platforms in January. Though Pritchard didn't explicitly name-drop Facebook, his initiative appeared to stem, at least in part, from its metrics mishaps. P&G is the world's largest advertiser and one of WPP's biggest clients.
Google and Facebook seemed to have responded proactively to Pritchard's demands. Both companies recently submitted to audits by the MRC and are expanding partnerships with third-party measurement partners to ensure greater accuracy and transparency with marketers.
As more marketing thought leaders like Sorrell and Pritchard directly challenge ad platforms — Pritchard's even threatened to take P&G's business elsewhere if his requirements aren't met — industry change might accelerate this year.