Google accused of mis-selling ads on third-party websites for years

Google has allegedly been mis-selling video ads to marketers for the last three years.

Advertisers working for small businesses, Fortune 500 companies and even the U.S. Federal Government have all been impacted, with the Google violating its own standards approximately 80% of the time, according to an Adalytics study.

Dozens of marketers expressed their regret over purchasing Google’s True View ad product as a result.

Why we care. Advertisers have been paying premium prices for a service that Google has allegedly failed to deliver, costing them up to billions of digital ad dollars. After reading the reactions from advertisers impacted by the substandard service they received from Google, it may make other marketers think twice before deciding to place ads with the Google Video Partners program.

How does True View work? True View is Google’s primary video ad product, which is featured on YouTube as well as third-party websites and apps. Users can skip True View ads after five seconds, but marketers only have to pay for the product when a video watches at least 30 seconds (or the length of the ad if it’s less than 30 seconds). Marketers can only be charged if their ad also plays with audio and isn’t activated accidentally by a user scrolling a page.

Google charges high prices when ads tick all of these boxes and the deal is brokered through a program called Google Video Partners.

In exchange for coughing up these expensive fees, advertisers are promised:

  • Ads will play on high-quality sites.
  • Ads will play before a page’s main video content begins.
  • Ads will play only with the audio on.
  • Ads play only after viewer initiation.
  • They will only have to pay for ads that aren’t skipped.

Has Google broken its promise to advertisers? Google has been accused of violating its own standards the majority of the time while still charging marketers a premium fee, according to the Adalytics report.

Google was accused of misleading advertisers by:

  • Playing premium ads without the promised audio.
  • Placing ads in small videos in low-value places such as the side of a page’s main content.
  • Placing ads in automatically-played videos.
  • Placing ads on websites that don’t meet Google’s standards for monetization.

Several dozen advertisers claimed they would never have purchased ad space through the Google Video Partners program had they been made aware of these issues in advance. Advertisers also said they were shocked and didn’t want their ads to play without audio, and that doing so contradicted their understanding of the ad space they had purchased.

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What Google is saying. Marvin Renaud, Google’s Director of Global Video Solutions, issued a statement to deny the claims on the Google Ads & Commerce Blog shortly after the Adalytics report was published. He said:

  • “Brands care deeply about where their ads are placed and so do we. A recent report by a third party used unreliable sampling and proxy methodologies and made extremely inaccurate claims about the Google Video Partner (GVP) network.”
  • “The report wrongly implies that most campaign spend runs on GVP rather than YouTube. That’s just not right. The overwhelming majority of video ad campaigns serve on YouTube.”
  • “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. While only a small percentage of video ads appear on GVP, it’s effective: we’ve seen adding GVP to YouTube campaigns increases reach by over 20% for the same budget.”
  • “Ad inventory across the Google Video Partner network is more than 90% viewable. This is well above industry norms. The claims in the third-party report simply aren’t right. Put simply, over 90% of ads on GVP are visible to people across the web — and advertisers are only paying for ads when they are viewed.”
  • “In addition to the high bar we set on YouTube, we have strict policies that all third-party publishers, including Google Video Partners, must follow. We actively enforce these policies. Our policies prohibit made for advertising (MFA) content. To give you a sense of how serious we are about this, in 2022 we stopped serving ads on more than 143,000 sites for violating our policies.”
  • We offer third-party validation for ads running on Google Video Partners content. We partner with outside organizations to help us ensure publishers are complying with our policies. Google Video Partners supports independent, third party verification from DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science, and Moat for viewability and invalid traffic. These partnerships, combined with the work we already do internally to enforce our policies, give advertisers reassurance about their ad placements.”

Who is Adalytics? Adalytics is a crowd-sourced advertising performance optimization platform that was set up to review and improve the digital advertising landscape. The company conducted this research by investigating campaigns for more than 1,100 brands that achieved billions of ad impressions between 2020 and 2023.

Deep dive. You can learn more about Adalytics’ investigation by reading its report, Did Google mislead advertisers about TrueView skippable in-stream ads for the past three years? You can also read Google’s ‘Transparency and brand safety on Google Video Partners‘ statement which was made in response to the report.

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