Monday, June 17, 2024
Lawyers Run The WorldInside the Google Video Ad Scam

Inside the Google Video Ad Scam

New Research Exposes Google's Violation of Promised Standards, Raising Questions about Transparency and Integrity


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It’s bad. It’s actually worse than everyone was saying. Google may owe advertisers billions of dollars and face huge lawsuits after scamming advertisers. For years, many people, including myself, have questioned the ecosystem of online advertising, particularly Google’s enormous advertising growth that seems to be backed by junk and scam sites. Now, new research reveals that Google has violated its promised standards when placing video ads on other websites, raising serious concerns about the transparency and integrity of the tech giant’s online ad business.

The Scam Unveiled:

According to Adalytics, a firm that helps brands analyze their online ad placements, Google violates its own standards about 80% of the time when placing video ads on third-party websites through its Google Video Partners program. Advertisers pay YouTube substantial amounts of money to run their ads on the YouTube platform before or after a video. However, YouTube has been running these ads on embedded videos across various third-party websites, commonly known as Google Video Partners.

Google has positioned these partner sites as equivalent to the YouTube ad experience, promising sound-on, fully viewable, and skippable ads. However, the reality is far from what advertisers have been paying for. Instead of the promised experience, advertisers have been getting ads that are muted, auto-played videos off to the side, and unskippable, violating the standards they were guaranteed. This scam has been going on since at least 2020, with advertisers unknowingly paying exorbitant amounts for nearly worthless ads.

To put this epic scam into financial context, according to Nandini Jammi of CheckMyAds, advertisers have been paying $100 for ads that are actually worth only $5. Google has been charging them a staggering 20 times the actual value of these ads. The implications are enormous, and advertisers are rightfully questioning where their ads have actually been running. The answer is a far cry from the “high-quality” and “carefully vetted sites” that were promised. Instead, these ads have been found on disinformation outlets, pirated content platforms, and other forms of garbage, betraying Google’s claims of upholding inventory quality standards.

The implications of this scandal are significant, according to Jammi. Google, already facing two antitrust lawsuits and experiencing a decline in its search ads business, is now caught in a potential multi-billion dollar scam. Advertisers and industry experts are expressing their outrage and demanding accountability. 

Joshua Lowcock, global chief media officer at ad agency UM Worldwide, stated that Google’s breach of trust is unacceptable and called for full refunds for affected clients. The Wall Street Journal independently confirmed the validity of the research findings, and digital ad-buyers and engineers supported the evidence presented.

Major brands such as Johnson & Johnson, American Express, Samsung, Sephora, Macy’s, Disney+, and The Wall Street Journal itself were among those whose Google video-ad placements did not meet the promised standards, according to Adalytics. Even government agencies, including Medicare, the U.S. Army, the Social Security Administration, and the New York City municipal government, fell victim to this deceptive advertising practice.

Experts in the advertising industry are astounded by the revelations.

 Ari Paparo, advertising expert and CEO at Marketecture TV, expressed surprise at the extent of YouTube’s audience extension practice and the potential impact on programmatic advertising. The research by Adalytics also raises concerns about the validity of Google’s TAG Certification and MRC Brand Safety accreditation. The findings suggest that Google has allowed its ads to run on copyright-infringing sites, Russian propaganda platforms, and even delisted or side-loaded apps from sanctionedcountries like Iran.

Adalytics shared an advanced copy of its report with Ebiquity, a leading marketing and media consultancy that assists brands in auditing their ad buys. Ruben Schreurs, the Chief Product Officer of Ebiquity, acknowledged the highly incriminating nature of the findings and described them as a structural misrepresentation of advertising products at best and fraudulent misleading practices at worst. With over 75 of the top 100 brands under their purview, Ebiquity pledged to initiate a large-scale review of the issue and eagerly awaits a detailed response from Google.

Dr. Augstine Fou, a recognized advertising authority, emphasized this scam’s significance, not just within Google but in the entire industry. He pointed out that ad fraud has been a pervasive problem for years, with a majority of ad impressions purchased through programmatic channels being fake. Even reputable companies like AppNexus admitted to selling fraudulent impressions in the past. The implications of such widespread fraud cast doubt on the integrity of the entire digital advertising ecosystem.

According to Fou, One of Google’s flagship ad formats, TrueView, has also come under scrutiny in the wake of this scandal. TrueView is a choice-based cost-per-view ad format that serves on YouTube, millions of apps, and across the web. The concept behind TrueView is that advertisers only pay for actual views of their ads, rather than mere impressions.

However, Adalytics’ research uncovered a major flaw in the distribution of TrueView views. For a significant infrastructure brand, only around 16% of its TrueView skippable in-stream video ad budget was spent on or YouTube’s apps. The remaining portion was dispersed across various platforms, raising serious questions about the validity and effectiveness of these placements.

This shocking revelation underscores the critical importance of campaign data and proper tracking mechanisms. With robust naming conventions and tracking taxonomies in place, detecting and preventing such fraudulent activities would have been relatively straightforward.

As the scandal unfolds, industry experts and advertisers are demanding accountability from Google. The tech giant must rectify this breach of trust, provide full refunds for fraudulent ad placements, and address the systemic issues within its advertising operations. Failure to do so could have severe repercussions, tarnishing Google’s reputation and reliability as a digital advertising partner.

The Google Advertising Fiasco, labeled as a multi-billion dollar scam, has sent shockwaves throughout the advertising industry. Google’s violation of promised standards and the revelation of fraudulent ad placements on third-party websites have exposed significant flaws in the transparency and integrity of its online ad business. Advertisers are rightfully demanding refunds and seeking legal recourse, while industry experts are calling for a comprehensive review of Google’s practices.

This scandal serves as a wake-up call for the entire digital advertising ecosystem (yet again!) highlighting the need for increased transparency, accountability, and vigilance against ad fraud.

The implications of this scam extend far beyond Google, shedding light on the pervasive nature of fraudulent practices that have plagued the industry for years. It is crucial for advertisers, agencies, and tech platforms to work together to restore trust and integrity in digital advertising, ensuring that brands’ investments yield the expected results and provide a safe and reliable environment for consumers..

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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