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Google misled video advertisers on ad viewership: Report

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A recent report has alleged that Google may have deceived numerous business and government advertisers regarding the viewership of ads displayed on third-party websites and apps through its TrueView ad product.

According to a study by Adalytics, many advertisers paying for TrueView ads outside YouTube might not receive the expected value for their investment.

As per Google’s online documentation, “TrueView is Google’s proprietary cost-per-view, a choice-based ad format that serves on YouTube, millions of apps, and across the web. TrueView gives advertisers more value because they only have to pay for actual views of their ads, rather than impressions”.

Viewers can choose to skip the video ad after 5 seconds. If they choose not to skip the video ad, the YouTube video view count will be incremented when the viewer watches 30 seconds of the video ad (or the duration if it’s shorter than 30 seconds) or engages with your video, whichever comes first.”

Adalytics examined the ad campaigns of more than 1,000 brands across the internet and discovered several instances where TrueView ads did not meet Google’s own guidelines. These non-compliant ads were observed to be running in small video players in the corner or at the side of the screen, fully muted, lacking video content between ads, or displaying limited user interaction or activation. Notably, websites like NYTimes, Reuters, Wired, Mashable, and Gizmodo were found to be running muted TureView ads.

The study also identified cases where the skip button was concealed or obscured, making it challenging for users to skip the ads after the initial five seconds. According to Adalytics, this advertising misrepresentation has been going on since 2020.

One advertiser interviewed by Adalytics alleged that Google and YouTube employ this method to extract more budget and create the illusion of scale, exploiting advertisers’ limited understanding of the TrueView system.

Financial Times Youtube ad serving on newsmax.com. | Source: Adalytics

Government advertisers, including the US government, the EU parliament, New York City, and a Delaware police department, were found to be utilising the TrueView service. Furthermore, notable businesses such as Ernst & Young, American Express, TikTok, Disney+, IBM, HBO Max, and Pizza Hut were identified as users of TrueView.

A consumer goods brand mentioned in the report disclosed that 20% of its $75,000 campaign budget was allocated to YouTube channels, while 80% was directed to third-party apps and websites, including investing.com and Candy Crush Saga on Android.

In response to the report, Marvin Renaud, Google’s director of global video solutions, denied the findings in a blog post, labelling them as “extremely inaccurate claims.” Renaud asserted that advertisers only pay when their ads were genuinely viewed, and Google employs real-time ad quality signals to determine viewer presence and attention.

He further emphasised Google’s efforts to monitor policy adherence, having ceased serving ads on over 143,000 non-compliant websites in the previous year.

Renaud also contradicted the report’s assertion that most campaign ads are shown on third-party sites, stating that the opposite holds, with most being displayed on YouTube.

It seems that Google’s ad woes refuse to die. On June 15, the Center for Countering Digital Hate published a report detailing how Google made millions of dollars from misleading abortion ads.

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Kumar Hemant

Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: kumarhemant@pm.me

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