A number of top global advertisers, including Cadbury, Adidas, Mars and eBay, have pulled their ads from YouTube amid concerns that ads are being served against exploitative content featuring children.

An investigation carried out by The Times and the BBC found the video platform had failed to keep its promises to better monitor and protect children from inappropriate content with sexualised imagery of children becoming both viewable and searchable online.

Although it is legal and often uploaded by children themselves, the content is reported to have been exploited by paedophile networks who then post messages and links to children in the comments section.

This report comes just days after YouTube’s system for reporting sexualised comments on children videos had not been functioning properly for more than a year. It’s been said that there could potentially be up to 100,000 predatory accounts leaving indecent comments on videos.

“Completely unacceptable”

A spokesperson from Mars commented to Sky News that the chocolate maker company was “shocked and appalled” to see that their ads have appeared alongside such exploitative and inappropriate content.

Sports company Adidas said that they were working with Google on “all necessary steps to avoid any re-occurrences of this situation.”

Meanwhile, a number of brands have ceased advertising with YouTube and parent company Google entirely until further notice, including Deutsche Bank, HP and Diageo.

The move is reminiscent of March this year, when a number of brands, including US mobile carrier Verizon, chose to boycott Google’s display network in protest of ads appearing alongside content promoting terrorism and hate on YouTube.  

Wake-up call

This latest hit on YouTube is now on the verge of damaging its advertising strategy.

The video platform currently relies on software algorithms, external non-government groups and police forces to report inappropriate content of children.  Now with its brand safety at risk, advertisers have been urged to rethink their use of programmatic ads with the platform going forward.

An article published by The Drum advises advertisers to develop a series of protocols to ensure the highest level of brand safety while enabling thorough monitoring pre and post-bid. The publication also called on YouTube, as well as other social media platforms, to better control their content or risk losing “credibility” with the advertising community.