NEW YORK – Several companies – including Nestle SA and “Fortnite” maker Epic Games Inc. – suspended advertising on YouTube on Wednesday following a report documenting material on the video service that sexually exploits children.
The advertisers’ withdrawals come after video blogger Matt Watson posted a video on YouTube on Sunday that showed inappropriate user comments about videos featuring underage girls, including some that identified precise segments where children appear in compromising positions.
The video, which had received over 1.7 million views as of Wednesday afternoon, said YouTube’s recommendation algorithm leads users to similar content.
McDonald’s Corp., which was among the several brands whose ads ran alongside the objectionable content, also paused spending on YouTube, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“Through our advertising agency, we have reached out to Google/YouTube to determine actions they’ll take to eliminate this type of content from their service,” said a spokesman for Cary, N.C.-based Epic Games, which paused spending on ads that run before YouTube videos.
A YouTube spokeswoman said the video site immediately responded after the videos were brought to its attention by disabling comments that violate its policies and by deleting accounts and channels. The company’s policies prohibit content or user comments that sexualize or exploit children.
During a conference call with ad buyers on Wednesday, executives at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, YouTube’s parent, sought to assuage concerns by explaining the steps the company has taken to address brand safety problems that have plagued the platform, according to people familiar with the matter. The executives also told ad buyers the company will deliver a timeline in 24 hours outlining new restrictions and product changes, one of the people said.
Ad spending tied to the flagged videos totaled less than $8,000 in the past 60 days, according to the YouTube spokeswoman. She declined to say which companies spent those ad dollars but said they would receive refunds.
Although the financial impact is limited, ad buyers point out that the concern lies in reputational damage a brand can sustain from being associated with such content.
All Nestle companies in the U.S. have paused advertising on YouTube, a company spokeswoman said. Fairlife LLC, a milk-product brand partially owned by Coca-Cola Co., suspended its YouTube ad spend after discovering that its ads had appeared on the videos, a spokeswoman said.
All of Coca-Cola’s wholly owned brands suspended their YouTube advertising some time ago, a company spokeswoman said. She didn’t provide a reason for the extended suspension.
Companies including Canadian apparel company Canada Goose Holdings, Kroger-owned vitamin company Vitacost.com Inc. and health- and nutrition-products company GNC Holdings announced on Twitter that they also had suspended YouTube ad spending in response to the report.
The moves recall a similar episode in 2017 when several major advertisers pulled spending from YouTube following revelations that their ads had appeared next to extremist or racist content.
Many of the brands resumed spending advertising dollars on the property after Google made changes such as adding more human reviewers and implementing technology to identify the objectionable content. There is no evidence that repeated controversies about content on YouTube have had a negative impact on the service’s business.
Advertisers are increasingly scrutinizing how their digital ad dollars are spent on services such as YouTube, working with measurement and analytics firms to find ways to limit their spending to video channels and sites that are safe for their brands.