The world’s biggest advertising and media companies are waking up to the fact that despite all the available analytics Google is opaque about why ads end up where they do.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

It may be a hiccup, a quick correction, a one-off, but one of the biggest advertising firms in the world is doing the unthinkable — they’re quitting Google.

New York-headquartered Havas Worldwide, formerly Euro RSCG, is is one of the largest communications agencies in the world with more than 300 offices in 75 countries. They do advertising, marketing and corporate communications and have been ranked among the top five communications firms in the world for a decade.

It’s SCDP on steroids.

The French branch of Havas, with a client roster that includes O2, EDF and Royal Mail, pulled the entirety of its ad allocation from Google and and Google-owned YouTube. They spend an estimated  €175 million on digital advertising on behalf of clients in Europe annually.

Google’s refusal to “provide specific reassurances” where their ad buys end up i.e., sites that are in favor of white nationalist or terrorist groups, was the reason for the move. The firm showed that ad buys from prestigious clients were ending up running ahead of videos of people like white supremacist David Duke and homophobe minister Steve Anderson.

The New York Post last week reported the Association of National Advertisers released a statement demanding that tech firms allow them to independently audit the data they provide advertisers. The ANA wants to see Google along with Amazon, Facebook-owned Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest get rid of the “walled garden” of their applications so that advertisers can better understand where their ads are getting served and seen.

The report notes web advertising is set to increase to $83 billion in 2017 which eclipses mightily the estimated $70 billion that will be spent on television spots this year.

Online advertising for both buyer and content generator has always been a process in need of demystification, the dark arts of your spend or why an ad pops up where have truly never been sorted out — mostly because nobody outside in the badge-protected confines of these giant tech firms knows exactly how the secret sauce is made.

Whereas, a print ad is embedded within the pages of a topic-driven publication and a television spot can be purchased for an exact time on a specific program to run with a predetermined frequency, purchase of web ads is putting blind faith in the word analytics. And the transaction often doesn’t work out in either party’s favor.

This site has a handful of google AdSense spaces which automatically populate. We have chosen not to run ads from questionable sources (religious affiliations, adult content as well as content from groups we are politically leaning against like gun lobbyists, big oil, pharma …Arby’s.) Even so, nearly every time we run a story skewering the private equity firm that owns Squaw Valley USA and Alpine Meadows, an ad for either resort will begin to populate the designated spaces as soon as the story starts to gain traction.

It’s a sort of double-edged clusterfuck in that respect. On our side, we lose credibility because we’re essentially running spots for a business we are trying to investigate and for them, well, I can’t speak for Squaw but I’m sure CEO Andy Wirth would have plenty to say in “air quotes” about KSL’s ad budget being drip drip dripped away on a story that calls for the boycotting of their product.

Death of the Press Box is one small example, but think about a multi-national news source like The Guardian, which decided last week to pull its ads from Google and YouTube after the newspaper’s head of media Jane Martinson said its content was running next to “extremist material.” The paper’s CEO David Pemsel backed her up and said the publication would keep its ads off those platforms until Google could “provide guarantees that this ad misplacement via Google and YouTube will not happen in the future.”

For more than a decade and a half Google has led the way by letting their algorithm speak for itself and while the company assures it is making constant tweaks and changes to improve the ones and zeros that control what you see and where you put your spend, the reality is, it’s still a young and imperfect system.

Most of all, it’s far from transparent. For all the information we can divine from AdWords and AdSense spreadsheets regarding frequency and traffic and daily, weekly and annual trends, the reality is there still is no real control or third-party oversight over where ad dollars are going …or coming from.

Ironically, that was the fundamental flaw of internet advertising that most media companies cited fifteen years ago when they told their staffs not to worry (I was in those meetings) that a need for targeted print and television buys would always override the desire to be “plastered all over the web.”

While it didn’t necessarily play out that way, the conceit remains the same — and in the interim we have watched a $500 billion company grow from a flawed premise and carefully hidden functionality.

Andrew J. Pridgen is the author of “Burgundy Upholstery Sky”.