It’s been a turbulent year for marketing, and Google’s latest Ads Safety Report reflects the trends advertisers have been noticing and adjusting to for a while: “In 2020, our policies and enforcement were put to the test as we collectively navigated a global pandemic, multiple elections around the world and the continued fight against bad actors looking for new ways to take advantage of people online.” Google involved both manual and automated ad monitoring to ensure that all advertisements served through the platform met the existing, new, and updated ads policies.
Google adds to sensitive events policy. Google updated its Sensitive Events Policy with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and then later with the misinformation surrounding the election. These event policies eventually escalated to include bans on ads related to politics as well as COVID-19.
Regarding the pandemic, Google banned ads related to price gouging of important pandemic-related supplies like masks and hand sanitizer. Their policies included restrictions on ads that promoted false cures and opportunistic abuse of audiences.
Google also initially banned election-related ads after US polls closed on November 3 through December 10. When the insurrection at the Capitol occurred on January 6, Google again shut down all ads mentioning politics, impeachment, the inauguration, and the insurrection at the US Capitol. The ban was meant to stop the spread of false information and violent actions.
Fraud and scam ads increased by 70%. Along with ad bans, Google’s report mentions an increase in fraud and scam-related ads. “Increasingly, we’ve seen them use cloaking to hide from our detection, promote non-existent virtual businesses or run ads for phone-based scams to either hide from detection or lure unsuspecting consumers off our platforms with an aim to defraud them,” the announcement says. To combat these initiatives, Google Ads implemented their advertiser identity and business operations verifications programs. The new programs intercepted 968 million violating ads.
Brand safety was paramount during a time of increased hate. The political climate of 2020 as a whole coupled with the social justive movements that came to a head last summer have many brands even more aware of brand safety in their advertising. Some brands blocked their ads from showing up around Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 content. The insurrection on January 6th also led many search marketers to halt campaigns. Google was also sensitive to brands’ need for control over where their ads displayed as there were increases in hate speech and calls to violence online.
“In 2017, we developed more granular means of reviewing sites at the page level, including user-generated comments, to allow publishers to continue to operate their broader sites while protecting advertisers from negative placements by stopping persistent violations,” the announcement says. Since then, Google has continued to invest in automated technologies to prevent the monetization of harmful web content.
Why we care. The past year was rocky at best and catastrophic at worst for search marketers. The global ad market declined 10.2%, according to the Global Ad Trends: The State of the Industry 2020/21 report. With constant evolution, Google’s Ads Safety Report indicates that it’s evolving its platform and AI to keep up with the ever-changing global situation to help protect both advertisers and users.