Google’s parent company Alphabet lost around $20 billion in value last week, due to a 2% drop in its share prices as a result of a coordinated advertising boycott by big companies worried about their advertising being placed next to inappropriate content.
The internet giant’s problems started after an investigation by the Times revealed proscribed terrorist organizations were profiting from advertising on videos posted to their YouTube channels. Two weeks ago, executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter were called to the Home Affairs Select Committee. Chuka Umunna MP accused Peter Barron, the Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs at Google Europe, of profiting off the extremist videos. Barron responded by arguing that the profits they made from these videos were “very small amounts,” also saying that they would crack down on them.
This was not enough to stop the subsequent advertising boycott by the UK government, along with private entities such as McDonald’s UK, Audi UK, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Tesco, and M&S. “Google is responsible for ensuring the high standards applied to government advertising are adhered to and that adverts do not appear alongside inappropriate content,” a government spokesman said. “We have placed a temporary restriction on our YouTube advertising, pending reassurances from Google that government messages can be delivered in a safe and appropriate way.” The boycott reached the United States last week, with both AT&T and Verizon pulling all advertising from YouTube.
Matt Brittin, Google’s head for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, subsequently apologized at a conference, saying that he was sorry to anyone who was affected and that the company was speeding up a review to crack down on hate speech. Google’s chief business officer Philipp Schindler said in a blog post that “we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content.”
Jackdaw chief analyst Jan Dawson claimed that the boycott could broaden into a general rebellion by firms against ‘programmatic advertising’, which is where software algorithms match together advertisements with content based on keywords or demographic options, such as age and location. “I would think Google (and parent company Alphabet) would be extremely lucky to emerge from all this with minimal financial impact,” he said in a blog post. “I think it’s far more likely it sees both a short-term dent in its revenues and profits from the spreading boycotts and possibly a longer-term impact as brands reconsider their commitments to programmatic advertising in general.”
The resulting share drop of $15.25 a share has investors worried. However, the overall financial impact may be relatively small, due to the breadth of their advertising. While all companies involved in the boycott have removed advertising from YouTube, some, like AT&T and Verizon, have maintained their spending on Google’s keyword advertising on the search engine itself. Morgan Stanley’s Brian Nowak expanded on this in a note to investors:
We put a low probability on this materially impacting GOOGL’s near-term results. 3 reasons. First, advertisers who have pulled their advertising dollars from GOOGL are only pulling ad revenue from YouTube and the Google Display Network. Second, we estimate these businesses in aggregate make up 21% of GOOGL gross revenues (with YouTube 12%) and 10% of net revenue. Even if 10% of this revenue went away (which would seem draconian) it would only impact GOOGL’s net revenue by 1%. Third, we believe Google’s revenue is diversified across millions of clients – with the top 100 ad spenders likely representing less than 20% of total ad revenue – given the strength of its core search product.
However, Nowak highlighted that Google must fully address advertisers’ concerns and “needs to take stronger steps to regain the trust of brands.” Altimeter Group principal analyst Charlene Li reiterated this, recommending that Google engage advertisers directly and openly, but she isn’t hopeful. “It’s a hit on their revenue, but it is an even bigger hit on their brand; on their reputation,” she said. “Google hasn’t taken it seriously enough.”