EVEN advertisers can be seduced by slick marketing. Google and Facebook have built huge businesses by promising that online ads are more effective and easily measured than traditional media, such as television, radio and print. This year the amount spent on internet advertising, globally and in America, is forecast to surpass television advertising for the first time (see chart). But a controversy at YouTube, an online-video site owned by Google, shows how digital advertising still has problems to sort out before it lives up to the dazzling sales pitch.

A slew of advertisers, including stalwarts such as Coca-Cola, Walmart and General Motors, have announced plans to suspend usage of, or move ad spending away from, YouTube because ads (in some cases their own) were appearing alongside offensive content, including videos by jihadist and neo-Nazi groups. Google’s own brand has suffered: the damage to the firm’s sales could be as much as $1bn in 2017, or around 1% of its gross advertising revenue. Shares of its parent company, Alphabet, have fallen by around 3% owing to the controversy.

It is not the first time that brands have fretted about where…Continue reading