Danone, L'Oréal and Samsung are among more than 100 brands whose ads unwittingly appeared alongside climate misinformation videos on YouTube and the news comes as a survey of leading digital marketers confirms that brand safety remains a top priority in 2020.

According to reports at the end of last week, an investigation by activist group Avaaz discovered that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm has been driving millions of views of climate misinformation videos in which brand ads appeared.

Avaaz researchers found that 16% of the top 100 related videos under the search term “global warming” contained misinformation, with an average of more than one million views per video for the top ten videos.

Meanwhile, searches under the terms “climate change” and “climate manipulation” drew them to misleading videos in 8% and 21% of cases respectively.

The report warned that 55% of the advertising revenue goes directly to the creators of these videos, meaning that some very well-known brands have been unknowingly funding climate deniers, while YouTube has been collecting the remaining 45%.

"YouTube is the largest broadcasting channel in the world, and it is driving millions of people to climate misinformation videos,” said Julie Deruy, senior campaigner at Avaaz.

“This is not about free speech, this is about the free advertising YouTube is giving to factually inaccurate videos that risk confusing people about one of the biggest crises of our time,” she added. “The bottom line is that YouTube should not feature, suggest, promote, advertise or lead users to misinformation.”

The Avaaz report acknowledged that YouTube has taken previous welcome steps to protect its users from anti-vaccine and conspiracy theories but said the company has not acted with “equal force” against broader misinformation content.

In response to the criticism, YouTube said it couldn’t “speak to Avaaz’s methodology or results”, adding that it has “strict ad policies that govern where ads are allowed to appear” and “we give advertisers tools to opt out of content that doesn’t align with their brand”.

“As our systems appear to have done in the majority of cases in this report, we prioritise authoritative voices for millions of news and information queries, and surface information panels on topics prone to misinformation – including climate change – to provide users with context alongside their content,” YouTube said.

Separately, a new survey of 90 senior European executives who work in the digital advertising sector – including agencies, ad tech companies and publishers – has found that more than three-quarters (77%) regard brand safety a key priority.

Conducted by IAB Europe, the survey also revealed that 57% of respondents agree that brand safety is more of a challenge than in previous years, largely because advertisers now have a better understanding of the issue, and only a fifth (20.5%) think the industry failed to do a good job of tackling brand safety last year.

Survey participants also revealed the measures they are taking – for example, 93.8% use blacklists and 91% use keyword targeting – and they agreed that education of the industry is an ongoing need. The IAB is publishing Europe-wide best practice guidance alongside its survey findings.

Sourced from Avaaz, Campaign, IAB; additional content by WARC staff