What does Google’s Introduction of Sensitive Events Advertising Policy mean for Advertisers?

Google has announced a significant policy update set to be implemented in February 2024. This update will refine the Inappropriate Content Policy, specifically focusing on “Sensitive Events.” The goal is to enhance Google’s capability to provide high-quality, accurate, and relevant information, especially during critical times. 

What is a “Sensitive Event”?

A Sensitive Event, as defined by Google, is an unforeseen occurrence that significantly challenges Google’s ability to offer accurate and relevant information while reducing inappropriate content in prominent and monetised features. 

These events often have a substantial social, cultural, or political impact and include:

  • Civil emergencies
  • Natural disasters
  • Public health crises and pandemics
  • Terrorism and related activities
  • Conflict situations
  • Mass acts of violence

What advertising content will Google view as a breach of their “Sensitive Events” policy?

Google has outlined a non-exhaustive list of prohibited content during such events, including:

  • Content, products or services that exploit, dismiss, or condone the Sensitive Event. 
  • Price gouging or inflating prices of essential supplies and selling products or services that are insufficient for the demand during a sensitive event.
  • Content that uses keywords related to a sensitive event to drive additional traffic.
  • Claims that blame victims of a sensitive event for their own tragedy or similar instances of victim blaming
  • Claims that suggest victims of a sensitive event are not deserving of remedy or support
  • Claims that victims from certain countries were responsible or deserving of a global public health crisis.

What will happen to advertisers who do not comply with this policy?

Non-compliance with these updated policies could lead to severe consequences for content creators and advertisers. Violations may result in the disabling of ad serving on sites and even the deactivation of Google Ads accounts. This update emphasises Google’s commitment to responsible content management during critical and sensitive situations.

What action do advertisers need to take in response to this “Sensitive Events” policy?

  • Understanding “Sensitive Events”: Advertisers need to be acutely aware of what constitutes a Sensitive Event, such as natural disasters, public health emergencies, and acts of terrorism. These are situations that demand a heightened sense of awareness and responsibility in advertising content.
  • Prohibited Content:
    • Exploitative Practices: Avoid promoting products or services that exploit or take unfair advantage of a Sensitive Event. This includes practices like price gouging or selling insufficient products during high-demand periods.
    • Misleading Keyword Usage: Be cautious of using keywords related to Sensitive Events solely to drive traffic, as this could be seen as taking advantage of these situations.
    • Sensitive Messaging: Avoid content that could be perceived as victim-blaming or that diminishes the severity of these events.

Moving forward, what are the best practices for advertisers?

  • Stay Informed: Regularly update yourself with Google’s policies to ensure compliance.
  • Content Sensitivity: Evaluate ad content for sensitivity and appropriateness, especially during global crises.
  • Ethical Advertising: Embrace ethical advertising practices that respect the seriousness of Sensitive Events.
  • Customer-Centric Approach: Focus on how your products or services can genuinely help consumers during challenging times without exploiting the situation.

How will this influence future of digital advertising going to be?

Google plans to take various actions to address risks during Sensitive Events, thereby improving its ability to serve factual information and to practice more responsible, sensitive advertising. 

The changes introduced by Google’s updated policy on Sensitive Events are likely to influence  the future landscape of digital advertising in several ways:

  1. Increased Focus on Ethical Advertising:

  • Responsible Messaging: Advertisers will need to place greater emphasis on ethical and responsible messaging. This shift could lead to a more empathetic approach to advertising, where sensitivity to global issues and crises is paramount.
  • Brand Reputation: Companies that adapt well to these changes can enhance their brand reputation, as audiences increasingly value brands that demonstrate social responsibility and sensitivity.
  1. Enhanced Content Scrutiny:

  • Vigilant Content Review: There will be a need for more rigorous content review processes. Advertisers might invest more in tools and human resources to ensure their content aligns with the updated policy guidelines.
  • Automated Monitoring: The use of AI and machine learning for content monitoring and compliance could see a significant uptick.
  1. Innovation in Advertising Strategies:

  • Creative Approaches: Advertisers may need to become more creative in their approach, finding ways to engage audiences without exploiting sensitive topics.
  • Diversified Channels: There might be a shift towards using a wider range of advertising channels, not just those governed by Google’s policies, to mitigate risks.
  1. Data-Driven Decision Making:

  • Real-Time Analytics: Utilising real-time analytics to understand audience sentiment and response during Sensitive Events will become more crucial. Advertisers will need to be agile in adjusting campaigns based on this data.
  • Predictive Modelling: The use of predictive modelling to forecast the potential impact of ad campaigns during sensitive times could become a standard practice.
  1. Shift in Consumer Expectations:

  • Consumer Trust: Consumers are likely to develop higher expectations regarding the ethical standards of the ads they see. This could lead to increased trust in brands that comply well with these standards.
  • Community Engagement: There might be a shift towards community-focused and value-driven advertising, where brands engage with their audience on deeper, more meaningful levels.
  1. Regulatory Compliance:

  • Global Standards: Other platforms and regulatory bodies might adopt similar policies, leading to a more unified global standard in digital advertising ethics.
  • Legal Implications: Advertisers will need to be more aware of the legal implications of their content, especially in the context of global events.

Will this help stop the unethical use of bots and fake profiles by businesses and industries on Social Media?

Unfortunately, no. The practice of companies using fake profiles and bots on social media to promote content, influence opinions, or drive traffic is already happening. 

This phenomenon is part of a broader trend often referred to as “astroturfing” or creating a false impression of grassroots support. Here are some key aspects of this issue:

Current Trends in Social Media Misuse

  • Fake Profiles for Promotion: Companies sometimes create fake social media accounts to promote products or services, giving the impression of genuine user interest or endorsements.
  • Influencing Public Opinion: These profiles can be used to manipulate public opinion on certain topics, including sensitive events, by posting, liking, or sharing specific content.
  • Content Amplification: Bots and fake accounts are often employed to artificially amplify certain messages or content, making them appear more popular or widely supported than they actually are.
  • Bypassing Advertising Regulations: By using these methods, some companies attempt to bypass regulations or policies set by social media platforms and advertising standards.

Challenges and Implications

  • Detection and Enforcement: Social media platforms continuously update their algorithms and policies to detect and remove fake profiles and bot activities. However, perpetrators are also evolving their tactics, creating a constant challenge for enforcement.
  • Trust and Credibility Issues: The use of such deceptive practices erodes trust in the social media ecosystem. Users become skeptical of the authenticity of content and endorsements.
  • Ethical and Legal Concerns: These practices raise significant ethical questions and, in some cases, may cross legal boundaries, especially when they involve deceptive advertising or misinformation.
  • Impact on Genuine Marketing Efforts: The prevalence of such tactics can undermine legitimate marketing efforts and tarnish the reputation of the digital advertising industry as a whole.

The use of fake profiles and bots by companies on social media is a real and ongoing issue. It presents challenges not only to the integrity of online discourse but also to the credibility of digital advertising. Social media platforms and regulatory bodies continue to develop strategies to combat these deceptive practices, but it remains a dynamic and evolving challenge.

The bottom line

Google’s policy update is a call to action for advertisers to practice more responsible and sensitive advertising. 

It’s crucial for advertisers to understand the implications of this update and adapt their strategies accordingly to maintain a positive and compliant online presence.