Car companies among brands funding terror through online adverts

Car companies among brands funding terror through online adverts (updated)

Extremists are earning thousands of pounds a month from automated advertising

Updated February 10, 2017 to include a response from Jaguar Land Rover


CAR MAKERS are among a number of big brands unwittingly funding Islamic extremists, white supremacists and pornographers by advertising on their websites, The Times has revealed.

Ads for Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar have both appeared on YouTube next to a pro-Isis video that has been viewed more than 115,000 times.

The Mercedes commercial, for the new E-class saloon, appears a few seconds after the start of the video, which plays a song praising jihad over a picture of an Isis flag and an anti-aircraft gun. A commercial for the Jaguar F-Pace SUV also runs next to the video.

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An ad for Honda has appeared on extremist videos posted by supporters of groups that include Combat 18, a violent pro-Nazi organisation, and an authorised Nissan dealer’s adverts appear on the official YouTube channels of far-right parties including the British National Party and the English Defence League.

After being informed by The Times, Mercedes said it had asked its media agencies to “review and if necessary update” the blacklist of website terms it uses to prevent ads from appearing in inappropriate places.

Jaguar said that it was “concerned” by the issue and that it was an “unintended consequence of algorithm technology”. The company decided to stop all UK digital advertising activity pending further investigation.

Honda also said it has a blacklist and that the adverts in question were not placed by Honda UK. Nissan has yet to respond to a request for comment. See responses from the car makers below, in full.

Other organisations identified by The Times as advertising on extremist YouTube channels and websites include Waitrose, Sandals Resorts, Thomson Reuters, Halifax, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Liverpool University, Argos and Churchill Retirement.

Car companies among brands funding terror through online adverts

The YouTube video Beautiful Song (Isis) features ads from Mercedes, Jaguar and Netflix.


The Times reports that the practice is likely to generate thousands of pounds a month for extremists, with an ad appearing alongside a YouTube video typically earning whoever posts the video £6 for every 1,000 views. Some of the most popular extremist videos have more than 1m hits.

Big advertising agencies, which typically place commercials on behalf of clients, have been accused of pushing brands into online advertising to boost their own profits.

Companies are concerned that they are paying huge mark-ups for digital promotion and receiving “crappy advertising” in return. Leaked documents from one “top six” agency show that about 40% of its ad-buying income in 2015 came from hidden kickbacks as well as “other” avenues. One source said this mainly meant mark-ups applied to digital commercials.

Last night MPs called on Google to explain why hundreds of extremists were making money from advertising on YouTube. Users who intend to make money from advertising must be approved by Google, which is supposed to ensure that videos do not breach the site’s terms and conditions.

“This is deeply disturbing,” said Chuka Umunna, a member of the home affairs select committee. “There is no doubt the social media companies could be doing far more to prevent the spread of extremist content.”

Programmatic advertising enables agencies to track potential customers around the web and serve them ads on whichever website they are browsing. Some agencies have been accused of making huge undeclared profits as a result.

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“Programmatic advertising is a big concern for us and the whole advertising industry,” said Hicham Felter, a spokesman for ISBA, the trade body representing Britain’s biggest advertisers. “There is a greater risk of ads appearing in violent, pornographic, extremist and other ‘unsafe’ brand environments because of the volume and speed at which programmatic trading is carried out.”

He added: “The suspicion is that the surge in programmatic trading is being fuelled by the profit media agencies can make rather than because it delivers better results for their clients.”

Google said it had a “zero-tolerance policy for content that incites violence or hatred”. Advertisers could choose not to appear against content they considered inappropriate, it said. The six top advertising agencies all denied any wrongdoing, conflict of interest or sharp practice and said their relationships with clients were transparent.


Car makers respond to advertising criticism


Mercedes-Benz (owned by Daimler Group)

“Daimler dissociates itself from all forms of discrimination and extremism. Mercedes-Benz has strict media guidelines, which our markets and our media agencies adhere to. These prohibit the use of platforms and channels that are not compatible with our principles, such as those with extremist or politically polarising, discriminatory, sexist or criminal content.

“To ensure this, approved and non-approved lists (‘white and black lists’) as well as filter tools are used. Daimler has asked all markets and media agencies to review — and if necessary update — their media lists. Additionally, we have asked our colleagues in the markets and our media agencies to contact all relevant advertising networks to make sure that advertising is only displayed in accordance with our strict media guidelines.”


“The adverts in question have not been paid for and placed by Honda UK. We do have a blacklist to prevent our programmatic [automatically placed] ads from being shown against undesirable websites.”

Jaguar Land Rover

“Jaguar Land Rover is very concerned by reports (9th February 2017) that advertising featuring our brands may benefit extremist and other inappropriate on-line media. This is an unintended consequence of algorithm technology used on some video-sharing websites.

“We take our brands’ reputation very seriously and have decided to stop all UK digital advertising activity until further investigation gives us assurance that we can resume it safely.

“We are aware of the risks that digital advertising brings. In partnership with our paid-for media agency Mindshare, we have already invested in developing practices to minimise the risk of our brands being associated with inappropriate content. These include thoroughly checked lists of “clean” sites, third party verification technology and checks on surrounding content.

“Where tools are in place to protect our brands, we make every effort to apply them to safeguard our advertising.”


How programmatic advertising works

  1. Internet user clicks on website
  2. The site’s internet address and user’s browsing history are sent to auction site
  3. There are many auction sites or “exchanges”, but one of the largest and most profitable is Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange
  4. Agencies bid on the exchange to place an ad on the website. This happens almost instantaneously. A car manufacturer will pay more to advertise to someone who has visited car sites
  5. The advertiser pays the website owner. Blacklists are supposed to stop ads appearing on extreme sites – but many do

Read more: The click trick: how advertisers end up on extremist websites