Google has learned the hard way that even the shiniest corporates cannot sit on their hands when their reputation is on the line. The search engine giant thought that a boycott by global brands would blow over. Once the tide turned against them, it became clear that inaction was no longer an option. After apologising and setting out how they would make things right, Google were able to stop this scandal in its tracks. They belatedly recognised that no brand is immune to reputational challenges.
For a company that claims to be 'advertiser-friendly', this whole affair has been embarrassing. Brands from L'Oréal to Audi started deserting Google after their adverts appeared alongside extremist videos on YouTube. Rape apologists, hate preachers and anti-Semites made money out of their advertising, and companies were having none of it.
If Google had apologised at this point and pledged to fix the problem, this scandal might have been nipped in the bud. Instead, they did nothing. There was no immediate apology. No plan to put out the fire. Just silence.
Google clearly felt it was too big to be brought down by a few dissatisfied customers. Its brand is so widely recognised, it has been 'verbified' into our everyday language. We may not Facebook, but we certainly do Google.
But the boycott only gathered pace. Dominos, O2 and McDonald's became the latest to withdraw their chequebooks and, with consternation growing and the press on high alert, Google was caught flat-footed. They did not expect this boycott to continue and soon realised that they had to do something. Decisive action had become a repetitional imperative.
On Monday night Philipp Schindler, the company's Chief Business Officer, issued a rare mea culpa via the company's blog. Google has not been forced to apologise for much in the past. Having demonstrated a tin ear for too long, Schindler moved to show that he understood the gravity of the situation.
His communication achieved a careful balance: acknowledging that Google could and should have acted faster, while reminding its corporate customer base of the substantial challenges it faces in tackling unacceptable content. In setting out a clear plan to overhaul their advertising policies and give clients greater control over where their adverts appear, they have every chance of winning their deserters round. Now is the time for Google to make good on its promises.
Whether this will be enough to entirely placate the digital advertising industry remains to be seen. What is clear is that no company can sit idly by while its reputation is dragged through the mud. Notwithstanding the inevitable consequences for a company's bottom line, reputation is king. The most recognisable brand of the internet age should have headed this off at the pass.