Someone Wants to Use Google AdWords as a Weapon

There’s a polarizing website that’s been a big player in the political arena. And there’s a viral campaign that’s trying to use Google AdWords to hurt it.

I’m surprised. I’m shocked. I’m intrigued. And what’s even crazier is, even though I have personal feelings on the issue, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this new activism strategy.

Every day, I and my agency, Eleventy, use Google AdWords to help connect brands and people we believe might be interested. And, because the majority of my day is spent specifically working on nonprofit marketing and fundraising, I am especially appreciative to all that Google has made possible to charities.

So, imagine my surprise when I heard that someone figured out how to weaponize the AdWords network. Here’s the scoop, and the real names have been changed to protect the — well, I’m just not going to provide names.

There is a viral campaign going around right now born from the discomfort people have with a certain online news site. This website seems to polarize many people in the U.S. and has been a big player in the recent political arena. The campaign is trying to use the very basic feedback elements of AdWords to hurt the website.

I’ll keep this short, because this blog is not about how to do this. This new level of what is being called “simple activism” is about having people go to this website where brands have placed their ads. Within the ad feedback loop, which can be accessed by anyone who sees an ad, there is a simple way to provide feedback on the actual website (vs. the ad).

And, because Google is great at being in touch with consumer feedback, it provides various options for why someone might have a problem with a website. Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge):

Google AdWords Weaponized

Now, while the average consumer would typically not use this, the new viral approach is requesting that people do this on purpose and specifically leave feedback that the website promotes racial intolerance and advocates against individuals or groups of people.

The goal is to create enough movement in this area that the website is removed from the AdWords network. And, of course, if a brand is removed from the network, it will also lose advertising revenue.

Even though I know everyone reading this would have an opinion on one side or the other of this social issue, the purpose of this blog is not to weigh in on this activism campaign.

But, as a marketer who leverages the AdWords network every day, this has me very nervous. It will be interesting to see how Google reacts, because this could so quickly create a slippery slope where consumers attempt to censor media. No matter how you lean politically or personally, I’m just not sure this is the way to go about it handling an issue against a website.

If Google were to react to this in the way the activists are pushing, we could quickly see how digital advertising could be used as a weapon against brands directly.

Have an opinion on this? Share it with me in the comments. I’d love to hear if my knee-jerk reaction is common or not.