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Google stops taking Viagogo’s advertising pound

By | Published on Thursday 18 July 2019


Google yesterday announced that it was suspending the advertising account of always controversial secondary ticketing website Viagogo. The decision means that the resale platform will no longer be able to buy its way to the top of Google’s search result lists.

Search engine advertising has always been a key marketing tactic for the ticket resale websites. Critics of online touting argue that said sites are exploiting the fact that many consumers do not realise that companies can buy the top spot in a search result list.

This means many consumers will assume that when they search for tickets via the Google search engine, whichever link comes top must be the official ticket seller. When, in fact, if a Viagogo or StubHub has bought its way to the top of the list, that link will instead take consumers to all the unofficial sellers of tickets.

The resale sites, and especially Viagogo, have also long been accused of using deliberately misleading language – in both the text of their Google ads and on their own websites – to further confuse ticket buyers. So that they don’t realise they are buying from a tout, probably at a hiked-up price, and that the ticket they are buying could be cancelled by the promoter, if the original ticket’s terms and conditions allow such a thing.

Anti-touting campaigners have long argued that search engines should crack down on this practice. To that end, at the start of last year Google introduced new rules specifically for secondary ticketing platforms using its advertising services. Those rules aimed to force the resale sites to do more to ensure consumers realise they are buying touted tickets.

Most resale sites did introduce some new messaging in a bid to meet Google’s demands. However, the critics have argued that some resale operations, and especially Viagogo, continue to do what they can to hide the identities of the sellers using their platform, and the fact that those sellers are touts, and the full costs of the tickets being touted.

To that end, said critics have regularly expressed disappointment in the past year that Google hasn’t seemed keen to enforce its own policies and crack down on its consumer-confusing secondary ticketing advertisers.

In the UK, Viagogo – under pressure from the Competition & Markets Authority and the courts – has actually made additional changes to its website, making it easier for buyers to get more information about the ticket they are buying and its seller. Though, according to the CMA, the site is still not fully compliant with UK consumer rights law.

Which is why the regulator is now heading back to court to begin contempt proceedings, on the basis Viagogo has failed to comply with a court order it secured last year. As those contempt proceedings were confirmed earlier this month, cross-sector trade group UK Music again called on Google to stop taking Viagogo’s advertising pound. Which means it was among a number of organisations welcoming yesterday’s news.

Confirming it had now suspended Viagogo’s ad account on a global basis with immediate effect, the web giant said: “When people use our platform for help in purchasing tickets, we want to make sure that they have an experience they can trust. This is why we have strict policies and take necessary action when we find an advertiser in breach”.

UK Music boss Michael Dugher quickly responded by saying he was “delighted that Google is finally bowing to public pressure and taking action. Google is the first port of call when most music fans search for tickets and they have a responsibility to ensure its customers are not misled into paying over the odds for gigs and festivals”.

The UK’s FanFair Alliance has also long called on Google to act. It also published research on the role misleading advertising on search engines has had in driving consumers to secondary ticketing websites not out of choice but because of confusion.

The anti-touting campaign’s Adam Webb said yesterday: “This is a landmark moment, and a major step forward to preventing exploitation of audiences in the secondary ticketing market. After publishing extensive research highlighting the impacts of Viagogo’s misleading search advertising, FanFair Alliance has been in constructive conversations with Google for over two years in an attempt to address this issue”.

Adding that he was also “delighted” that the web giant had finally acted and suspended Viagogo’s advertising, Webb then acknowledged that resale sites have other online platforms at their disposal to reach and possibly confuse consumers. “We now hope other platforms, particularly Facebook, can follow Google’s example”, he said.

Also among those hailing Google’s decision was Sharon Hodgson MP, a long time campaigner on ticket touting. “For years, I have heard from fans who were led to believe that Viagogo was a trusted and official resale website because it appeared at the top of a Google search”, she said yesterday. “I’m pleased that this will no longer occur. A well respected brand such as Google should have done this a long time ago. But I am now pleased that this step has been taken, which will protect consumers and fans”.

For its part, Viagogo issued only a short statement about Google’s decision. Saying it was “extremely surprised” to learn about Google’s concerns, it added that it was “confident that there has been no breach of Google’s policies and [we] look forward to working with them to resolve this as quickly as possible”.

The resale site had more to say this morning about its ongoing run-ins with the aforementioned CMA. While those contempt of court proceedings are ongoing, Viagogo has had one bit of success regarding how the court order the regulator secured last year should be interpreted.

The CMA confirmed earlier this month that, in addition to the contempt proceedings, it and Viagogo had been in court to get judicial clarification on some specific obligations listed in the injunction. That included whether the way the resale site is listing the face value of the tickets being resold complies with the legal obligation to provide said information. Viagogo said this morning that a judge had now ruled that it does.

Welcoming that decision, Viagogo’s MD Cris Miller said: “We are delighted with the outcome of this hearing. We always strive for a close and effective relationship with market regulators, but this hearing further demonstrates that there are matters of interpretation of the order on which the CMA should not and cannot be relied upon to make the final determination”.