Google stock is downgraded as advertisers start to worry about where their ads are appearing

Larry Page chief executive officer of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc.
Getty Images

Google's momentum as a must-buy stock may be slowing down, as U.K. companies begin to pull away from the advertising giant over concerns regarding where their ads are appearing.

Pivotal Research Group downgraded Alphabet stock from buy to hold on Monday after media buying agency Havas pulled spending from YouTube and Google Display Network in the U.K. last week.

Other reports indicated more companies including the U.K. Government, L'Oreal, RBS, HSBC, Sainsbury's, Sky, Marks & Spencer, McDonald's and Audi have also suggested they would pull ads from the Google-owned platforms over similar concerns, Pivotal said. Pivotal reduced its price target on Alphabet to $950 from $970.

Google has the world's biggest digital advertising platforms. According to eMarketer, it will account for 40.7 percent of all U.S. digital advertising budgets in 2017, more than double Facebook's share.

According to the Financial Times, Havas spends approximately $217 million on digital ads in the U.K. annually. It also told the publication it was mulling a complete freeze on all Google advertising.

The brands are reacting to a The Times of London report stating several video ads from brands and charities including Mercedes-Benz, Waitrose and Marie Curie were seen running next to jihadist and neo-Nazi content, giving these groups advertiser money.

Google's EMEA president of business and operations, Matt Brittin, apologized on Monday for the misplacement of advertising.

"While Google has apologized for the incidents, and while the scale of the underlying problem may be relatively small in absolute terms, for large marketers, any one instance of an inappropriate brand placement may be enough to seriously harm a brand's business value," Pivotal's Brian Wieser wrote in a report.

Google addressed the concerns at Advertising Week Europe on Monday, saying the company would work on policies to find content advertisers deemed "safe," improve advertiser controls and work faster to remove content that violated its policies. However, Pivotal was unsure if that would be enough to assuage fears, because it minimized rather than solved the issue.

"Overall, we think that the problems which have come to light will have global repercussions as UK marketers potentially adapt their UK policies to other markets and as marketers around the world become more aware of the problem," Wieser said. "This should curtail spending slightly from the large agency-serviced brands which probably account for a quarter of spending on Google."