How YouTube handled its brand-safety crisis
In mid-March, a series of reports revealed that ads from reputable brands had been cropping up on videos from the likes of white nationalists and hate preachers. Almost overnight, hundreds of companies ranging from L’Oréal to Verizon suspended their YouTube buys. And just last week, The Times of London reported that recent U.K. election ads had appeared on videos from Islamic extremists. Thanks to YouTube’s woes, “brand safety” has been one of the digital media industry’s hot topics this year.
Three months since the initial bombshell dropped, agency sources say most U.S. advertisers are returning to YouTube. Ad spend on YouTube has remained stable, according to numbers crunched by ad-tracking firms Pathmatics and MediaRadar. They say that’s in part because some of Google’s efforts to mollify advertisers have been effective. But agencies are also quick to highlight their own initiatives, including partnerships with third-party measurement companies.
Advertisers didn’t really want to leave in the first place, of course. YouTube’s reach is unrivaled across the video ecosystem, especially when it comes to younger consumers. “I’ve rarely engaged with a client [that suspended YouTube ads] and wasn’t concerned about an increase in cost per action or a decrease in ROI for their media buy,” said Joe Barone, managing partner of digital ad operations at GroupM.
Barone said most of GroupM’s U.S. clients have now returned to YouTube “to some degree.” (Some advertisers, in an effort to reduce risk, are still keeping their buys small.) Barone attributes some of his clients’ newfound confidence to the measurement product GroupM launched in partnership with OpenSlate, a video analytics firm specializing in YouTube. The tool, which debuted in late March, assigns brand-safety scores to individual pieces of YouTube content and also reports on where ads ran.
Barone isn’t the only agency figure to tout the importance of third-party measurement on YouTube. “I think that working with third parties is really going to provide that check and balance,” said Lora Stock, group director of social and content strategy at Campbell Ewald. An Interpublic Group agency, Campbell Ewald partners with Integral Ad Science and other third-party verification and brand-safety partners.
Advertisers that continue to avoid YouTube do have other choices. “There are options for high-quality video marketplaces that can, to a certain extent, replace YouTube,” said Barone. “There are lots of ways to reinvest at least some of that YouTube money, though it certainly is a challenge to redraft a media plan without YouTube at all.”
It’s a challenge, but not necessarily an insurmountable one. “There are more and more alternatives every day, including Facebook,” said the head media buyer for one major advertiser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. His company pulled ads from YouTube in March, and it still hasn’t returned. “YouTube does outdistance itself from the competition,” he said. “But if they can’t work things out, we’ll find other ways to do it. It may not be as efficient and we may not see reach as quickly, but we can’t compromise on being responsible advertisers.”
It’s impossible to glean whether, on the whole, advertisers who left YouTube suffered as a result. “Companies will say that their decision to stop advertising on YouTube [didn’t hurt them],” said OpenSlate CEO Mike Henry, saying anything else would limit their leverage.
YouTube declined to be interviewed for this story and issued a statement saying it was reviewing its policies and giving brands more control over ads.
Agencies and advertisers report YouTube has responded to that leverage, making a number of advertiser-friendly platform updates in the months since the brand-safety crisis erupted. For instance, the head buyer favorably cited YouTube’s move to impose a minimum of 10,000 views for any channel receiving ads, as well as the company’s decision to hire a slew of new screeners to review questionable content.
“I think they’ve made significant efforts,” added Barone. “I don’t think they felt that this, too, would pass; they’ve had a real fear that this would affect their bottom line.”
‘You have to be constantly available’: Confessions of a copywriter on managing anxiety and burnout
The coronavirus has changed how creatives do their jobs. In the latest edition of our Confessions series we hear from one copywriter about what's changed.
Member ExclusiveThe future of toy stores isn’t in selling you toys
Toy stores haven't fared well over the last century. But a new crop of retailer are trying to rethink the entire category — and make it less of a toy store and more of an experience. Will it work?
Member Exclusive40% of marketers and retailers expect layoffs due to the coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic is causing tectonic shifts for businesses. As physical stores close, consumer demand is also dropping. For most brands, this means costs need to be cut. And for many, people are the place to start.
SponsoredSurvey: The threats of deceptive ads in 2020
Publishers and advertisers: How are you planning to block, eliminate and avoid deceptive ads in 2020? How will deceptive ads impact the 2020 election? Are you seeing deceptive ads that exploit the coronavirus crisis? Take this short survey and we’ll provide the results.
At agencies, furloughs are the new layoffs
Agency execs and experts believe that agencies are more inclined to use a furlough than a layoff if they have that option. Agencies are a people business and the need to retain top talent any way they can will likely encourage agencies to use furloughs when possible.
Member ExclusiveMall rats: Gen Z shoppers are rerouting the future of physical retail
As “retail apocalypse” rumors continue to fly, teenagers are reviving shopping centers’ foot traffic. Among the draws are a social experience, immediate gratification, a personal branding opportunity and a much-needed break from their mobile phones.