YouTube Brand Safety Issues Threaten Sales

If some of you haven’t heard the news yet, a handful of HUGE brands have completely pulled the plug on spending with YouTube, amid a growing international controversy concerning ads running in tandem with extremist content on the platform. This content includes videos promoting terrorist groups like ISIS, hate speech, gory videos, and other unsavory content.  Brands refuse to re-instate spending until the video site could assure their spots wouldn’t run near offensive content.

Examples of advertisers that have pulled out domestically and/or internationally are big players like Verizon, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motors, McDonald’s UK, and Johnson & Johnson.  To this point in time, YouTube (owned by Google) has been one of the difficult partners out there, who don’t allow 3rd party ad verification partners in to monitor brand safety.  Instead, they bring their own proprietary tools.  DoubleVerify circulated an email to clients on 3/23 stating that the issues of advertisers running next to unsavory content could have been avoided if 3rd party tools were allowed.

Why It’s Hot

This raises so many thoughts/questions about brand safety and how to handle situations like this from an agency perspective.  Our team has been singing the praises of 3rd party ad verification partners for a long time- they police sites and make sure that advertisers are truly protected.  So, I have to ask:

1.)  Are self-policers like YouTube worth running on?  Given this news, how much has their credibility been shattered?

2.)  Were the advertisers doing anything in regards to brand safety before, or was this truly the fault of YouTube not monitoring the content of their site closely enough?  With a pharma client we work on, YouTube has confirmed that we’ve run in safe content because we’ve been so stringent from the start…

3.) Are there implications for a brand (think, from a PR perspective) if they choose to continue to run on YouTube, given this news?  Should brands join the movement of pulling spend JUST to join the movement and make change happen, or should they stay the course (if they’ve been confirmed to be running on brand safe content only?)

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