YouTube Brand Safety Issues: Transparency is No Longer Optional

youtube brand safety

Third-party programmatic ad buys aren’t a good thing if your YouTube ad is being placed around content that’s detrimental to your brand. In a nutshell, this is what has been at the heart of recent brand safety concerns with YouTube ads. The concern has been so great that Havas – a heavyweight, global player in the advertisement industry, pulled its ads from Google and YouTube until changes are made with filters and other safety features. It all started when ads were included with content that included terrorism and extremist material, a big no-no for any brand that wants to maintain a positive image among existing and potential consumers. It’s situations like this that have made brands more insistent on transparency and security.

A Growing Concern Over Brand Safety

In addition to Havas, brands like Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, and Verizon have also suspended advertising on Google-owned YouTube because of brand-related safety issues. The massive exit stems from growing concerns these top brands have over ads placed within channels containing inappropriate content. These brands are using their influence and potential ad-buying power to demand that Google become as proactive with such issues as other media companies. Of course, Google isn’t just any other media company. In the last quarter of 2016 alone, the company earned nearly $23 billion from its digital advertising business.

Why Being Transparent Matters for Brands Today

Another issue for the brands that pulled their YouTube ads is Google’s lack of transparency. The company doesn’t have the same level of oversight as what’s common with other publishers that distribute and promote digital advertising. There’s no denying the appeal of visual ads today, especially since ads with video content can generate more than twice as much interest as text-only ads. However, these benefits all but disappear if ads appear in the wrong content. Brands can be hurt by this because of:

• Negative associations between brands and inappropriate content
• Diminished brand reputation that can have a huge financial impact on a brand
• The potential for consumer backlash in response to content where ads are placed

Making an Attempt to Correct Safety Issues

In response to the growing backlash, Google has admitted there’s a problem with brand security and safety that needs to be addressed. YouTube itself admitted some of their videos are incorrectly labeled and they’re taking steps to correct such issues. The company already has a policy in place that prohibits video content on YouTube considered to be pornographic, incites violence, or encourage or promotes illegal activities or behaviors. Software is also used by Google to automatically search YouTube videos and images for content that appears to be inappropriate.

YouTube plans to simplify tools that can be used to allow advertisers to control where ads appear. Google already gives marketers the option to further restrict where their content appears, such as staying away from videos with profanity. Meanwhile, some of the extra protections brands are demanding from Google include:

• Demonetizing content that can’t be guaranteed to be “brand safe”
• Opening platforms like YouTube to third-party ad verification efforts to identify potential ad fraud and safety issues
• Establishing and enforcing rules for digital advertising and content categorization
• Increased URL-level transparency

Seeking Increased Ad Verification Availability

It is essential to have the means and opportunity available to advertisers to audit and verify publisher platforms using trusted third-party specialists. Because of lack of protection, brands are justifiably angry when their ads appear within objectionable YouTube content. Google has promised to make updates to the controls it uses to protect the safety and reputation of brands advertising via the company’s various platforms.

Increasing the Safety of Programmatic YouTube Ad Buying

Some of the companies that pulled their ads from YouTube and other Google entities out of concern for content placement issues have also expressed concern over third-party programmatic ad buys. Even so, programmatic ad buying, in general, is a safe and effective form of digital or online advertising when properly utilized. The third party data used to automatically purchase ads on platforms like YouTube comes from a variety of sources, including opt-in online tracking, cookie tracking, and registration data.

Programmatic ad buying on YouTube has become increasing popular, in part, because search ads on Google have been less expensive in recent years due to a shift to more searching on mobile devices. It’s also appealing because it allows advertisers to place their ads within content likely to appeal to who they’re targeting, as long as their are appropriate filters in place. Ads purchased programmatically on YouTube can also be displayed during specific times of day or pulled if those ads aren’t performing as expected.

Minimizing the Benefits of YouTube Advertising

The process YouTube uses to curate content may be part of the problem, which may minimize the many benefits of advertising on YouTube. This doesn’t mean that it’s not worth the effort to advertise on YouTube at all. In fact, it’s the second-most viewed search engine in the world just behind Google and it gets more than 5 billion hours worth of collective viewing time each month. When ads are strategically and safely placed on YouTube, it can do wonders for brand visibility. But it is important that the bottom line for transparency is:

• Excludable, well-defined content categories
• Regularly maintained URL black and whitelists based on constant verification
• Using ad verification techniques or sources to deprioritize publishers with low viewability scores

Brand value, brand equity, and brand loyalty are valuable assets that need to be protected. Google certainly does it’s best to provide a safe environment for brands to advertise in, but it is in the hands of the ad agencies and various verification companies to bring you the transparency that secures your returns on your marketing budget.

At, we make it our business to keep brands like yours safe when placing ads online and engaging with customers. In case you need assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.


One thought on “YouTube Brand Safety Issues: Transparency is No Longer Optional

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