Advertisers should stop pointing all of the blame at YouTube and become more accountable

*Written by our Founder & CEO, Wayne Blodwell*

Since I read my first book on how the Internet works I have believed in a completely open Internet one whereby anyone can create or share content and I created many (really bad) websites and blogs to much enjoyment.

Since starting in marketing nearly 10 years ago I have held the belief that an open industry is the best way for delivering the best user experiences with brands and therefore the most optimal marketing campaigns, but even with that context (of hating walled gardens which close off access in a variety of ways) I think the recent furore around brand safety and specifically brand safety on YouTube (a walled garden owned by Google) has gotten out of hand. Worryingly, I feel it’s symptomatic of the industry we operate in; finger pointing, lack of trust and jumping on the bandwagon.

Clearly, the funding of extremist content (and other poor content) isn’t a position any advertiser wants to be in but moving ad budgets wholesale away from media properties because of the 7% chance (huge estimate, it’s much less with even just some basic controls in place) of serving against poor content cannot be the answer – it means brands are unable to gain traction with 93% of users visiting those properties, and if you believe marketing is for growth (as proven) then advertisers are hindering their own business performance via a knee-jerk reaction. Caveat – there are some advertisers who try to take a 0% threshold to brand safety risk but at the same time understand this will massively hinder their marketing performance.

There are 4 things advertisers should be doing at this time:

1.       Advertisers need to be more accountable for how they invest their media budgets with frameworks for how they do that

2.       Advertisers need to adopt their own standards for brand safety which they can confidently sit behind and even post on their corporate/customer pages

3.       Advertisers need to have a review process to continually evaluate the market, their setup and their escalation process

4.       Advertisers can no longer rely on their intermediaries for such important, specific and expensive media decisions (as advertisers take the brunt of any bad PR)

The challenge for the industry is two fold based on advertiser size. Small advertisers don’t have the bandwidth to put the correct processes in place so rely on the defaults and platforms of the walled gardens – these clearly are not stringent enough. The larger advertisers want to employ third parties for measurement across walled gardens (link) and not-too-far-in-the-future may even start demanding for independent post-bid blocking (which should be a viable option) but there are a host of restrictions here.

Journalists have gone out of their way to find these poor ad placements – this has happened multiple times over the years (1 and 2) across all advertising channels and it’d be naive to think this won’t happen again in some capacity as nothing is fool-proof with any advertising channel.

Advertisers need to understand their existing media buying setup across all channels, technologies and representatives. They need to understand the potential risk they currently face from that setup and then work out where they can make improvements so their setup is more aligned with thresholds they are comfortable with.

The finger pointing has to stop and decision makers need to be equipped with better information to make better decisions.

With respect to Google, it’s great they are fronting up to the challenges and reacting by putting better defaults in placebut advertisers need to remember this is only one aspect of a holistic brand safety approach and overall need to be more accountable.

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