Can a brand be safe on YouTube?

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Can a brand be safe on YouTube?

Hi everyone. For the benefits of our external audience, I want to do a quick introduction. My name is Sam Garrity and I’m the Managing Director here at RocketMill.

Now, this week, we advertised one of our clients for the very first time in a non-brand-safe fashion on YouTube. That experience has compelled me to share with you just a short talk and a few thoughts around whether brands can be safe when advertising on YouTube.

YouTube: media owner or social media platform?

A great reference point to start this discussion around is to consider what YouTube actually is. When our press share stories about YouTube and brand-safe, or lack of brand-safe activity, they discuss YouTube in the context of it being a media owner. YouTube, on the other hand, considers itself to be a social media platform.

Defining a media owner

Now, from my perspective, a media owner tends to be a business that creates or buys all of its own content. Let’s think about a national newspaper, like the Daily Mail. If you were to pick up the 80-page edition today, that would be full of content that it’s either bought in from news agencies, such as Reuters, or from freelance journalists, as well as its own internal team of journalists. Because of the scale of the newspaper being manageable, it has an in-house team of sub-editors and of lawyers, to ensure the integrity of all of the content that it creates and the publication itself.

Now, if you’re an advertiser investing in a media owner like this, you would rightly expect your investment to be a 100% brand-safe experience. But I can tell you that’s not the case. I’ve spent a large part of my career working in our national press, on the editorial and on the advertising side. I’ve also spent a part of my career working in outdoor. I can tell you, categorically, that media owners do not afford advertisers a brand-safe experience 100% of the time. They screw up too.

What is YouTube?

YouTube on the other hand, is in my opinion, a social media platform. YouTube do not buy or create any of their own content. Instead, users upload content to this platform at a ratio that is almost unfathomable – 300 hours of content every single minute.

The scale of that operation means it’s completely unpoliceable at a human level. Despite YouTube’s very welcome investment, in swelling their staffers to over 10,000 moderators, they will always need to rely on an algorithmic approach to their moderation. The scale of this operation and the way in which the mechanisms work in terms of moderation, that means that YouTube will always have an element of non-brand-safe content on its platform. That’s a fact. It’s a fact that all brands, all advertisers, all agencies must accept. To deny it is to deny the very nature of the platform itself.

Whose responsibility is brand safety on YouTube?

That’s not to say that we can’t work as an industry to provide brands with a safe experience when advertising on YouTube. It’s a joint effort with responsibilities on both sides of the fence. On the platform level, YouTube itself, and us, agencies, working for brands themselves.

YouTube is a self-service platform

Brands and agencies have got to accept, YouTube is a self-service platform. It’s within our power to provide brands with the safest possible net around their campaigns. At a basic level, we can whitelist channels that are brand-safe for advertisers to showcase their adverts alongside. There are enough brand-safe channels now to provide the reach required for almost any single campaign. That in itself means there does not need to be a correlation between reach when you increase it, and risk.

Safety in advertising technology

On top of this, we can make the very best use of the advertising technology that’s available to all of us. Using platforms like DoubleClick Bid manager, affords advertisers an inherent level of safety and several opt-in levels.

If you add to your stack, things such as third-part ad tech around pre-bid verification of any single impression, you’re starting to develop a really significant safety net for campaigns. Naturally, of course, everybody needs to wrap around this a certain element of diligence and human vigour.

What YouTube is doing

YouTube are meeting us halfway too. We shouldn’t underestimate the investment that they have made in assembling a team of over 10,000 moderators. They’re also making more subtle changes, such as the policy changes around their categorisation.

But a note of caution, again, I could quite simply go out now and create some dubious content that certain brands would consider non-safe. That content could, for instance, fall between the cracks of the subjective categorisation that YouTube offers. Then, I could artificially swell my viewing numbers or the viewed hours, and the subscriber level to the point at which I can monetise that channel. From there, we may have a scenario where advertisers are advertising alongside what is essentially non-brand-safe content.

At a different level, what’s to say that a whitelisted channel may not use its creative licence to put out controversial content, or content that is okay with a certain brand’s value set but doesn’t sit well with another. This is really where I want to move the debate on. I want to elevate the debate away from the technicalities of YouTube and to a different level.

Brand safety is a grey area

I want to talk about media as a whole, and the changes we’re experiencing in marketing. Now, we are currently witnessing the biggest change we’ve ever seen in marketing. That’s the move towards people-based marketing.

In years gone by, you might have bought an ad in the newspaper to talk to and access its entire audience, many of whom would have sat outside of your core target audience. Today, in marketing, we’re moving to a world where we use data and technology to target an individual and bid upon media in real time. The gamut of media that we’re accessing means that we are increasing the propensity for a brand safety challenge.

We’re doing this against a backdrop that is truly unique. We now live in the Trump era. I believe people-based marketing, combined with the Trump era, is developing a big grey area around brand safety. It’s not black and white as the media are portraying it.

The Trump era, what I mean by this is, we’re living in an era of fake news. We’re living in an era where foreign entities are meddling with our elections and with our referendums. We’re living in an era, individually, where most of the media that we consume is algorithmically governed. That means we all live in our own little silo, or these echo chambers that I’ve talked about in the past, where quite possibly your own biases are legitimised and reinforced.

In that climate, we’re more polarised as individuals than we’ve ever been.

A great example is the near 50/50 result we saw in the EU referendum here, in the UK. In this world, content that offends you, may not offend me. Content that doesn’t sit well with one business’ brand value set may be entirely acceptable to another. This, this is really important. Because this is true for media owners; it’s as true for them, media owners, as it’s true for YouTube, the social media platform.

To be clear, will brands continue to experience safety issues on YouTube? Categorically, yes, they will. But it will only be similar to the scale of the challenges they face around brand safety with media owners too. Thank you for listening.