YouTube, the largest video platform on the Internet today has become one of the main ingredient in the marketing mix for many brands. YouTube has an ability to reach massive audiences in very targeted ways, many of whom have begun to steer away from traditional broadcast TV. With that, though, comes a price and in this case it’s the technology behind YouTube’s advertising which has landed the ads of huge brands like AT&T and Johnson & Johnson next to some unsavory and offensive material.
The algorithms that allow these ads to be served to specific target audiences mirror those of Google display networks. Unlike TV that lets advertised choose the programming it wants to run its ads during, YouTube specializes in niche content that may not appeal to a mainstream audience but attracts engaged viewers. Their automated technology breaks down an audience so that companies can target specific viewers by selecting general parameters of the type of demographics they are trying to reach, for example, a female that is under 34 and interested in cooking recipes.
That technology, known as programmatic advertising, then searches and serves that ad to the person that fits that criteria, no matter what videos they might be watching. As much as YouTube polices their ads not to appear next to inappropriate material, there are more than 400 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute which makes it impossible to make it completely fool proof. Understandably so, that makes advertisers concerned. While this is not a new concern for brands for example, who’s ads can appear next to pornographic videos on Snapchat, in the case of YouTube, which splits its advertising revenue with its users, this is particularly problematic. With this revenue-sharing model, brands can basically be directly funding the creation of offensive material.
As someone that has recently experienced their ads appearing on breitbart.com, my recommendation is to understand that these systems are not without error and to expect for these types of things to happen. The important thing is to react quickly, in our case we immediately blocked our ads from appearing on that site. It’s also important to speak to your audience, whether in a press release or another public forum like Twitter to address the issue and inform them of your non-involvement as most are uneducated in the space of online advertising.