The Google YouTube Ad Controversy: What You Need to Know

March and April have experienced a swell of advertising boycotts, from advertisers pulling traditional air time from the Fox network to suspending video ad campaigns on YouTube.

You’re likely aware of the Fox controversy but the advertising exodus on YouTube may have slipped through your radar. Let’s take a quick moment to review what happened and what this all means for your advertising strategy.

The Controversy, in a Nut Shell

Over the course of the last few weeks, big brands like the Wall Street Journal, Starbucks, PepsiCola, Verizon, and several others have pulled their advertising campaigns from YouTube after discovering ads were appearing alongside offensive content.

What is considered “offensive” content? In this case, we're talking about videos expressing vastly different ideologies from the brands whose ads are appearing alongisde them. As humans, we can easily see a video and determine if the content is repugnant or controversial, but ads are distributed across the YouTube platform using programmatic advertising, meaning ads are automatically placed via algorithms and automation, not humans. Although some safeguards have been in place, there is now increased pressure on Google, YouTube's parent company, to perfect the technology to explicitly dictate for a machine the type of content that is acceptable for a brand.

So What is Google Doing About it?

In a statement released March 21 by Google, chief business operator Philipp Schindler eloquently summarized the dilemma, stating, “We have a responsibility to protect this vibrant, creative world—from emerging creators to established publishers—even when we don’t always agree with the views being expressed. But we also have a responsibility to our advertisers who help these publishers and creators thrive.” 

Google is taking active measures to help ensure brand content doesn’t appear alongside video content that is not aligned to their brand values. The search giant released a summary of corrective and proactive measures to create more safeguards for advertisers. Many improvements are already in effect with more on the way. 

What Does This Mean for Me?

YouTube is and will continue to be a powerful advertising mechanism, attracting more than 1 billion monthly users who will discover brands, research products or be influenced to make a purchase. About 47 percent of consumers say YouTube helps them make a purchasing decision once a month and there are plenty of other convincing stats to make the case for YouTube advertising.

The focus of advertisers is always to get their message in front of as many relevant prospects as possible. With the new world of digital and all the freedoms afforded by it, equally important to reaching the right audience is keeping your brand pure from conflicting ideologies. There is a great amount of detail and judgement required of digital ad specialists to ensure brands only appear in the appropriate places—this is just as critical for innocent ads appearing with mature content as mature ads appearing with material meant for kids. Being up-to-date on all the tools available to advertisers is essential to ensure ads are placed to reach the ideal audience.

Still a little confused about what this all means? I sat down with G/O Digital Product Manager Brendan Tugnao, our resident Youtube expert, for answers to some common questions from our advertising clients.

What is Google/YouTube doing to prevent ads from appearing alongside inappropriate or offensive content?

Google is handling the issue with a 3-pronged approach. First, they’re taking more active measures to ensure ads only show up with creators in the YouTube Partner Program, which means they closely follow the YouTube community guidelines. For instance, on April 6, 2017 YouTube has increased the threshold of channel subscribers needed to monetize the channel, thus increasing the quality and legitimacy of content creators. Second, YouTube is expanding the set of safety levels for advertisers to more closely control where ads appear. Finally, when instances of misalignment happen, YouTube is increasing their bandwidth and resources to review questionable content for advertising and accelerate response time to handle cases that do arise with advertisers. 

How much control do I have in determining the appropriate content for my ads? 

Our Video Advertising Specialists are industry leading experts and build every YouTube advertising account under best practices. This means every campaign is built with content exclusions to ensure Brands are safe and not shown along inappropriate content. These include: content intended for Mature Audiences, unlabeled content, sensitive subjects (such as tragedy and conflict), sensitive social issues, sexually suggestive, sensational and shocking and content with profane or rough language.

In addition, YouTube now has an improved set of brand safety tools to control when your ads are and are not shown. Similar to the process of identifying your relevant audience and topics, our digital advertising experts also exclude things like specific YouTube channels, topics, keywords, content types and categories which do not align with your brand and therefore should not play your ads.

Is there anything specific or unique G/O Digital is doing?

As a Google and YouTube Premier Partner, our Video Advertising Specialists are trained and kept up-to-date on best practices to utilize all the tools available to run your ads successfully.

How can I be sure my ads won’t appear after illicit or inappropriate content?

There are a number of tools we utilize to ensure ads won’t appear after inappropriate content. By default, all campaigns we manage have the content exclusions listed below, which includes newly released exclusions:

  • DL-MA: Mature Audiences
  • Content Not Yet Labeled
  • Tragedy and conflict
  • Sensitive social issues
  • Sexually suggestive content (New)
  • Sensational and shocking (New)
  • Profanity & rough language (New)

If you have specific topics of conern, please reach out to your account manager.

What happens if my ad does appear with inappropriate content? Will there be any kind of refund or compensation?

Our Video Advertising Specialists are using all of the available tools and added safeguards to prevent this from happening. If you believe your ads have appeared alongside inappropriate content, please speak to your Account Manager. 

Does this mean my ads will be seen by a potentially smaller audience?

Nope. And what’s more, these additional safeguards and controls better position your ads to appear to your ideal audience whose core values likely align with your brand values.


Still have questions or concerns? Please reach out to your Digital Account Manager or send us a message and we’ll be happy to get your questions answered. 

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