Beginning on March 17th 2017 , several large global and local Australian brands have suspended investment in Google’s YouTube advertising platform. This is due to advertising appearing alongside inappropriate content. Reprise has always taken brand safety very seriously and already has a number of processes in place as standard across all campaigns to protect clients. Reprise is now implementing additional protections for clients’ YouTube activity – which are in line with Google’s brand safety updates to the AdWords platform. Additionally, Reprise can offer a range of brand safe alternative digital marketing solutions, should clients’ still harbour concerns. This article details the problem, outlines existing protections offered by Reprise, details additional solutions, and discusses alternatives available.

What’s The Story?


There has been quite a furore in the digital marketing industry recently regarding brand safety and the context of the type of video content that Google allows pre-roll advertising to appear before on YouTube. Several large advertisers have highlighted that they have found that their pre-roll ads have been appearing before inappropriate or sensitive content which is inconsistent with their brand . As a result, many have chosen to stop advertising on the platform until Google provides adequate features to prevent this from happening again.

Why Is This Important?


When an ad is displayed within a contextual environment that some people would deem politically incorrect, offensive, inappropriate, or insulting, this is a highly concerning issue for advertisers. In part, this is due to worries regarding the affect that the association might have on the perception of the brand by any member of the public that may inadvertently view the ad in that setting – and also concerns from businesses and consumers alike regarding the funding & remuneration of such content producers by the brand advertising alongside its content.

Whilst there are significant concerns regarding brand safety of ads on YouTube, there is no doubt that – as a channel – it is highly effective at delivering performance for brands. Research has shown that YouTube advertising significantly increases:

  • Brand awareness – with an average lift of 17%
  • Brand interest – with an average lift of 13%
  • Ad recall – with an average lift of 80%

The average viewability of YouTube ads globally is also extremely high at 93% – and audibility is even higher at 95%.

youtube 1Viewability and audibility of YouTube ads are a significant asset for this channel and studies have shown both metrics significantly correlated with effectiveness at driving brand awareness, ad recall, and consideration:

youtube 2

YouTube is the world’s most popular online video platform – and also the world’s second largest search engine. It has over 1 billion users (close to a third of all people on the internet) and billions of views occur every day on the platform as people watch hundreds of millions of hours of video content. As such, it also offers a powerful platform for brands to drive reach.

The huge volume of content on YouTube helps, in part, to provide such amazing reach. However, it’s this same opportunity which also presents a challenge for Google and brands that choose to advertise in this space. A massive proportion of content on YouTube is user generated. That can often mean it’s raw and unpolished; it hasn’t gone through teams of brand managers and legal advisers. However, it’s exactly that fact that provides such a hugely diverse range of content – which is quite incomparable to any other online video platform in terms of its breadth & depth. And it’s that range that drives such a large number of users to this platform to engage every day. In fact, user generated content is viewed ten times more than brand-generated videos on YouTube.

The danger of this is that it can become an open forum for many to share inappropriate content – and the sheer volume of videos uploaded to YouTube on a daily basis makes it extremely difficult for Google and advertisers to keep pace and adequately block such content.

What Are We Currently Doing To Protect Against This?


At Reprise we believe that, for a brand to pay to have even just one ad impression served in such an environment is unacceptable – that’s the stance that we take for all the clients that we represent, across all channels. As such, we place a huge amount of importance of brand safety and put in place a rigorous set of controls to ensure ads are not shown in unsafe environments.

Reprise also values its partnership with Google very highly. This is a partnership which has yielded a huge amount of value for Reprise clients – and it is the importance that Google places on brand safety itself which allows us to put in the place the measures that we have. Firstly, Google goes through an automated process of rating and categorising every piece of content uploaded to YouTube based on maturity level and category, so that YouTube can determine if it is suitable for general advertising. This is carried out by machine-learning algorithms. Users themselves are also encouraged to flag inappropriate videos which are then manually reviewed as a second layer of protection. If the video is found to be in violation, it may be removed, or advertising may be turned off.

Reprise utilises several layers of Google’s content categorisation to provide brand safety for clients. These include the following exclusions as standard across all YouTube campaigns:

  • Adult content (DV-MA)
  • Content not yet rated
  • Sensitive social issues
  • Tragedy & Conflict

Reprise also implements an extensive and ever growing list of negative contextual keywords for video ads on YouTube to manually exclude a wide range of sensitive content topics including:

  • Profanity
  • Sexual content
  • Drug related issues
  • Terrorism
  • Crime
  • And more

An additional layer of protection is provided to all video campaigns Reprise executes on YouTube, by excluding specific categories of placements. These include:

  • Embedded Videos – Videos embedded into non-YouTube site on Google Video Network. Example: An ad serves before an embedded video on about a news event
  • Live Streaming – Events Broadcasted live events on YouTube. Example: A TrueView ad serves as pre-roll for the Coachella Live Stream
  • Games – Gaming inventory on desktop and on mobile apps. Example: serves TrueView ads before game-play.

In addition, Reprise regularly reviews placement reports from campaigns on YouTube to manually spot check for inappropriate placements to apply manual exclusions to. Third party verification (from providers such as Atlas) is also implemented across campaigns to monitor and measure the accuracy of Google’s audience targeting.

What Can We Do To Improve This?


All of the above are stringent methods that Reprise employs to ensure clients’ brand safety when running video ad campaigns on YouTube – and all of this is made possible by the features which Google has built to give advertisers control of where their ads are shown. However, this is clearly not enough – and Reprise has been working hard to advocate that to Google recently (along with many other voices in the industry) in order to affect positive change.

As such, Google has listened and announced several big changes to provide advertisers with more control:

  • Safer default for brands – changing the default settings for ads so that they show on content that meets a higher level of brand safety and excludes potentially objectionable content that advertisers may prefer not to advertise against. Brands can opt in to advertise on broader types of content if they choose.
  • Simplified management of exclusions – new account-level controls to make it easier for advertisers to exclude specific sites and channels from all of their AdWords for Video and Google Display Network campaigns, and manage brand safety settings across all their campaigns with a push of a button.
  • More fine-tuned controls – new controls to make it easier for brands to exclude higher risk content and fine-tune where they want their ads to appear.

Google has made several new content exclusions available to Reprise (which are currently in beta testing) and these are being applied to all existing and new campaign activity. The categories are:

  • Profanity and rough language – moderate or heavy use of profane language and curse words
  • Sexually suggestive content – provocative pictures, text, and more.
  • Sensational and shocking – content that creates shock value, including sensational, gross, and crude

Despite the massive amount of attention this issue has garnered across the globe it’s important to recognise the huge amount of value that YouTube as a platform has provided to advertisers – as well as the incredible benefits that programmatic digital marketing has also delivered to businesses around the world. The issues that have been publicly highlighted are very serious causes for concern. However, they are largely isolated observations amongst campaigns that have delivered millions upon millions of valuable brand safe ad impressions. In fact, recent IAS research has shown that brand safety risk of advertising against digital video content in Australia has dropped from 12.7% of impressions in the first half of 2016 to 5% in the second period. And brand risk in Australia is markedly less than that found in US & UK markets:

2017-03-30 11_55_12-Brand-risk-and-viewability_B65554B0-14D3-11E7-86517E657B0FE4F5.jpg (630×373)

Reprise constantly strives, and will continue to strive, to improve the delivery of the ads its manages on behalf of its clients – first and foremost in relation to brand safety but also in regards to other important issues such audience targeting, innovation, and integration.

Alternatives to YouTube


If, like several major global and local Australian brands, you would prefer to suspend investment in YouTube advertising until Google can guarantee brand safety, Reprise can work with you to investigate alternative investments which generate similar brand reach or performance. This includes advertising in alternative video platforms or utilising social media video channels. Another alternative is increasing investment in search marketing, which has a much higher degree of brand safety in comparison to display and video ads, due to the highly targeted nature of search keyword buys.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in contact.

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Paul Watson

Hi! I'm Head of Paid Digital Solutions here at Reprise. With over 10 years of experience of in digital marketing, I have a passion for all things digital. I love helping clients to leverage the power of digital media strategies to deliver on their business goals.

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