In a new report entitled “Risky Business: Exploring Brand Safety on YouTube,” the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) asserts that brand safety is elusive if not impossible on most of its channels. The report argues that marketers should advertise on professionally produced content channels and avoid UGC and even YouTube premium content channels altogether.
Brand safety is a growing concern online. Brand safety problems on YouTube are well documented. The report catalogs many of them. It points out that because “400 hours of video are uploaded to its platform every minute, it may just be too cumbersome at this point for YouTube to control the influx of content and comments and to guarantee a brand-safe environment to advertisers.”
VAB says that of the 50 million channels on YouTube, slightly more than 17,000 are monitored for the comScore YouTube Partners Report. The overwhelming majority of YouTube channels feature user-generated content and therefore present potential brand safety risks according to VAB.
The report also critiques YouTube inventory available through the Google Preferred program as lacking transparency. Beyond this, the top YouTube influencer channels feature varying levels of brand safety. (The report is silent on YouTube Originals.)
In the above chart, based on third party (not VAB) data, the top YouTube influencers are ranked according the appearance of unsafe content, which includes themes or images such as “weapons, drugs, violence, scandals, profanity, negativity or hate speech.” VAB says that unsafe content sees lower engagement rates that more “brand-suitable” content.
The challenge for brands, according to VAB, is that to achieve scale on YouTube many brands need to advertise on thousands of channels, which exposes them to potentially unsafe content.
Pro content or no content. The ultimate recommendation of the report — although it doesn’t empirically address the scale question — is to advertise exclusively on professionally produced TV and film content appearing on YouTube. VAB says this content is among the most viral and engaging on YouTube and has significant reach.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was asked about brand safety and fake news on YouTube at a conference in San Francisco on Monday. She said that YouTube was working hard to address these problems and would be adding additional fact-checking capabilities, but wasn’t going to get into the business of “editorializing videos.”
Why it matters to marketers. It may be self-explanatory, but brands that become associated with “unsafe content” may see negative consumer reactions. The report cites previous survey data to show:
- 36 percent (of consumers) think an ad is an endorsement by the brand
- 37 percent change how they think of brands that run alongside offensive content when making a decision to buy
- 20 percent will boycott, be vocal, or raise issues about brands that run adjacent to offensive content
Postscript: Google contacted us and disputed some of the findings and conclusions of the report, especially around transparency. In support of those positions, a spokesperson pointed to a previous blog post regarding MRC accreditation, including for YouTube ads:
With today’s announcements, YouTube video ad impressions and viewability metrics for desktop, mobile web, and mobile in-app are now fully MRC accredited in Google Ads, Display & Video 360, and Campaign Manager. And we’ve begun the audit process for MRC accreditation of recently added metrics, including brand safety and Unique Reach reporting on YouTube in Google Ads.
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