As digital marketers, what does the YouTube controversy really mean for us? And how much will it really change things?
Social media being in the news for controversial reasons is nothing new - Twitter, Facebook and Google+ have all been criticised by MPs for ‘consciously failing to tackle extremism’ in recent times. But a study by the Times newspaper has brought hate funding into the equation.
It found that advertisements for companies were appearing in sensitive, controversial and even extremist videos. This would entitle the creator of the content to earn money from the company per X number of clicks or X number of views dependant on a number of factors. In the study by the Times it was found that for every 1,000 clicks the creator would receive ‘about’ £6. Since this revelation, Google has suffered with countless brands pulling the plug on their adverts refusing to be associated with this type of content. There are very big names here: M&S, McDonald’s, BBC, Channel 4 and The Guardian to name just a few.
Now Google has announced a “three-pronged strategy” to address the issue.
The first and main prong is:
“To improve policies regarding what they deem as safe or ‘ad-friendly’. They will look to refine their definitions of extremism, hate speech and inappropriate content.”
We feel this just raises more questions than it answers - mainly, what measurable is used to deem what content is advert friendly?
Now, Google’s claim of hiring an amount of people to deal with this is interesting. There is an estimated 630,720,000 hours of content on YouTube. Let’s assume each video is an average of ten minutes long, so that would make 81,941,760 videos. That’s an awful lot of videos to monitor. Obviously, the number of videos that would be affected by this new initiative is nowhere near that number but it gives us more of an understanding of the scale and reach of the video giant. With the nature being so subjective of what is appropriate - what you find appropriate could be different to what your friend, next door neighbour or work colleague finds appropriate - how is any human being going to be able to judge what’s appropriate for all of us? Let alone an eventual algorithm as they inevitably look to automate the process.
The most interesting question that this big mess raises for digital marketers is - how much involvement are brands going to have in deciding on appropriate ad-friendly content? With the matter being so subjective where is a comprehensive line drawn? This is a tricky question Google and brands will have to delve deeper into because at the moment it’s quite confusing, for onlookers especially.
So, what does this mean for digital? It could mean a great deal in the near future. With such powerful companies boycotting YouTube and pulling their advertisements, this, coupled with the ongoing social media battles, means we’re perhaps not too far away from stricter enforcement by the Government, stricter monitoring from social media companies on what is even allowed on their site and even a stricter level of online censorship.
This would have a direct impact on digital marketers. With stricter guidelines in place, the amount of content that is impacted is surely to heighten also. Although the association with this type of ‘sensitive content’ is a negative impact for PR and morally hazy at the end of the day, it was also generating clicks, generating interest and increasing traffic through to the site. Illustrated by this graphic, which was taken from a study by Google to measure the impact of Google and YouTube advertising in 2015.
For this to become a big issue the number of clicks and interest generated must have been a notable amount (remembering it was £6 for every 1,000 clicks). Now with these certain types of videos being deemed ‘non-ad friendly’ that cuts off a portion of advertising fronts for brands. These brands may not want to be associated to this, nor funding the organisation behind it, but that’s still impacting their traffic overall by lessening their reach. So, from a moral standpoint it may very well be controversial, but from a pure numbers standpoint this is traffic you will no longer be getting.
Boycotting YouTube altogether is also an interesting move from brands. Yes, not being associated with what YouTube eventually decides isn’t ‘ad-friendly’ will lessen reach and traffic from that vertical but boycotting pulls all the reach you have from that vertical completely. It will be interesting to see how it develops for these brands, some may argue that the impact on traffic can’t have been that big if they were willing to boycott altogether so quickly, or are we going to see a big U-turn?
A question a lot of brands will be asking regarding this is about the direct impact it will have on them, their marketing strategy and more importantly (perhaps) their budget and revenue.
As mentioned previously although this doesn’t impact a massive percentage of the video space online it is still cutting down the advertising space, suddenly putting a need for all this advertising that was previously around ‘sensitive’ content to find a new home somewhere more appropriate.
Supply and demand in the advertising space is lessened meaning the prices can increase to accommodate the brands that ‘really want it’. But where does this extra cash come from? Does the brand give more money to the marketer to subsidise this? Perhaps, or does the marketer have to spread themselves thinner? More likely. This leads us directly to how careful marketers will have to be; it’s different now you can’t throw money at social media and expect your content to be used appropriately in the ‘right’ places to avoid a PR meltdown (see Jess' simple guide on how to use paid social correctly). A closer eye clearly needs to be identifying where the content is placed and how appropriate that is not only to their demographic and personas but also if it’s appropriate to the wider society.
If this wasn’t hard and problematic enough already; Google are very tight-lipped about how they determine which ads are displayed where (more than likely some deep algorithm never destined for the light of day) but brands have a duty, especially now more than ever they should be demanding more information to ensure the safety and security of their brand.
YouTubers also have a part to play in this. They themselves, their channels, their videos are about being a ‘brand’ they actively encourage users to engage with their content – to comment, view, shout out and share. Direct impact could go either way for YouTubers - either the price is driven up so they end up increasing their bottom line from advertising; all good. Or the price is driven up driving brands away (especially smaller brands that can’t compete with the sizeable wallets) forcing them to pursue another path.
What is clear is that the entire process needs to be more structured, from the CMO to the advertising algorithms to the YouTubers proudly displaying and advertising themselves with branding plastered all over their videos. The process needs to be redefined with input from all angles.
So, all in all what does sensitive ad placement mean for digital? Well, no one really knows the extent at this point, but it will be an interesting time watching what comes of it. With many recognisable brands fully ‘boycotting’ YouTube rather than just pulling their advertising for the time being, it could be a turbulent time for YouTube and Google trying to restore brands' faith in their advertising model.
That said, the video colossus has over 30 million visitors per day, viewing almost five billion videos every single day - so YouTube won't be going anywhere any time soon. Maybe it’s the brands that will blink first?
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