Our stance on brand safety on YouTube and Google’s Display Network

Foto Joël Meier @ Webrepublic AG)

Joël Meier

On March 21st the heated public debate about brand safety on Google’s Display Network and YouTube has reached Switzerland. After a story aired on public national television some Swiss brands have decided to pull their media budgets from GDN and YouTube. While we do share these brand’s concerns, we are convinced that pulling out of Google is a drastic move that does not take into account the proven effectiveness of these channels. Here’s our take on the debate.

Our stance on brand safety on YouTube and Google’s Display Network

Blogpost Webrepublic Brand Safety

Our position

We welcome the public discourse about the quality of YouTube’s and Google Display Network’s inventory. There are cases where ads have been delivered in clearly unacceptable environments. We urge Google and YouTube to fight these instances with the highest priority and expand on existing control mechanisms and enforcements.

At the same time, we encourage a rational and honest dialogue. We believe in the overall value of Google’s and YouTube’s ad networks within the digital media mix. We have implemented countless successful campaigns with our clients that have proven the positive impact of these platforms.

We take our responsibility as our clients’ trusted partner very seriously. That’s why we invest a lot of time and resources into making sure we use the most comprehensive measures to prevent ads from appearing in bad environments. At the same time, we take a clear stance against Google and YouTube in cases where they delivered something else than they promised.

How have we been addressing this challenge?

As an agency, we have always taken the responsibility to invest our clients’ media budget to achieve the biggest impact while ensuring brand safety seriously. We therefore are and have been using a multitude of tools to guarantee a high quality of the campaigns:

  • Systematic exclusions of categories of content that might pose a threat to a brand’s value, for example videos about violence, war and extremist politics.
  • Comprehensive and continuous blacklisting of specific videos, channels and websites with a proven track record of unacceptable content.
  • Use of negative keywords, to further strengthen the quality of placements.
  • Ongoing and frank dialog with publishers and tech providers in order to advance the overall quality of inventory.

What are Google and YouTube doing?

We have always followed best practices as described above. However sometimes Google’s measures did not perform as promised and this is troublesome not only to our clients but also to us, as we rely on Google’s tools to provide the best service possible to our clients.

We therefore are pleased to see Google announcing steps to further improve the quality of its tools for brand safety. Without doubt it is the responsibility of Google and YouTube to provide safe and advertiser-friendly environments for advertising and constantly improve and tighten their approach to fighting unacceptable content. Having said that, we believe in their efforts to improve overall quality. Here’s what they have in place so far:

  • They have a comprehensive set of policies, that exclude things like violence, controversial and sensitive topics and sexually explicit content
  • They constantly review all new content that appears on their ad networks and remove content that doesn’t align with their policies. For example, in 2016, YouTube removed more than 300’000’000 videos and 100’000 websites from their networks
  • In light of the current debate, Google has further tightened their policies and enforcement as of March 21st. This includes running ads only on YouTube creators that are part of the Google Partner Program, setting higher quality defaults for all campaigns and providing more options for ad buyers to finetune the delivery

Context: Where’s this debate coming from?

In late January Marc Pritchard, CMO of Procter & Gamble fiercely criticized the digital advertising industry for their "crappy advertising accompanied by even crappier viewing experiences." Due to these frank words the discussion went mainstream and since has kept the industry busy. Publishers, adtech providers and agencies alike engage in a tough but necessary discussion about how to tackle the issues of brand safety and ad fraud.

Since Google is one of the biggest players in the market all eyes are on them right now and some players in the UK and than the US and Switzerland have decided to turn up the heat by pulling their advertising budgets from Google’s ecosystem – a radical step, that has been reversed pretty quickly by some players. Google meanwhile has come forward to apologize and has rolled out specific improvements and promised to release further improvements in the weeks to come.