Want TV Like Transparency? Buy Digital Like TV
Over the past few years, advertisers have shifted meaningful spends over to online video, and to YouTube in particular. To some extent, they have little choice in the matter — if you are trying to reach certain audiences, you need to be where they spend their time.
This transition was going fairly smoothly until a few weeks ago when a leading YouTuber, PewDiePie, made anti-Semitic remarks on his 54 million subscriber YouTube channel. This led to a chain of events wherein a number of corporate UK brands pulled their ads from YouTube because those ads were being shown next to terrorist and hate videos. That was soon followed by major US advertisers — AT&T, Verizon, GM, Johnson and Johnson, among others — who said they were pulling their Google display and YouTube buys because Google isn’t doing enough to prevent brands from appearing next to offensive content. Now advertisers are increasingly struggling to reconcile a need to be on the world’s largest video platform in front of a difficult to find audience and a need to protect their own brand integrity.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece telling digital creators that if they wanted TV ad dollars, they should behave more like TV. Today, I find myself telling media buyers that if you want total transparency on where your ads run, you need to buy digital more like you buy TV.
YouTube is a self-described video platform, and they are the largest in the world by every measure. They rely on a global set of talented creators to populate their platform with a wide range of programming. Over the past decade, they have created many automated mechanisms through which advertisers can connect with that programming. With the smartest engineers in the world solving the problem, those will only improve over time. They also constructed Google Preferred, which allows advertisers to serve their ads in front of the top 5% of popular YouTube channels. Both of these programs do in fact provide base levels of protection for advertisers, but as we have seen recently, only go so far. Brands are still finding themselves running in front of offensive programming, and PewDiePie was a channel within Google Preferred. With the platform delivering over 5 billion views per day, it really is hard for YouTube itself to make any guarantees.
Having said that, it is actually fairly straightforward for advertisers to run brand safe campaigns on YouTube — simply buy the programming directly from publishers and channels, just like on television. In the traditional world, an advertiser would not necessarily buy “Comcast” at scale and cross their fingers, hoping their ads actually run on Modern Family. Similarly, buying the YouTube platform blindly is not the most effective way to associate with the exact programming you desire.
Most premium content providers — like BuzzFeed, NBCU, Viacom, Vevo, and my company Defy Media — all have sales forces tasked with selling everything from standard media to custom integrations. We all control our owned and operated inventory on YouTube and can be completely transparent about where ads run. We can specify channels, programs, and even specific videos, and as a result can offer protections that even YouTube can’t within its own platform on our content.
Most importantly, we all offer professionally produced programming that every day attracts millions of viewers in target demographics.
These are the audiences that advertisers can’t access as easily on television because they are spending increasing amounts of time on digital outlets.
Many of the headlines paint a picture that the YouTube fallout is a potential boon for television in the current upfront season. My word of caution to anyone who is considering that is that you should explore the alternatives before returning to that safe harbor. You’re going to overspend to try and hit an audience that is watching less and less television. I’ve spent the better part of the last year talking to marketers about three core challenges – How to reach young people, how to do it through video, and how to do it on the platforms where they live their lives. Moving dollars to television won’t get you any closer to understanding those same three challenges.
There is inappropriate programming on all media platforms. Over the course of the last century, agencies and advertisers have learned how to work with them in order to achieve their marketing objectives, without worrying about brand safety. Hopefully, this is the moment they can truly lean into doing so on YouTube as well.
-Keith Richman, President of Defy Media