Are brands right to boycott YouTube?

YouTube is under fire for the second time in 12 months over its brand safety practices, but is a boycott the best approach that advertisers can take?

After a decade of easy, unimpinged growth, 2017 has proved to be YouTube’s annus horribilis - well, as terrible as life can be for a media brand still raking in billions of pounds in profits.

The Google-owned video platform started the year under fire from advertisers and agencies following reports by The Times claiming that ads were appearing next to videos promoting terrorism and other extremist content.

Not content with landing one meaty right-hook, The Times followed it up last week with a front-page story claiming that YouTube ads are funding "paedophilic habits". The article was published the morning after YouTube’s annual Brandcast event, where Google’s UK managing director Ronan Harris announced that predatory commenters would be turned over to the police.

Despite their efforts to reassure brands, some analysts are now warning that YouTube faces a "potential News of the World" moment, in reference to the mass exodus by advertisers which forced the newspaper’s closure in 2011.

Are marketers right to pull investment from YouTube in light of recent brand safety crises, or are they being unwittingly dragged into a fight between Google and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire News Corp, the owner of The Times-publisher News UK?

Kerry Chilvers,
brands director, Direct Line

Advertisers need to do what is right for their brands. For us, the main priority is for brands, media owners and media buyers to work together. We continue to work alongside and support ISBA in helping the industry come up with a solution. Advertisers need to work closely with their agency partners and suppliers to make sure strict parameters and safeguards are in place, and they are using the tools available to protect their brands. This is why we were the first brand in the UK to use social video analytics platform OpenSlate to enhance brand safety on our YouTube media buys.

Tim Gentry
EMEA managing director, Videology

Recent revelations highlight the challenges posed by running advertising within walled garden platforms, on UGC content created at such a scale that basic editorial controls are impossible to manage. This week’s news would be unfathomable in TV, or any media channel predicated on professionally authored content. Here, brands rightly expect and are given certainty about not only the environment in which their ads appear, but also the integrity of all content published by (or on) the organisation funded by their advertising. Seeing brands start to hold walled gardens to the same high standards as traditional media must be a good thing.

Daryl Fielding

Chief executive, Marketing Academy Foundation

The YouTubes of this world must do much more to stop wicked material appearing, and to stop its monetisation. "Brand safety" is a trumped-up, misdirected notion peddled by industry bodies desperate to prove their value. The risk is not that the awful viewers of awful material will see your brand but that the press could give you adverse PR. This would not count as a major risk to reputation in most corporate risk assessments and marketing departments shouldn’t need nonsense such as this to do the right thing. Brands should boycott, to support what is right and to condemn what is wrong – there is more than the safety of their brands at stake.

Justin Taylor

UK managing director, Teads

The ad industry is still being blighted by a lack of trust and transparency, cluttered ad experiences and as this week has shown once again - brand safety concerns. Yet again we’ve been presented with hard evidence that it’s almost impossible to guarantee brand-safe environments around user-generated content, which is no surprise when you consider thousands of hours are uploaded every minute. As an industry, we must work together to ensure that we have the best destinations for brands to advertise on, supporting quality and premium publishing and championing formats that respect the user. We need to strive for excellence; improve user experience and deliver greater accountability - platforms that can’t guarantee this have no place in today’s digital plans.

Christophe Castagnera
Head of connected experiences, Imagination

No. YouTube content can show us the very best or very worst of humanity, but fundamentally it is a channel where brands can be more relevant and where people can share real stories. There is also the importance of quality content in terms of ideas, production values and authentic messages. Boycotting will only serve to increase the amount of poor content out there. We need to work with YouTube to help them up their game, rather than walking away.


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