Historically, brand safety has been a significant concern for advertisers and for good reason. The vast majority of brands don’t want their ads displayed alongside content that is objectionable – or even worse.
Brand safety is so important to some brands that they’re making significant efforts to ensure their ad dollars aren’t directed to ads that they believe present association risk. FMGC giant Mondelēz, for instance, has moved to pre-bid blocking in programmatic markets because it wanted to eliminate the losses incurred when using post-bid blocking.
Jennifer Mennes, Mondelēz’s North American media director, told AdExchanger, “The media would go out and get blocked, which is good, but then we don’t get that investment back. That means wasted impressions.”
But is there a market for ads that toe the line between acceptable and potentially unsafe by general standards?
YouTube is apparently trying to find out. In an effort to increase spend by advertisers willing to take more risk, the Google-owned online video giant is now testing a program that allows advertisers to buy inventory associated with “edgy” content.
The program was revealed in a quarterly letter YouTube sent to content creators last week and according to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the test “resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads on yellow icon videos.”
As Digiday explained, the yellow icon has historically indicated that a video is not eligible for ad monetization.
Is what’s good for creators really good for advertisers?
While there’s no doubt that advertisers might have different ideas about what constitutes safe versus unsafe content, there’s an argument to be made that YouTube’s “edgy” ads test is designed primarily to help content creators, not advertisers.
That’s because many creators on the YouTube platform produce content that is of questionable taste and would sometimes reasonably be considered brand unsafe. From PewDiePie to Logan Paul, some of YouTube’s most popular creators have found themselves in the spotlight for content that is not just controversial but in a number of high-profile cases, repulsive by any reasonable standard.
The problem for YouTube: if its most prolific creators can’t monetize their content, they have less incentive to publish on YouTube. Obviously, since there are millions upon millions of users drawn to YouTube in part because of these creators, YouTube is in a difficult position.
Put simply, YouTube’s demonetization efforts, which have been fueled by brand safety concerns, threaten to cause losses well beyond the popular videos it demonetizes if creators sour on YouTube and end users in turn frequent the service less.
In theory, YouTube’s efforts to create a more nuanced demonetization regime could benefit advertisers, but the success of these efforts will depend largely on the company’s ability to draw lines in places where lines are not always clear. For instance, there are many popular prank and comedic videos on YouTube that have arguably sexist or racist overtones, or that many people would likely find inappropriate, but might simply be considered “edgy” by others.
This means that even in instances where Google has humans manually reviewing videos, such as part of its Google Preferred program, advertisers will have to rely on a subjective decision made by a Google employee or contractor, and thus they will face risk.
The big question for advertisers: do they want or even need to live on YouTube’s edge to maximize the returns from their campaigns on the service?