Quality Watch: Lessons from YouTube’s Latest Scandal

Kait Boulos

YouTube has wrangled with so many brand-safety scandals in recent years that it’s hard to tell where one crisis ends and the other begins. The latest round of headlines isn’t even about the video content itself. This time, concern focuses on brand advertising that has appeared alongside YouTube videos featuring children where inappropriate comments linked to pornography have been posted. But nuances aside, it’s really more evidence of what marketers have already witnessed time and time again: YouTube is incapable of ensuring the brand safety of advertising on its platform.

While new outrage among advertisers is understandable, it’s time for marketers to face some cold, hard facts: Brand safety on massive platforms like YouTube and Facebook will always be a challenge, despite the platforms’ efforts to improve. But given the reach and sophisticated audience targeting capabilities inherent in these platforms, brands still want to be there. So what’s a modern marketer to do?

Quite simply, it’s up to marketers to figure out how to operate within today’s platform media ecosystem in a safe manner. Doing so requires an intense commitment to quality, not only as it relates to brand safety, but also issues like ad fraud, viewability, data privacy and compliance.

Fortunately, there have never been more tools available to protect brands and deliver quality inventory across channels than there are today. Brands that want to advertise on YouTube and Facebook—and avoid seeing their ads alongside the many variants of illegal and immoral content that are constantly surfacing—must leverage such tools to ensure they’re targeting only guaranteed premium content. This can be achieved through custom whitelists and other quality control measures.

That said, technology is not always enough. As we know, these platforms are constantly evolving, as are the bad actors and their nefarious activities. Relying simply on third-party tools and technology can lead to a false sense of security. As such, marketers must be prepared to roll up their sleeves and become immersed in these ecosystems. In today’s ever-changing platform landscape, the world needs experts.

Advertisers should continue to put pressure on YouTube and Facebook to clean up their inventory and ensure their ecosystems are free from illegal and otherwise dangerous content. Such efforts are important not just for the safety of brands, but for the safety of all users, particularly the youngest and most vulnerable among us. But at the same time, marketers must also take responsibility for ensuring the quality of the environments in which their ads appear. The tools, processes and expertise exist. It’s up to our industry to put them to proper use.

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Platform Watch: Amazon’s Latest Moves to Forge a Triopoly

March 2019 • Kait Boulos

Media platform conversations for the past decade have been dominated by two names: Google and Facebook, that infamous Duopoly. But recently around the same time, we’ve also started to hear a new name being whispered in these conversations: Amazon. Could the lurking giant really up its advertising game to become the third can’t-miss advertising play in the U.S. market? And if so, what does that mean for advertisers within today’s platform-centric world?

The past week’s headlines would suggest that, yes, Amazon is driving toward a Triopoly it can. And possibly faster than anyone expected. From an advertiser’s point of view, that’s not a bad thing. New points of entry to Amazon’s lucrative, well-known audience are welcome additions to the advertiser’s arsenal—particularly as it helps to disperse the overwhelming amount of audience control that resides with Google and Facebook alone. That said, it does require today’s marketers to expand their platform expertise beyond the now well-trod Google and Facebook interfaces.

On one hand, eMarketer just issued (another) upwards revision on Amazon ad revenue estimates for both past and future years. According to the research firm, Amazon ad revenue is expected to grow to $15 billion in 2020—nearly 10 percent of the U.S. digital ad market.

At the same time, Amazon is making interesting moves in the ad product realm as well. Just last week, the company unveiled Amazon Moments, a new venture that enables brands to reward customers when they reach certain milestones on their owned apps or sites. It’s an interesting spin on rewarded advertising that lets companies incentivize the actions that matter most to them (e.g., renewals, first purchases, etc.) by giving customers something they truly value (i.e., a discount or free item that shows up on their front steps in that well-known Amazon packaging).

Finally, it’s worth noting that Amazon’s moves into the Duopoly’s territory extend beyond traditional digital advertising. The company is also investing — and at last making progress — in the gaming world, with the recent unveiling of its New World multiplayer sandbox online game. Suffice it to say, Amazon has a lot of eggs, and they’re going in a lot of baskets.

At the same time, user attention is migrating away from Facebook, and Google is undergoing yet another brand safety crisis on YouTube. Increasingly, it would seem that the future of platform power extends beyond content alone (and the perils that come with it). Amazon gives us a glimpse of what a future platform titan might look like: one that goes beyond social media and entertainment to offer a unified platform that delivers complete experiences as its service.

As the concentration of power within the Duopoly continues to disperse, the need for both deep and wide platform understanding has become a top imperative for today’s media buyers. It’s a different world, and it takes a different kind of approach to drive brand awareness, customer engagement and revenue growth. At Varick, we are the Platform Media Experts. And we’re here to help.

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