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.