Keeping Brands Safe: Strategies for Proper YouTube Ad Placement

The recent exodus of some major brands from advertising on YouTube after inappropriate content was juxtaposed with those companies’ advertising via the platform’s algorithm has aimed the spotlight on both how the platform places advertising and what companies can do to protect themselves from being aligned with material that can both be personally harmful and extremely damaging to a brand.

Recent reports show inappropriate content was, via YouTube’s algorithm, placed alongside content from major advertisers including Adidas, Deutsche Bank and Mars. Though YouTube’s user reporting system did catch and report the obscene content, just a handful of the specific instances were rectified. It prompted those companies to freeze advertising on the platform that hosts more than 4 billion video views per day and has an hour of content uploaded every second.

In response to the situation, YouTube Vice President of Product Management Johanna Wright issued a statement in which she outlined the steps YouTube is taking to better police and remove inappropriate content and prevent the juxtaposition of advertising with that content, especially when content targets family-oriented advertisers. It’s no small effort.

“Across the board, we have scaled up resources to ensure that thousands of people are working around the clock to monitor, review and make the right decisions across our ads and content policies,” Wright said. “We’re wholly committed to addressing these issues and will continue to invest the engineering and human resources needed to get it right.”

Following up on Wright’s statement, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced Google will deploy an additional 10,000 employees to specifically moderate YouTube for inappropriate or illicit content, citing the need for “human reviewers” to work alongside the platform’s algorithmic “machine learning systems.

“Since June, our trust and safety teams have manually reviewed nearly 2 million videos for violent extremist content, helping train our machine-learning technology to identify similar videos in the future. We are also taking aggressive action on comments, launching new comment moderation tools and in some cases shutting down comments altogether. In the last few weeks we’ve used machine learning to help human reviewers find and terminate hundreds of accounts and shut down hundreds of thousands of comments,” Wojcicki says. “We will continue the significant growth of our teams into next year, with the goal of bringing the total number of people across Google working to address content that might violate our policies to over 10,000 in 2018.”

The task of ensuring this situation doesn’t damage brands has equally daunting resource requirements, representing a potential strain to marketing budgets and capabilities in the future. But, there are a few steps we follow to ensure brands are protected in spaces like YouTube, starting during the strategic concepting phase all the way through execution and beyond.

Strategic targeting

The only real way to guarantee the safety of the brand prior to launch is to establish a list of YouTube channels that the ad should be displayed in association with. Sometimes this isn’t feasible due to the industry of the client being niche and the amount of YouTube channels being limited. When this is the case, we apply a layered targeting approach utilizing keyword and topic targeting.


While targeting is highly important in excluding content, placements and keywords hold just as much value. To fully protect your brand, excluding content using the YouTube presets (adult content, sensitive social issues, tragedy, conflict, etc.) is not enough by itself (as seen in this recent situation). Prior to launch, an advertiser needs to use extra precaution and include excluded keywords/placements known ahead of time to be inconsistent with the brand message and values.

Post-launch attention

A common misconception with any form of paid search is that once it’s set up, it can run forever without any optimization/monitoring/maintenance. Setting and forgetting any kind of YouTube advertising is a dangerous game to play with brand safety. Utilizing the “where ads where shown report” allows the advertiser to comb through the content ads are displayed on and create appropriate excluding keywords/placements to block videos that don’t align with a brand.

Best Practices

Research your targeting, beforehand. As an advertiser do your due diligence to protect your brand. Applying these methods prior to launching will assist in protecting against future mishaps. Paid search advertising is not meant to be a “set it and forget it” marketing method.

Check in with your content and make sure the traffic receiving your ad is logical. While you don’t want to limit the reach of your ad, applying multiple layers of targeting is beneficial in brand protection. Connect with your brand/client to understand the level of risk associated with different forms of digital advertising and work together to build a digital strategy that is successful.

Digital advertising is an ever-changing arena that calls for constant evolution and adaptation to stay abreast of issues like this to ensure your brand’s messaging is targeted and consistently aligned with your brand identity. Following these steps can help are a starting point to making this happen for your brand.

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