Google’s tighter ad rules for YouTube ‘don’t go far enough’

Google has made some of the biggest changes to ad rules on YouTube since its inception as it looks to improve brand safety, but the industry still thinks there is work to be done.

youtube brand safety

Google is making big changes to the ad rules on YouTube as it looks to clean up the site amid ongoing issues for marketers around brand safety.

The update means YouTube will impose stricter criteria on the types of videos that can generate ad revenue and introduce a new review process for ‘Google Preferred’, its premium content. It also claims it will offer greater transparency around where brands’ ads are appearing and simpler controls.

However, while the ad industry has welcomed the changes, most do not think it goes far enough and are calling for further work and investment from Google this year.

That follows growing concern among advertisers about where their ads are appearing on the site. An investigation by The Times almost a year ago highlighted how ads were appearing next to racist, violent or incendiary content, causing hundreds of brands to pull advertising from the site. Some, such as Marks & Spencer, only went back towards the end of last year.

YouTube had promised change but has been hit by a series of issues since. Some have involved influencers on the site. Most recently, top YouTube influencer Logan Paul was removed from Google Preferred after filming a suicide victim in Japan. That followed the removal of PewDie Pie after he posted anti-semitic content.

There has also been alarm at the type of content shown to children on YouTube and predatory comments on the site.

READ MORE: YouTube promises ‘zero tolerance’ for predatory comments as it faces fresh ad boycott

For its part, YouTube has recognised that it needs to do more and took several steps last year to improve protections for advertisers and viewers. However, it admits it has not gone far enough previously, with the latest updates aimed at finally addressing the issues.

“There’s no denying 2017 was a difficult year, with several issues affecting our community and our advertising partners. We are passionate about protecting our users, advertisers and creators and making sure YouTube is not a place that can be co-opted by bad actors,” says Paul Muret, VP of display, video and analytics in a blog post.

“While we took several steps last year to protect advertisers from inappropriate content, we know we need to do more to ensure that their ads run alongside content that reflects their values. We needed a fresh approach to advertising on YouTube.”

YouTube’s ‘fresh approach’ to advertising

The biggest changes surround the way YouTube decides which channels can run ads. Previously, channels with more than 10,000 total views would be eligible, but YouTube is now admitting that criteria is not stringent enough.

Now, rather than purely being judged on views, YouTube will also take into account channel size, audience engagement and creator behaviour. That means channels will need to have at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time within the last 12 hours to be eligible for ads.

YouTube says it will also closely monitor signals such as community strikes, spam and abuse flags to ensure monetised channels comply with its policies. Any that repeatedly or egregiously violate its guidelines will no longer be able to run ads and any that are issued with three strikes will be removed from YouTube altogether.

Those channels that can still run ads will also be subject to more stringent vetting. Google Preferred channels will be manually reviewed and only videos that have been verified will have ads. YouTube expects that process to take until mid-February in the US and the end of March in all other markets, including the UK.

Google has demonstrated that they are hearing us.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, M&S

Finally, YouTube is introducing a three-tier suitability system that will allow advertisers to decide appropriate placements for their brand and the level of brand safety they need. Plus, it is working with third parties to provide brand safety reporting and is currently in beta testing with Integral Ad Science, with a beta with DoubleVerify coming soon. It is also exploring partnerships with OpenSlate, comScore and Moat.

“The challenges we faced in 2017 have helped us make tough but necessary changes in 2018. These changes will help us better fulfill the promise YouTube holds for advertisers: the chance to reach over 1.5 billion people around the world who are truly engaged with content they love. We value the partnership and patience of all our advertisers to date and look forward to strengthening those ties throughout 2018,” concludes Muret.

Ad industry welcomes ‘positive step forward’

The commitments have been broadly welcomed by the ad industry, in particular the higher threshold for content to be eligible for monetisation and the three-tier suitability system. Jonathew Mew, CEO at the IAB, tweeted that he sees the changes as a “positive step forward”.

And in general, marketers believe Google has demonstrated it is listening to their concerns and responding to them. Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard says both Google and Facebook have shown they are “properly stepping up” and taking the issue seriously.

READ MORE: ‘Marketer of the Year’ Marc Pritchard on his quest for transparency

And M&S’s marketing boss Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne recently told Marketing Week that investments Google has made into brand safety had convinced the brand to go back to advertising on the site.

“Google has invested behind brand safety and brand security. It is deploying substantial efforts in terms of the screening and modifying some of their algorithms as well. We clearly are probably one of the most conservative brands in terms of what we are buying in programmatic, you have to be very careful.

“It will never be 100% airtight and foolproof but I am satisfied enough to go back on the network. I have not been the only one that has been pretty vocal on the danger, to YouTube as well, to brands. They are demonstrating that they are hearing us,” he told Marketing Week at a press event late last year.

However, many of the changes do not go as far as the industry would like. For example, the IPA wanted changes such as comments around children’s videos and news becoming switched off my default and greater detail on transparency reporting and pre-vetting.

Tom George, chair of the IPA’s Media Futures Group and UK CEO of GroupM says: “While Google’s communication doesn’t go as far as the proposals the IPA presented to them following our meeting at the end of 2017, we believe it is a step in the right direction and evidence that Google has listened to the advertising community to try to resolve the issues of brand safety that have been the subject of much concern in 2017.”

Sources speaking to Marketing Week have also questioned how Google will staff Google Preferred now, the number of channels that are likely to be affected and what the three-tier system will actually look like.

Phil Smith, director general of ISBA, says that while the changes show it is “clear” Google is listening to advertisers, it will be working to ensure the new policy is effective and is “looking forward” to more detail on its work with third-party vendors and more regular transparency reporting on brand safety.

And Tom Denford, chief strategy officer at media consultancy ID Comms, says that despite the changes marketers but still ensure they are taking responsibility for brand care.

“Making YouTube more accountable and easier for a marketer to buy with trust is great, but marketers need to make brand safety a clear component of their media briefs and avoid a race to the bottom on media prices,” he concludes.

“For too long this approach has led to a dilution of quality and leads to brands appearing in low-quality environments. Marketers need to be explicit in briefs to their media buying partners that environment is important and they will be willing to pay a fair price to avoid crappy media placement.”