Why some brands are still refusing to advertise on YouTube

Marie Curie was caught up in the brand safety scandal earlier this year and won’t advertise on YouTube again until it allows its ad verification technology.

youtube brand safety

Marie Curie has still not returned to advertising on YouTube after being caught up in the brand safety scandal earlier this year because despite the work the platform has done to make it safer for brands to advertise it “doesn’t allow” the charity’s ad verification technology.

Speaking on a panel at the Festival of Marketing this morning (5 October), Steve Armstrong, head of digital at Marie Curie, said: “We realise the changes that have been made and the new tools you can use to be a bit more selective on content you appear on, but as a charity we have to be as fastidious as we can be in order to deliver the lens of trust we need to.

“We have very rigorous standards in terms of where we go and the levels of verification we use. YouTube doesn’t allow the ad verification tech we use in order to manage risk. So we have taken the decision that we will continue not to be present.”

Many of the brands caught up in the scandal have since returned to advertising. In fact, Marie Curie is in the minority, although Marketing Week understands Marks & Spencer also hasn’t returned.

Being able to use its own third-party verification is a deal breaker for Marie Curie. And while both Facebook and Google are making moves towards allowing more third parties access to data, this has not yet gone far enough.

“There are APIs out there that enable you to select what content and videos you want to appear on but at the moment we are not ready to look at that. Because we are a charity we are judged differently from how other brands are, so that is a decision we have had to make,” he explained.

READ MORE: Brand safety online – Can it ever be guaranteed?

Marie Curie is also in no rush to go back because, as Armstrong admitted, not advertising on YouTube hasn’t had a huge impact on its ability to fundraise. That has, however, required a lot of work, with its media agency “working hard” to look at other platforms and ways to deliver its messaging that delivers the returns the charity is looking for.

The need for digital standards

Armstrong admitted that coming up with standard tools and practices is part of the challenge for the digital ad industry. Earlier this year, IAB Europe, the WFA and European Association of Communications Agencies set up a new European framework that aims to provide a benchmark for issues such as viewability and verification. But these are yet to be confirmed and even then would only apply in Europe.

Where there’s a mystery, there’s a margin. That sums up what is going on in the industry. Third-party verification is essential.

Dominic Chambers, Jaguar Land Rover

“Part of the challenge for the sector as a whole is there has been a lot of change very rapidly and there is still a degree of immaturity. There are conflicting standards even among those verification technologies deemed best-in-class. That makes it hard to know what standard to use and what to believe. Having more standardised practices would be really useful, but that requires hard work from everyone,” he said.

Dominic Chambers, head of digital at Jaguar Land Rover, agreed, saying that the lack of standards and third-party access to data is part of what caused the issue in the first place.

“Where there’s mystery, there’s a margin,” he said, speaking on the same panel. “That sums up what is going on in the industry. Third-party verification is essential. YouTube and Facebook are starting to accept that but they are really going to need to open up their data.

“It is all about third-party verification. They cannot be the ones to tell us the data we need to have.”

‘Too many middle men in the daisy chain’

Jaguar Land Rover was also caught up in the brand safety scandal but, unlike Marie Curie, has now gone back to advertising on YouTube. Chambers said that decision came after YouTube changed how it works with advertisers, giving them better controls and allowing them to deselect content they think is risky.

“There is so much content on YouTube, you don’t need to be worried about taking lots of content off buys. And now the controls are at account level not campaign level. Before you could forget to tick a box on one campaign,” he explained.

There are clearly too many middle men in the daisy chain of programmatic. You have to question if there is real value in those different layers.

Dominic Chambers, Jaguar Land Rover

However, he thinks that while Google was “complacent” in allowing this to happen in the first place, so was the brand and its media agencies. “We are now much more selective,” he added.

Alongside that, Jaguar Land Rover is working much more closely with publishers, and ensuring it is much closer to the details so it understands where it its ads are appearing.

“There are clearly too many middle men in the daisy chain of programmatic. You have to question if there is real value in those different layers or if there is a way of cutting them out and dealing more directly with publishers, which is what we are starting to do.”

But despite the challenges, Chambers said there is still an enormous opportunity in programmatic advertising, making it “frustrating” that advertisers are being held back by these issues. “We need to get the controls and quality in place, then double down on great content. Marketers need to get engaged [in the issues] but not get put off.”