Advertising: Boycotting YouTube over hate videos
YouTube is in the midst of an advertiser exodus, said Nick Statt in TheVerge.com. Panicked brands are fleeing over concerns that the site is unable to keep their ads from appearing next to offensive content. The boycott started last week after an investigation by The Times of London found ads for prominent companies appearing next to videos posted by white supremacists, Islamic terrorist organizations, and other hate groups. Since then, PepsiCo, Walmart, Starbucks, GM, and scores of other companies have pulled their ads. For years, YouTube “has championed itself as the destination for any and all video on the internet.” Unfortunately, “a growing chunk of that video is the kind advertisers want nothing to do with.”
“The main concern for advertisers on the web used to be appearing next to pornography,” said Daisuke Wakabayashi and Sapna Maheshwari in The New York Times. But in the age of ISIS and the nationalist right, those fears now seem “almost quaint.” Unlike TV, which lets companies choose to run ads alongside specific shows, YouTube matches brands to videos using technology called programmatic advertising. This is one of YouTube’s biggest selling points, because advertisers can cheaply and efficiently reach very specific viewers—say, young men under 25. But YouTube’s massive scale—more than 400 hours of content are uploaded every minute—also makes it immensely difficult to police.
Advertisers aren’t likely to buy the excuse that the Google-owned site is simply too big to manage, said Davey Alba in Wired.com. “After all, no other company has done better at making money off of performing technical feats on a massive scale.” For its part, Google has apologized, and says it’s working on tools that will give brands more control over where their ads appear. This still will be a tricky balancing act. Like many technology companies, Google wants to be seen as a neutral platform, not an “arbiter of what’s appropriate.” But with so many ad dollars controlled by just a few major advertisers, the firm has “little choice” but to clean up this mess.
This is as much about leverage for advertisers as it is about hate speech, said Lara O’Reilly in BusinessInsider.com. Brands have long been pressing Google for more data about who watches their ads, and they now see a chance to finally squeeze some concessions from the tech giant. But it’s still a struggle that Google “may ultimately win,” said Mark Bergen and Lucas Shaw in Bloomberg.com. This controversy will certainly damage YouTube’s pitch that advertisers should move their money from traditional TV to online video, but only in the short term. “Power in digital advertising ultimately rests with who controls the most viewers. And people are watching more online and less on traditional TV.” ■