YouTube ad misplacement error signals hazards of monetising freedom of speech, says IPA digital chief


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

July 10, 2014 | 5 min read

An ad misplacement error on YouTube which saw ads from the BBC, National Citizen Service and UK charities appear against extremist videos, has emphasised the risks involved in monetising freedom of speech, according to the IPA's media and emerging technologies consultant Nigel Gwilliam.

The errors, first revealed earlier today, saw ads from the likes of Oxfam appear before ISIS recruitment videos encouraging young men to fight a holy war in Iraq.

Although online ad misplacement is nothing new, Gwilliam said this particular case is not related to the complexity of the ecosystem, which has at times been the cause of other ad misplacement scenarios, but indicative of the challenge YouTube faces in monetising user-generated content.

“Things get more difficult when you monetise freedom of speech... YouTube are taking user generated content and running ads on it with a resultant revenue split."

He referenced a similar issue Facebook previously faced, albeit without the revenue split, when it saw advertisers including Nissan and Nationwide suspend ads so as to distance themselves from user-generated content on topics including rape and domestic abuse on the social network.

“Facebook had to reappraise how they operated. The Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) was created to maximise brand safety in the complex supply chain by introducing independently verified formal practices. This is a single supplier issue - whether that supplier is YouTube or Daily Motion, for example - it is not a complex supply chain one.”

Online ad misplacement has been a recurring issue for years, with numerous industry body-led offences led to attempt to quash it, including the launch of the DTSG.

However, ISBA’s director Bob Wootton told The Drum that the YouTube error is "one of the most unfortunate instances of advertising in inappropriate environments yet”.

He added: “Such instances serve as a reminder of the damage to brand reputation that just a tiny number of inappropriate online ad placements can wreak. Online will continue to be a potentially dangerous place for brands until everybody in the space tightens up their act.”

Oxfam was quick to pull its advertising, and the BBC has also said it will now reconsider its position when it comes to its digital advertising strategy.

A spokesperson for the broadcaster said: “We expect our ads to be placed alongside appropriate content, in line with Google's ad policy and stated restrictions. We are not currently advertising with YouTube and will consider any future plans in light of these revelations.”

However, not all brands are as perturbed by the prospect of misplacement, rather that the biggest problem is if consumers don't understand they have no control over it.

Stephen O'Brien, until recently global director of integrated digital marketing at Blackberry, now chief commercial officer at Awedience, told The Drum that he didn't envision brand advertisers making major changes - and in fact " it's almost a positive for brands when they get outraged because it shows that they actually care about the brand."

"This has come up before and it's the juxtaposition that offends, especially when it involves big brands that people feel a sense of ownership over. Most brands will feel it is not sufficiently damaging but they will use it to put pressure on publishers to give them more control over who they're targeting,

"Most brands now are able to quell the storm and say the right things when this happens," he said.

A YouTube spokeswoman said it has “clear policies” on prohibiting violent content or content intended to incite violence, and it removes videos violating these policies when flagged by users.

“We also have stringent advertising guidelines, and work to prevent ads appearing against any video, channel or page once we determine that the content is not appropriate for our advertising partners,” she added.

Meanwhile The IAB UK's CEO Guy Phillipson urged brands to adhere to guidelines around the use of content verification tools.

"DTSG guidelines include the use of content verification tools to inject greater transparency into the digital display advertising market, and provide marketers with more control to help ensure that their advertising is far less likely to be associated with inappropriate or illegal content that could jeopardize their brand.

“We recommend marketers trade with companies signed up to the DTSG, who also commit to having their processes independently verified by an approved auditor,” he said.

Dailymotion was also alerted to the fact it was inadvertently showing extremist videos by BBC Newsnight, including a beheading alongside ads.


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