Diageo tentatively tests a return to YouTube after its brand safety scare

The Guinness and Gordon's owner is running a series of “scaled trials” in the US, India and Europe

Diageo is toying with a return to YouTube after concerns around the efficiency of the platform’s brand safety measures triggered a two-year hiatus.

The Guinness owner is running a series of “scaled trials” in the US, India and select countries in Europe to test the effectiveness of YouTube’s latest brand safety updates. The tests are being supported using third-party brand safety technology and reporting tools.

“They’ve been going well so far,” Isabel Massey, global digital director at Diageo, told The Drum. “But we’re monitoring them really closely, so we will certainly continue to test and learn and make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

The business has made it clear it will only consider a full return to YouTube if its experiment confirms that the Google-owned platform meets the standards outlined in Diageo’s Trusted Marketplace programme, introduced in 2017 to make sure the brand gets the best value from its media buys.

Massey explained: “What we’ve been doing is working with YouTube to make sure that the changes they’ve made themselves, and the changes we’ve made as part of our own progress uphold the standards we believe are important.”

Diageo will only consider a full return to YouTube once the business has run a full series of trials and is satisfied they meet Diageo’s high standards.

Google itself has admitted that the “dark pockets” lurking on the internet mean YouTube may never be 100% brand safe. Since 2017, the platform has faced unrelenting questions from advertisers over ad misplacement – its ‘mea culpa’ moment coming in the wake of an investigation from The Sunday Times which detailed how household brands were inadvertently funding extremist and violent content through ads.

In the wake of the furore some brands, including Adidas, froze spend for a matter of days. Diageo, however, has been uniquely consistent in voting with its wallet. Even now it is tentative about a wholesale return to YouTube and members of its marketing team previously admitted that the freeze hadn’t necessarily impacted brand performance.

For YouTube’s part, it has developed a suite of internal tools to alleviate brands' concerns. These include strict new criteria for content monetisation and greater controls for advertisers on what they perceive as ‘appropriate content’.

In response to recent fears around child safety, the site upped its use of machine learning, which has helped it to double the speed at which it is able to take down any content that violates rules.

Misplacement fears aside, brands are facing a fresh call from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) to consider their “moral responsibility” when spending with tech giants who host extremist content, whether it’s monetised or not.

Following on from a month in which YouTube faced questions over paedophilic comments and Facebook was used to live-stream a New Zealand terror attack, the trade body stopped short of encouraging brands to freeze spending, urging them instead to put pressure on social media platforms to do better.

When asked if these events made her nervous about a potential return to YouTube, where excerpts of the Christchurch shooting video wound up, Massie said that “combatting walled garden issues” was something she was “passionate” about.

“We’ll do that in the right way for Diageo,” she said.

As well as taking ownership of Diageo’s brand safety strategy, Massey has also been figuring out how to bring creative and media closer together within the business, something the likes of Renault and O2 have also been testing.

“We want to make sure that we're integrating the teams. So breaking down the borders between our own businesses and theirs, and also between disciplines, like media and creative.”

The brand has already tested this with Smirnoff in North America, where it got creative and planning teams to sit in the same room and collaborate on a big campaign. Though she declined to name the work, Massey noted that the setup sent “effectiveness levels through the roof”.

“That’s a model we’re now rolling out globally and we’re really delighted,” she added.

Where fellow FMCG marketer Keith Weed has pointed out the difficulty in getting different P&Ls and egos under the same roof, Massey said the Smirnoff experiment hadn’t brought about the same challenges.

“Everyone was focused on the outcome, and what we were all aiming to do together. If everyone is clear on that and has joint goals and knows that the success is dependent on us going after that together then the egos come second to that.”

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