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YouTube's display ad debacle - What should smart advertisers be doing?

YouTube's display ad debacle, placing brand ads near dubious content, has brands boycotting the world's second-biggest search engine. Jellyfish shows advertisers how to avert a crisis.
If this was your ad, would you want it on this video?
If this was your ad, would you want it on this video?
Framing the crisis – what’s all the fuss about?

Businesses are still reeling from the shock waves that hit the online advertising space last week. More than 200 major brands are boycotting YouTube and the Google Display Network (GDN) after they found that their ads being placed major brand ads near what we'd euphemistically call suboptimal content.

TechCrunch reported last week that “...a number of brands and publishers in Europe said they would pull advertising from Google’s network after their adverts were revealed to be being displayed alongside content such as videos promoting terrorism and anti-Semitism — a long-standing issue with online ad networks that is arguably coming to a head now given rising concern about extremist movements using online channels to spread divisive messaging and build influence among voters in democratic societies.”

Meanwhile CNN reported that the backlash to the crisis is growing, with AT&T saying in an official statement, "We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate."

In response to the crisis, Google’s chief business officer, Philipp Schindler, posted an article titled “Expanded safeguards for advertisers,” in which he outlines the company’s commitment to give advertisers more control over where their adverts appear online. Google promised to tighten up the threshold for what is deemed “acceptable” content, and make it easier for advertisers to specify exclusions to where their content can appear.

The Register describes Schindler’s reference to “higher risk content” as euphemistic.

Google Europe’s head Matt Brittin explained the measures being implemented in a press conference during which he said the search giant “take[s] responsibility for it [the crisis]." Though he was quick to point out that some advertisers didn’t always fully utilise the available controls, The Register’s article shares a different view:

    “The Times team flagged six "virulently anti-Semitic" videos on YouTube last week but Google ignored the notifications, and left two up even after the newspaper had contacted it again.”

What can savvy advertisers do?

Safety first

At Jellyfish, our paramount safety has always been brand concern. An agency is more than a service provider: an agency is a brand custodian, and it’s a role we take very seriously. Because we understand platform-based programmatic buying intimately, we have a clear view of the need to have a wide range of measures in place to avoid the possibility of ads appearing near suboptimal content.

Further, we do not rely on third party ad networks or programmatic companies to deliver display campaigns on our behalf. This means we have as much control as possible over our clients’ display ads and there are less parties involved in campaign delivery, which results in more accountability, explains Jellyfish Global Head of Display James Bourner.

Use the tools available

Most ad buying platforms come with a range of functionality, relating to all the aspects of a campaign, including security. It is the responsibility of the agencies and/or buyers to assess. All campaigns have multiple layers of brand protection:

  • In-platform brand safety content categorisation and exclusion.

    • Suitability of sites’ content for Audience labels
    • Sensitive category blocking
    • Page-level categorisation
    • Custom keyword blocking

    Specific tools have been developed to create an additional layer of control. For instance, AdLoox, along with other prominent players, IAS and Double Verify, provide additional independent brand safety technology around:

    • Keyword based blocking
    • Imagery assessment
    • Content assessment

    At Jellyfish, we have developed proprietary measures to supplement and enhance those listed above, such as

    • White and black listing
    • Human checking
    • Video title and meta data mining (YouTube-Specific)

    Due to the recent findings of the press and advertisers that their ads have been placed around content associated with hate and/or terror, specifically on YouTube, we have reinforced our video title mining measures as a precautionary measure.

What should tech-savvy advertisers (or their agencies) be doing?

Since the crisis erupted, Jellyfish has expanded the measures already in place to increase the security we offer our clients.

In-house/agency steps

  • YouTube (video content mining):

  • There are various settings and categorisations that advertisers can select. Most importantly, though, we recommend using a “video mining” tool which allows advertisers to select which specific videos they want to advertise against. The mining tool we use at Jellyfish allows us to search through all YouTube videos using keyword searches, and extract lists of videos which we deem to be suitable for the brand and fitting the audience we wish to target. We then apply brand safety categorisation on top of this to be as secure as possible.

  • White Listing:
  • At Jellyfish, we have always vetted sites on which we advertise. We look at:

    • Quality of site;
    • Quality of ad placements;
    • Quality of content; and
    • Nature of content.

    We use humans to do this. We do not run outside of these sites unless discussed with our clients on an individual basis. This is (and should always be) done by humans.

  • Black Listing:
  • Where appropriate, individual lists of sites/apps that are not suitable for specific brands should be created and maintained. Again, this needs to be done by humans.

    Using AdLoox

    AdLoox is an independent ad verification tool. It is useful as a final measure of content blocking. This tool also helps mitigate fraudulent activity. (Find out more here.)

    Using brand safety categorisation (in-platform)

    Content categorisation:

    The DoubleClick platform includes technology which reviews not just the website but the content of each page.

    There are several default categorisations built upon this technology (listed below). Advertisers can also choose to include their own list of words or phrases to be blocked for any given campaign or advertiser.

    This is hugely beneficial when looking to block specific content with immediate effect. Such content would perhaps not be inherently bad, but it may not be content an advertiser would want their brand to be associated with. Agencies should work with their clients to develop these lists, as the brand is closer to the subject and will have a keen understanding of what to include in the list.

    Digital content labels:

    The DoubleClick platform includes technology which can be used to determine the “digital content labels.” Digital content labels are broad categorisations of sites based on audience suitability. This is easiest to understand when we relate it to the movie ratings which we’re all familiar with:

    • General Audiences - U
    • Audiences with parental guidance - PG
    • Teen and older audiences - 12
    • Mature audiences - 18

    The categorisation of sensitive categories is crucial, and in many instances its best to block all of them, such as:

    • Adult
    • Derogatory
    • Downloads & Sharing
    • Weapons
    • Gambling
    • Violence
    • Suggestive
    • Profanity
    • Alcohol
    • Drugs
    • Tobacco
    • Politics
    • Religion
    • Tragedy
    • Transportation Accidents
    • Sensitive social issues

    Blocking all these categories might effectively remove news sites from the activity, but advertisers can also remove any specific categories or domains from targeting if needed.

    General categories are:

    • Arts & Entertainment
    • Autos & Vehicles
    • Beauty & Fitness
    • Books & Literature
    • Business & Industrial
    • Computers & Electronics
    • Finance
    • Food & Drink
    • Games
    • Health
    • Hobbies & Leisure
    • Home & Garden
    • Internet & Telecom
    • Jobs & Education
    • Law & Government
    • News
    • Online Communities
    • People & Society
    • Pets & Animals
    • Real Estate
    • Reference
    • Science
    • Shopping
    • Sports
    • Travel
    • World Localities

    Keyword blocking:

    Finally, advertisers should always use lists of keywords to exclude ads from showing next to any derogatory content in addition to the above measures. This enables us to operate at a page-level, as well as being able to be very specific about what content we do not want to appear against. It is also useful when it comes to advertiser-specific blocking.


    A brand’s reputation is one of its biggest assets – if not THE biggest. It takes time and energy to develop and sustain. Yet a single misstep can destroy a reputation. Maintaining the reputation of each brand it serves should be an agency’s driving purpose, which is why it’s so important that advertising agencies stay ahead of developments in the platforms they use to grow those brands. Using the tools and techniques we’ve outlined here will ensure that your brand is safe as it takes advantage of all that the web has to offer. Make sure your agency is taking your brand security seriously.

    3 Apr 2017 09:46


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