So, one guy in Michigan has caused 250+ brands to pause spending on YouTube, and he, ironically, has a patent to fix the issue if Google will buy it.

As news started to break two weeks ago about advertisements showing up next to hate groups and videos promoting terrorism, big brands like General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon and Walmart have been quick to jump on the PR train and state that they’re pausing all YouTube spend until a fix is developed. There have been countless articles detailing all the happenings, pointing fingers, talking about the end of digital advertising as we know it, saying the entire approach is wrong and how to fix it.

Is this an issue? Yes, without a doubt. Should your agency and media partners be doing everything they can to stop this from happening? Yes, without a doubt. Does the issue run deeper than YouTube? Yes, without a doubt. Is this getting overblown in the always-on news cycle? Yes, without a doubt.

To understand the scale of YouTube, think about these stats:

  1. More than 1 billion people around the world – roughly a third of all people online – are YouTube users.
  2. YouTube is the second largest search engine, bigger than Bing, Yahoo!, Ask and AOL combined.
  3. According to eMarketer, 180 million of those people are from the U.S.
  4. 400 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  5. The average user session is 40 minutes.

Anytime you run ads on a website that’s full of user-generated content, it comes with a certain level of risk. Realistically, the problem runs much deeper than YouTube and is more of an online problem, although TV, radio and print have all had their fair share of ads being pulled over the years. The majority of digital ads are bought against an audience, not specific sites. Therefore, you’re opening yourself up to run on millions of channels or sites in order to deliver an ad to “adults 25-54 who drive a Cadillac, use Crest and have a dog.” According to an article in The New York Times, Chase Bank had been running on 400,000 sites. Clearly an unmanageable amount for anyone to monitor; hence, the need for technology to help classify those sites and the content on them. That’s where these digital filters come into play. Platforms like YouTube have tools in place to allow you or your agency to apply a certain level of brand safety, such as to blacklisting/whitelisting sites; excluding adult content; and now, thanks to our political system, you can block “FAKE NEWS” sites. While it’s the accuracy of these very tools that is being called into question, you should always go beyond them to ensure brand safety. If you don’t, it’s as if you’re allowing them to grade their own homework.

We at R&R Partners have longstanding partnerships with third-party verification experts such as DoubleVerify. We routinely layer on additional safety measures to not only ensure our clients’ ads are being seen, but also to safeguard against questionable content coming into play. Now, more than ever, marketers need advanced technologies to identify and protect against unsafe environments while confirming they’re targeting [human] audiences in order to deliver reliable and effective campaigns. While we do monitor our clients’ online campaigns on a regular basis, we also push for 100 percent transparency from our partners and, in turn, we’re 100 percent transparent with our clients. It’s safe to say nothing in the digital space will ever be perfect. However, we are confident in our approach, always investigating new technology and applying those learnings in real time to our clients’ business. We’ve taken a deep dive into both our largest and smallest YouTube campaigns and worked directly with Google and have yet to find any instances of ads running against this negative content.

Again, this goes far beyond YouTube, even into TV. However, they’re just the 800-pound gorilla, so they’re rightfully getting the brunt of the backlash. Just the other day, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai announced they are pulling ads from The O’Reilly Factor due to sexual harassment claims and settlement payments totaling $13 million. This has now expanded to over 30 brands.

So, to the guy in Michigan, I say, “Thank you.” Thank you for bringing an issue into the limelight and continuing to push our industry forward. We all must demand transparency and brand safe environments on behalf of our clients. Simply put, if you won’t be 100 percent transparent and open about your technology and ensure brand safety, you shouldn’t be on anyone’s media plan. It’s our responsibility as agencies to ensure that the tech platforms we partner with are built on these same standards.

Our approach is simple − build the brand and protect the brand.