YouTube can’t seem to fix its brand safety issues, but can a digital report card for creators do the trick?
For YouTube, 2017 was a year of headaches. The Google-owned company had multiple issues concerning brand safety and monetization. From running ads against terrorist content to unnecessarily demonetizing creators, YouTube just couldn’t’ get it right, and now 2018 seems to be on the same track.
Just the other week, online influencer Logan Paul posted a video from a trip he took to Aokigahara in Japan, commonly referred to as “suicide forest” because of the amount of people who have taken their life at the location. During his time in the forest, the YouTuber discovered and filmed a dead body hanging from a tree. After digitally blurring out the victim’s face, the 22-year-old posted the video to Youtube where it soon made it to the site’s “top trending” category. Both Logan and YouTube faced massive backlash for the post, which was removed by the YouTuber shortly after it was published. However, the incident brought light once again to YouTube’s brand safety issues.
As it turns out, this slip up by the company — allowing a video of a suicide victim hanging from a tree to be posted on the site — was not done by accident. Despite the post violating YouTube’s content policy, it was given the green light after being manually reviewed by a YouTube employee, according to a report in The Telegraph.
What can be done?
While this latest blunder illustrates why the site is still a long ways from being 100% brand-safe, there are still steps that can be taken to significantly increase the safety of a brand’s image. And according to Channel Factory CEO Tony Chen, one of those steps comes in the form of the report card.
Chen and his company, which he founded in 2013, have created a rating system that is intended to provide advertisers with more transparency when searching for content to run ads against. The system grades a creator based on several categories including use of profanity, terrorism, violence, and drugs. Based on how a creator scores in each category they are then deemed either “Safe” or “Unsafe.”
Less about brand safety and more about brand suitability.
Because advertisers have a subjective view of what inappropriate is, Chen says that the Verification Program is less about brand safety and more about brand suitability.
“[The Logan Paul event] along with a string of other incidents last year has led both creators and advertisers demanding more transparency from YouTube,” explained Chen. “As YouTube is a UGC platform by nature, ultimately the responsibilities lie with advertisers and their technology partners to determine the best targeting strategy and course of execution, ensuring content alignment is suitable for their respective campaigns. This evolves the brand safety conversation to brand suitability. Brand suitability is subjective, and advertisers have different appetites for what they feel is suitable to be associated with their brand.”
While advertiser who have integrated with Channel Factory have a better feeling on where their ads are being run, creators who have integrated with the platform experienced a jump in revenue. According to Chen, creators who belong to the verified program experienced an increase in revenue of up to 35% for 2017 vs. 2016 and 7% increase in CPMs during that same time period.
Another benefit to Channel Factory is its ability to flag specific content in a YouTube Page, rather than throwing a blanket across the entire channel. Take Logan Paul’s incident for example. Despite Paul’s channel being deemed “safe” by the Verified Program, the video of his trip into the forest was still blacklisted by the company.
“Our scoring system is customized to the campaign. Prior to the recent incident Logan Paul’s content was deemed as safe for most advertisers in our system,” explained Chen. “[However] our system protocol did flag the recent video for manual review due to the irregularity of the content and engagement trends, resulting in us blacklisting the specific content vs. the entire channel.”
Channel Factory is also proactive in it’s evaluation process, accounting for current events and breaking news.
“When unexpected crises emerge, our brand safety strategy counter content risks and ensures our clients’ messaging remain brand safe,” Chen added. “And just as importantly, as these crises recede, we amend our strategies to maintain or restore blacklisted content.”
Explore new avenues
As it becomes more apparent that YouTube is far from creating a safe space for brands to feel comfortable advertising in, programs that bring transparency to the platform — like Channel Factory’s — will become key to the strategy of advertisers and creators alike.
As of now, Channel Factory works with over 5000 creators and a long list of advertisers that include Red Bull, Xerox, Lego, the US Postal Service, Live Nation, Samsung, and Airbnb among others.