How to Achieve Brand Safety on YouTube Through Placement Targeting14 min read

The latest disruption in digital advertising is once again Brand Safety … but upon a closer look, it’s really always been a targeting problem.

In 2017, brands like The Guardian, McDonald’s, and Nike suspended advertising from YouTube because the YouTube could not guarantee ads and their advertising dollars will not go to support unsavory content and those that create it.

Later in the year, more brands pulled their ads and YouTube had to put out yet another brand safety related fire – this time around child safety content moderationBrand Safety concerns date back to the days of TV and radio when modest brands did not want to be associated with controversial content like South Park and Howard Stern (and way before that.) It’s understandable that brands want to control their image and avoid the perception that they “endorse” content that does not align with their corporate values or the values of their customers.

In the days of traditional media, controlling brand safety was straightforward: Don’t buy media for us on this kind of programming/content. But the digital marketing world has evolved quickly, and new marketing tools transcend the content to target users directly.

With this newfound audience targeting came great power…while introducing new challenges for brands.

For example, Starbucks can run YouTube ads to a “coffee lovers” interest audience, no matter what content they are watching, or what sites they are browsing. But how can Starbucks know that the “coffee lover” user they target isn’t also watching content about <insert controversial extremist content here>?

Starbucks obviously doesn’t want to be supporting extremists or aligning with unsavory content, but audience targeting is doing its job, and placing ads in front of this user, no matter where they go for content. This is the heart of the challenge.

The Three Types of YouTube Campaign Targeting

Ad placement in the digital marketing age can be thought of in 3 distinct types:

Audience Targeting

We’ve discussed the risk to brand safety, but audience targeting leverages web tech to track user behavior and preferences and serve ads directly based on this user data. For example, if you visit the Starbucks website and read food & beverage blogs, you’re likely to get bucketed into a “Coffee Lovers” and “Cooking Enthusiast” audience segments. You used to be able to see which interests Google assigned to your user, but that’s since been gated. Although users can no longer check how they are being categorized into interest groups in Google, advertisers are still able to pick from hundreds of interest segments.

YouTube Audience Targeting: 3 types of targeting

That said, Facebook reigns supreme at the audience targeting game because users are required to be logged in, and they have volunteered hundreds of personal data points to better customize their Facebook experience. Unlike Facebook, many users browse YouTube without ever logging in to a Google account and they often share devices in the home. This phenomenon makes it difficult to actually know who’s on the receiving end of the ad with interest targeting alone. In the meantime, if you are using audience targeting on your YouTube campaigns, and you want to see where your ads are showing up, you can find a truncated list of placements by following the steps in this blog.  

Influencer Targeting

This method targets content creators directly, presuming their domain mastery and influence will add to marketing efforts. MCN’s or multi-channel networks gather influencer channels and offer ad space directly on their content, usually at a premium. This method is much like traditional channels and audience information is inferred, based on the content and the influencer.

YouTube Influencer Targeting: 3 types of targeting

Content Targeting

Direct content targeting, as the name implies, means selecting individual videos, channels or websites to advertise on directly. In YouTube/AdWords this is called Placement targeting.

YouTube Placement targeting: 3 types of targeting

How To See Where Your Ads Run on YouTube (And Why You Should Care)

The Challenge of Scale

If audience targeting is at the heart of brand safety issues, why don’t we move all our ad dollars over to these other targeting methods and call it good?

Short answer: Scale.

Influencer Targeting is limited by the number of available views across all channels in a network. There are only so many superstars that get into an MCN, and only so many MCN’s out there. If your brand is specialized, it can be a challenge to find an MCN with content that is relevant. MCN’s can also suffer brand issues of their own, as the recent PewDePie controversy revealed for Maker Studios, when one of their top talents stepped over an acceptable comedic line and was dropped from the network.

YouTube Ad Placement Targeting

Direct Content Targeting offers a way to reach audiences at the moment of intent, by inferring user behavior based on the content itself. For example, if someone is watching a DIY video on kitchen remodel, we can infer they are a homeowner, use tools, need materials, etc.

While certainly the most Brand Safe of the targeting methods, Content Targeting is very difficult to scale by hand. This method requires manually discovering content, choosing channels and videos to run ads on, and updating and pruning your list as new content is created and under-performing content is eliminated.

A human might be able to do this with a hundred placements, but beyond that becomes untenable.

Can’t Someone Automate This?

Well, yeah.  We did.

Brite Content leverages content targeting for targeted awareness – and we scale it with software and improve the targeting set with machine learning to create massive reach while maintaining all the controls to ensure brand safety.

Brite takes in natural language “targeting keywords” and finds all the content on YouTube relevant to your word set. You see a list of exactly which channels and videos your ads will be run against – all before the campaign runs. We then inject this placement set into your ad campaign and keep it up to date as the campaign runs.

Brite Content leverages content targeting for targeted awareness

At any point, you can browse your placement set and see exactly where your ads will be running and how they have historically performed at the single video or channel level. This is simply not possible with audience targeting.

Brand Safety on YouTube for Enterprise Companies

Brand safety is possible on YouTube today, it’s really a matter of using the most precise targeting technique – Content Targeting.

The Brite Content platform delivers content targeting at scale to ensure brand safety for global enterprise brands. This in addition to simple campaign creation, orchestration and a reporting dashboard that surfaces actionable metrics in real-time.

Want to see how this works?

Easily experiment on the largest video platform in the world – YouTube. Test messaging, offers, content targeting, and sequencing to ensure the best combination always wins.

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