Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

What YouTube can teach us about growing up in the wild west of digital advertising

By Rob Blake, Country Manager UK at Channel Factory

Brand safety has long been a point of discussion across our industry and has, thankfully, become fundamental to advertising strategies today as a result. But, whereas brand safety aims to manage dangerous, harmful, and universally unacceptable content, we must go one step further today to look at contextual suitability and brand sentiment within digital content.

This means creating content that is both safe and appropriately aligned to the brand’s messaging and positioned in the right context with relevant audiences.

The importance of brand suitability is paramount in managing a brand’s social media strategy and the timing is crucial for advertisers right now, as our lives shift and move online more and more, brought on by an organic shift and sped up by the pandemic.

More of us are understandably turning towards the likes of YouTube for easily digestible information on-demand, which means that advertisers must maintain laser focus on their advertising and marketing across social channels.

Yet there is still a lot of fear in the market when it comes to advertising on social platforms – particularly those like Facebook and TikTok where there is often uncertainty around brand safe content and where brands are faced with how best to connect and engage with audiences spanning different genders, age groups and languages.

A need for responsibility

Is this a result of the ‘wild west’ nature of digital marketing today and the lack of responsibility taken by the platforms themselves, or is it due to a lack of brand insight and strategy in aligning advertising and messaging to content?

The answer is probably a bit of both, but today’s brands almost certainly need to bring a more savvy element to planning their advertising and marketing online. Of course, some brands are already doing this, but there are still many that rely on demographics, devices and behaviours to target audiences and position their ads in the right place.

However, on YouTube alone, there are somewhere between 20 and 50 million self-editing content creators, and it is estimated that these creators are churning out content at the rate of 500 hours per minute. With this much content generation, to leave your advertising targeting strategy down to chance, and hope it lands in the right place at the right time is risky.

This is particularly so when you see how today’s ad tech platforms are becoming much more sophisticated in their use of content signals, contextual content curation and brand suitability filters to guarantee more control and transparency for the advertiser. At bare minimum, these controls are essential both to brand building and brand performance.

Today’s brands need to do more to ensure their ads don’t appear alongside content that is harmful, hateful, and inappropriate, while also ensuring their ads appear in the right context that is both relevant and suitable for audiences to want to engage with at that point in time.

Transparency and authenticity rule

In no other environment or period has this been more paramount – we are in a time of crisis where global audiences are demanding transparency, authenticity and relevant communications from the brands they engage with and from the brands they want to be able to trust. Brand marketers need to be asking hard questions like, ‘what do we stand for?’, ‘what content do we want to surround?’ and ‘who can help us do this?’

With new platforms like TikTok emerging, these questions are becoming even more important. TikTok is an interesting example because of its highly personal nature, and its easy-to-use format that mimics YouTube, SnapChat and Instagram. Add to this TikTok’s own characteristics and you have a new platform that is both engaging and scalable. But, with those qualities also come inherent challenges.

Right now, as with many new platforms, TikTok has a low bar for entry, as it tries to attract more users and more content to the platform to make it viable, scalable, and engaging. As such, TikTok’s content is dominated by “amateur” creators, which has given way to impulsive, viral content that is not vetted or regulated. The point – brands should be extremely cautious when considering advertising on these newer platforms, as opposed to those like YouTube, which has tried and tested compensation mechanisms and discovery methods plus a higher bar set for scaling content with very rigorous policies and codes of conduct in place.

History repeats itself, so while we wait for TikTok to mature in the global market, what lessons can we learn from our experiences advertising with the likes of YouTube, FaceBook, and Instagram and how can we apply these lessons going forward?

Number 1: Who Am I?

Know your brand – get to grips with who you are, what you stand for, and what is important going forward for your brand. Understand how consumers perceive your brand and apply that knowledge across all of your digital advertising channels, but pay particular attention to UGC platforms that have rapid publishing models and high content creation rates.

Number 2: Where Am I?

We live in a global society today – the pandemic’s far reaching tentacles have surely proven this as fact. This means today’s brands must consider and be well-positioned to understand the local laws and regulations, with particular focus on specific requirements in each individual market and region – from advertising standards to civil and criminal law.

You must also ensure you pay attention to the nuances of local languages – grasping local market vernacular has significant upside in consumer engagement. Foreign language scale is a necessary ingredient to successful ad campaigns and is actually pretty easily navigated with the right approach and strategy in place.

Number 3: Where Am I Going?

Now that you have answered these incredible important questions, where do you go from here? Every brand should build brand guidelines for media buying and advertising in all markets. This must capture your brand suitability strategy for relevance and ad performance in order to ensure your advertising is relevant to the content you surround, which will then in turn impact ad recall, brand awareness lift, and consumer call to action.

Consider this: would you truly engage with an advertisement promoting energy drinks when you’re hunting for Lego video reviews for your child?

People associate a connection between an ad and the content it is adjacent to – if the content doesn’t match the brand’s identity, the consumer changes their perception of that brand. This is exactly why a Google study from 2019 showed that contextual alignment can drive up to 50% higher ad recall.

Brands determine their approach based on their target audience, brand persona and media buying strategy. Forward-thinking brands have brand suitability guidelines in place for each market they operate in, including what content themes they wish to exclude and which they wish to include. In order to create YouTube campaigns that achieve alignment, scale and engagement, brands must ensure that contextual suitability lies at the heart of their strategy.

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