YouTube and Meta Don’t Care About Your Brand’s Safety | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

YouTube and Meta Don’t Care About Your Brand’s Safety


The philosophy behind the default ad campaign settings of platforms like Meta, YouTube, and TikTok is simple: "More is better." The more impressions and clicks a campaign get, the greater the brand awareness achieved. But as reports have recently revealed, this practice may be doing more harm than good when it comes to brand safety.

When that first measurable banner ad ran in the early '90s, the importance of the click-through was established. By the time of the programmatic revolution of the early 2000s, internet usage was in the billions – and brands began to expect similar levels of engagement with their ad content.

That's also around the time that users started to tune out the online ads clamoring for their attention. And in the chase for those now-elusive click-throughs, advertisers started to lose control over where and how their ads were displayed. By the time comScore and Starcom issued their seminal "Natural Born Clickers" report in 2007, then updated it with more data in 2009, savvy buyers had long since become aware that CTR was a canard.

Today, the major platforms all continue to default to settings that maximize reach. This is a risky approach in a world of polarized views and disinformation, where brands are asked to take clear stances that align with their audience's values. When they don't, they risk being canceled.

Yet the platforms have not evolved to keep up. Meta's default includes the audience network, and YouTube's settings automatically include Google Video Partners. Both require manual adjustments to exclude them. These broad settings often result in ads failing to meet basic brand safety criteria. Adalytics has found numerous examples of ads running within inappropriate or unsavory content.

These settings dilute the impact of campaigns by valuing quantity of views over their quality, and they waste brand dollars in the process. According to ANA, at least $20 billion, or 23 percent, of programmatic budgets are wasted on fraudulent, brand-harmful MFA sites. Adfidence research also found numerous examples of ads running in contexts that didn't align with their target audiences and brand values. Even though inventory filters can be shifted from their default expanded setting, they are very often not modified to moderate or limited, as the World Federation of Advertisers' GARM initiative recommends. Over 90 percent of campaigns on DV360 platform included user-rewarded content, a controversial category that, in essence, bribes users to watch an ad.

The Simplest Fix

If these platforms shifted their default settings to a moderate or standard safety filter, it would eliminate some of these tricky categories. Advertisers could opt for broader reach if they choose and strike their own balance between reach and risk. That is unlikely to happen anytime soon due to this bigger issue of metrics trumping value. However, there are practical steps brands can take to gain better control in the short term:

1. Make brand safety a priority: Brands need to ensure their marketing teams and those managing the campaigns on a day-to-day basis are well-versed in the nuances of these settings in each platform and the importance of brand safety. They should take the time to regularly review and adjust the default brand safety settings on each platform. Regular training sessions can keep teams updated on the latest best practices.

2. Take charge of the issue at a brand level: Brands need to take control of this oversight in-house. For the foreseeable future, agencies will continue to be driven by the need to deliver on these "more is better" metrics. Brands should equip themselves with the tools and expertise that give them comprehensive insights into campaign setups and placements – before the campaign runs.

3. Focus on engagement metrics: Shift the emphasis from the number and reach of views to engagement metrics that matter, such as conversion rates and time spent with the content. These metrics provide a clearer picture of how effectively the ad resonates with the audience.

Brand safety has evolved, and the CTR KPI has been moot for 15 years. The industry must challenge the "more is better" philosophy and set higher standards from the outset of each brand campaign. It's essential to actively rebuild the marketplace's foundation on trust and integrity, ensuring that brand integrity is not an afterthought but the cornerstone of every campaign. The platforms are not there yet. However, with sustained pressure from brands on their agencies and the platforms, coupled with discipline and a shared dedication to transparency, it's a reality within reach.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Jacek Chrusciany is CEO and founder of Adfidence.