Google can’t seem to catch a break. Once the darling of the online marketing industry, its video-sharing service YouTube has been plagued by scandal after scandal. In fact, we’ve covered several of them on this very blog. And it looks like the march of pain is due to continue, with major telecommunications company Cisco savaging YouTube in a now-deleted blog post.
And guess what? This blog post was written by none other than Cisco’s chief marketing officer, Karen Walker, on the subject of protecting brand safety. The original version of the post contained a paragraph explaining that, “While Google and Facebook have made some strides to combat the issue [of brand safety]…[Cisco] has pulled all online advertising from YouTube until the platform has met standards.”
Okay, so that’s pretty safe language. But coming from the chief marketing officer of a giant Internet company taking aim at another one? I can feel the chill in the air all the way over here in Montreal.
What’s Brand Safety, Anyhow?
So while I won’t rehash every chapter of the YouTube ads scandal saga that we’ve been looking at, the basic premise is this: YouTube assigns brands’ ads across its platform via sophisticated algorithm. The problem? YouTube also assigns an algorithm to filter out bad content: videos by political extremists, white supremacists and terrorist groups, child pornography, violent imagery. The Internet might be a nice enough place on the whole, but there’s plenty of darkness on it too, and YouTube’s laissez-faire attitude towards moderating content on its site worked fine for a while.
Until ads from all-American brands like Proctor & Gamble and Cisco land beside recruitment videos for ISIS. See the problem?
So this is exactly what Walker talks about in the post when she warns of a “brand-tarnishing experience.” All it takes is one screenshot of a video and a quick email to a member of the media, and your company has a PR nightmare on its hands.
While technology has forever changed the world around us and given advertisers incredible new tools to deliver ads to consumers in a targeted fashion, the increased reliance on algorithms to deliver content to consumers means that there’s lots of room for error. Without proper oversight or government regulation, this is likely only the tip of the iceberg for brand-related scandals on the Internet.
Of course, this brings to mind Facebook’s similar foray into consumer data issues. So when three of the Internet’s biggest names start to run into major problems with their revenue streams, brands should start asking questions about the risks and rewards of running these strategies.
For Walker, associating with YouTube after a year of half-hearted attempts to fix its content issues was just too much. And the way things have been going, I predict it’ll only be a few months before this controversy erupts again—unless Google does something to reign in YouTube fast.