YouTube draws ire of Australian advertisers over wasted spending

Unlike most media channels, YouTube’s metrics are not measured by a third party, meaning advertisers have little oversight around the placement, delivery and returns on their advertising spend.

In the television industry, by contrast, OzTam oversees daily ratings and channel performance, GfK delivers eight yearly surveys for the radio industry and Roy Morgan delivers reports for the publishing industries (newspapers and magazines), for example.

A senior executive for one of Australia’s leading media agencies estimates between 25 and 30 per cent of all media placements on YouTube are being “wasted”, either because they are misclassified or served to entirely the wrong audience.

In August, media outlets in the United States, including the New York Times, highlighted a report from research company Adalytics that alleged ads placed on kids content and channels on YouTube contained trackers used to retarget children. A Google spokesman said the report lacked an understanding of how advertising works on made-for-kids content.

YouTube reached a settlement of US$170 million ($267 million) in 2019 after regulators said it profited from using children’s data for targeted advertising. Google is currently preparing to defend itself in a publicised antitrust lawsuit relating to its search engine.


Misplaced ads on YouTube are not a new phenomenon. Six years ago, the federal government, alongside brands including Telstra, Bunnings and Foxtel, suspended advertising on the platform under advice from its media agency Dentsu Mitchell, as concerns mounted over ads placed beside controversial content.

Extreme examples included a Defence Force recruitment campaign shown alongside content sympathetic to terror organisation Islamic State, according to an employee working on the account at the time.

YouTube has less control over where ads are placed when it is placed “off-platform”, an agency boss said, and added that the chances of children seeing inappropriate ads increased due to a lack of human vetting.

Chris Brinkworth, the managing partner at privacy-focused data consultancy Civic Data, said concerns over the Google and YouTube approach have existed for a long time, and noted that in a landscape where media is predominantly judged on independent ratings, Google’s use of its own research panels evoked a sense of deja vu.

“Are they once again acting as both player and referee?” Brinkworth said.

A Google spokesperson said the platform clearly states campaigns might run on third-party sites, making it easy for viewers to opt out in advance.

“We actively monitor the Google Video Partners network, and when Google determines an impression is invalid (‘spam’) we do not charge the advertiser.”

Google has recently expanded its partnership with a third-party brand safety and suitability measurement firm, Integral Ad Science, for its Google Video Partners inventory, to give confidence to advertisers that their video ads run on high-quality publisher websites and mobile apps beyond just YouTube.

YouTube will next week host its own upfront event “Brandcast”, its pitch to Australia’s biggest advertisers in a bid to secure pre-agreed investment.

Other media companies will make similar pitches in coming weeks, including TikTok, Seven Network, Paramount (owner of Network 10), SBS, Foxtel and oOh!media. Nine, the owner of this masthead, held an event in Sydney on Wednesday night.

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