Why advertisers are boycotting YouTube—and what it needs to do

While the video platform has been battling malicious creators with due diligence and an evolving ‘reporting’ policy, it hasn’t proved to be enough

Himanshu Arya
Updated: Mar 1, 2019 04:50:09 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

In a digital economy driven by marketing dollars spent on diverse platforms, the advertiser is often spoilt for choice. But when it comes to choosing video vehicles or driving communication as pre-rolls, Youtube is often a no-brainer. Even the masthead has almost become the Holy Grail for most advertisers trying to get maximum reach and hoping to create a marketing case study of their own.

But is YouTube still the go-to platform or a top contender for the proverbial marketer? Maybe not.

A lot of it has to with objectionable content that is uploaded on YouTube. It has been a thorn in the foot for the platform for a long time now. According to a report that has been widely circulated in the recent past, some children’s content was found to have been facilitating perpetrators through the comments section, while brand ads continued to be showcased on these videos. This did not go down well with the advertisers, something that led to brands such as Disney pulling out their advertising. It is also leading to policy changes, where YouTube is considering taking off monetisation from children’s videos, which, in turn, is angering content creators. While a simpler solution seems to be to disable the comment section, the final call by YouTube is yet to be seen.

While YouTube has been constantly trying to battle it via due diligence and revising their ‘reporting’ policy consistently, it hasn’t proved to be enough. Brands like AT&T and Nestle have pulled advertisements from YouTube earlier, showcasing that they are willing to rejig their marketing efforts if the global platform cannot clean up its act for good. Other brands may follow suit.

Interestingly, that is not the only reason for dipping revenues and advertisers shying away. New OTT Platforms such as Hotstar have also taken their piece of the pie. And they are not ‘just another video platform’ competing with YouTube. Original content, an inner circle of creators and a vernacular connect are some of the factors that have fuelled the growth of these platforms. Also, with a go-to platform to catch cricket matches and other ‘high eyeball’ events, advertisers seem to have struck gold in terms of reaching out to the relevant audiences.

What’s also worth noting is that the Indian television audience mirrors 'TG, Demo and other' segmentation-–which translates to the fact that a certain audience can be expected to engage with a selective form of content. Using this insight, creators are able to make specific content that appeals to these audiences, while the platform uses the same target group to sharp-shoot marketing communications. This is giving players like Hotstar an edge over YouTube, purely because the range of content creators on the platform are large and mostly uncontrolled.

But with specific content creator tie-ups, YouTube has started driving its inner circle of creators as well. Advertisers are able to leverage this with direct content tie-ups or by serving specific communication over their content. But will that prove to be enough? Only time will tell.

Everything seems to be working for YouTube as of now. But a long-term solution seems way too far. A large section of YouTube continues to be driven by independent content creators-–something that formed the foundation of the platform, and continues to even today. This gives the license and leverage for perpetrators to forward their own agendas, harming the platform and its revenues. Another factor that seems to be both boon and bane for YouTube is its intelligent algorithm. This puts a user on a trajectory of related content, allowing users to continue their selected experience almost on auto-pilot. While this might prove helpful when you are consuming jazz music or cat videos, perpetrators can use this to their advantage to reach out to an entire repository of related content.

While limiting the comment section on children’s videos might be a step in the right direction, it cannot be a means to an end. With the ‘closed ecosystem’ model of a Hotstar, versus the ‘open creative’ of YouTube, one can only hope that there would be a lot of changes in the near future.

The author is founder and CEO of Grapes Digital, a creative advertising and digital marketing agency

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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