Recent controversies and changes in monetization are revolutionizing video advertising. Take a look at what the future holds for brands navigating new developments in digital platforms.

On the last day of 2017, social-media star Logan Paul posted a video on his YouTube channel, Logan Paul Vlogs. To his more than 17 million subscribers, new content is usually a welcome sight. This time was different.

The video showed Paul in Aokigahara, a forest in Japan that’s referred to as “suicide forest” for the high number of suicides that take place there. The ensuing backlash was swift and widespread among viewers and public figures alike. YouTube responded on Twitter by writing, “Suicide is not a joke, nor should it ever be a driving force for views.” Noting that the content violated its community guidelines, the video-sharing site temporarily suspended ads on Logan Paul’s channel, costing him an estimated $44,000 to $700,000 in monthly revenue.

The Logan Paul controversy is hardly the only one of its kind. Questions about fake news and other forms of disreputable content abound. Recently, Unilever threatened to pull $9 billion in advertising from such sites due to the presence of “toxic online content,” leaving other brands to question whether they should do the same.

The biggest names in online video now have a problem: how can platforms like YouTube and Facebook control the presence of video content that could negatively impact their advertisers’ brands? Video advertising has become a precarious practice, and for the brands using it the stakes are higher than ever.

UGC and an Industry in Flux

In Digital Platforms We Trust? The State of Online Video Advertising — User-Generated Content

Image via New Africa.

There’s no question that the demand for video ads remains strong among marketers. According to the IAB, total video advertising in the U.S. rose by 36 percent from 2016 to 2017.

A big chunk of that money goes toward user-generated content (UGC). Content created by popular personas like Logan Paul, Dude Perfect, and Rosanna Pansino can help brands connect with consumers and generate positive word-of-mouth. UGC featuring a brand mention had seven times the engagement of an original brand post, according to an eMarketer report.

UGC also enables brands to reach young people with social influence and spending power. Logan Paul’s audience is primarily comprised of tweens and teens, Mashable reports. In general, YouTube reaches more 18 to 34 year olds “than any cable network in the US,” the company says.

Eric John, deputy director of the IAB Video Center Of Excellence, has seen YouTube take “a lot of flak” for situations like Paul’s, in which a personality posted inappropriate or salacious content. But the audiences social influencers like Paul attract are too appealing for advertisers pass up, and since they can’t always be reached through other channels, many marketers continue to invest.

YouTube recently revised its policies for how content creators can make money from advertising to ensure marketers’ ads “run alongside content that reflects their values,” including manually vetting videos for Google Preferred channels. But brands continue to face a level of uncertainty when it comes to UGC. Throw in the fact that an increasingly large volume of video content is live-streaming, delivered to consumers in real-time with no opportunity for editing, and you have an even greater chance that someone will say or do something offensive.

Marketers want to earn consumers’ trust, but they can’t always trust content creators. “There’s no perfect scrub for human behavior,” John of IAB says. “You’re dealing with content people are posting, and while you can filter for text and sentiment, and that can do a pretty good job, the reality is people can say anything.”

How Negative Content Can Impact Brands

In Digital Platforms We Trust? The State of Online Video Advertising — Navigating Negative Impact

Image via MIND AND I.

There’s a direct correlation between toxic video ad content and how consumers perceive brands. In a survey released the CMO Council last year, 88 percent of consumers said a negative ad experience might make them think differently about a brand. Close to 50 percent said they would reconsider purchasing a brand’s products or boycott it entirely if its ads appeared adjacent to objectionable content, and 38 percent said they would lose trust in the brand.

As such, companies must be acutely aware of what their content creators are up to. Disney learned this lesson the hard way last year when YouTube superstar PewDiePie posted a number of videos with anti-Semitic messages. Walt Disney Co.’s Maker Studios cut ties with the influencer, but not before one of the videos hit close to 10 million views.

“I know YouTube is putting more oversight on its premium UGC platform, and that human insight is going to help,” John says, “but brands should understand these personalities and what types of content they’re presenting. It’s on them to get a better handle on brand-safety issues.”

The Long Road to Platform Trust

In Digital Platforms We Trust? The State of Online Video Advertising — Platform Trust

Image via Anatoliy Karlyuk.

For marketers struggling to navigate this environment while maintaining the integrity of their brands, there is hope. Besides YouTube’s efforts to make a change, Facebook’s VP of global marketing solutions reportedly sent a video to a group of ad agencies and brands outlining how the social-media platform plans to battle “false news,” which includes content that exacerbates xenophobia and discrimination.

Meanwhile, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told a group of investors at a media conference, “People are writing outlandish headlines so they can get clicks and can get ad money, so probably the most important thing we can do is go after the economic incentives.” This suggests Facebook could take a similar tack to YouTube and rethink its attribution model. Limiting the amount of advertising income content creators stand to make based on metrics like clicks could encourage them to reconsider their nefarious, clickbait-driven approach.

In the meantime, John believes there are several things brands can do to protect themselves. “My advice would be to choose which influencer you’re looking to work with, look at their track record and history, and define your content using a ‘do not run’ list,” he says, referring to a method of blocking unwanted content.

John notes the IAB has been working with publishers and agency holding companies to develop an addendum to video terms and conditions. Brand safety was a big part of the discussion, and the outcomes of those conversations was that aside from using a do not run list, marketers should list specific programs and descriptive categories in their advertising contracts. “If you want control, that level of oversight needs to be specified in the insertion order as kind of a call to action for advertisers,” says John.

Finally, brands can also run their ads in more controlled environments. Companies like Rumble and Storyful specialize in identifying and vetting content creators that are safe for brands, John says.

Screening for Safety

In Digital Platforms We Trust? The State of Online Video Advertising — Screening for Safety

Image via Olena Yakobchuk.

In spite of brands’ concerns about online video advertising — or, more accurately, because of them — video platforms like Rumble are indeed seeing a boost. Chris Pavlovski, Rumble’s CEO, says his company experienced “immense growth” in the wake of the Logan Paul incident. “We’ve never run into the issue YouTube saw, with Unilever pulling ad budgets because they’re not sure where their content is running,” Pavlovski says.

According to Pavlovski, the platform is designed to protect brands by validating and verifying content right at the upload point. Content goes through a process where Rumble’s technology looks at more than 2,000 signals to determine what a video is about, who uploaded it, and that creator’s qualifications based on their upload history.

Using both human intervention and artificial intelligence (Guruduth Banavar, who formerly worked on IBM Watson AI, sits on Rumble’s advisory board), the company can predict the content’s value with higher accuracy. Rumble also allows publishers to collaborate with its content creators, of which there are more than 100,000, so there’s more transparency and they know what they’re getting prior to the launch of an ad campaign.

When asked what the future holds for companies like YouTube and Facebook, Pavlovski says brands shouldn’t expect to see major changes overnight. “It’s a real tough question and a real business question that needs to be asked,” he says. “Are Facebook and YouTube going to have the capacity to vet all this content going into their platform and provide assurance to brands it’s suitable for their ads? We’re talking about a complete reversal of their model. It’s going to take years.”

Advertising next to digital video content will continue to have its pros and cons, but marketers targeting young consumers are more likely to seek brand-safe solutions and best practices than give up on these platforms. The onus is on both brands and publishers to accept and support content that’s better for everyone involved — including the consumers who watch.

Top image via Olena Yakobchuk.