Youtube and youth advertising: Oversight and transparency for our newest babysitter

Content transparency and user feedback can be helpful tactics to address youth advertising issues on YouTube. But increased oversight is also needed.

In today’s world, consumers are (rightly) pushing for companies to be more thoroughly regulated. Transparency has become increasingly difficult to define and accomplish, especially as unlimited access to information without safeguards in place can have a negative impact on our most vulnerable population: children.

In a recent Pew Research Center study, 80 percent of parents let their kids watch YouTube, and more than one third of those children visit the site regularly. Disturbingly, for kids who do use YouTube, 61 percent had viewed age-inappropriate videos.

Just as teddy bears with hidden cameras have been used to catch troublesome caregivers, the question today is who is watching our collective babysitter, YouTube?

Where we are now

While YouTube has taken many steps to manage these concerns (the YouTube Kids App, manual human content review, providing alternative news sources, removing content) there is still a landmine of concerns and privacy issues.

YouTube’s CEO – while able to describe the types of content they attempt to both remove and support – was unable to further define how their system of reviewing and promoting content would treat varying definitions of “authoritative” and trusted videos.

YouTube Kids remains a black box of children’s content. While seemingly a safe environment compared to the larger YouTube universe, only a small circle of operators at YouTube have insight into exactly what content ads are running on. Additionally, controversies like ElsaGate remind advertisers that tech companies can only be jolted to action when the bottom line is at risk.

Finally, one cannot discuss youth advertising today without mention of COPPA compliance. It is the regulation that both protects kids online and creates a world of unknown data where digital activities cannot be tracked. While a proponent of increasing protections for children, this lack of transparency may not always be to an advertiser’s benefit. COPPA provides the regulation, the government/FTC provides the oversight, but the marketplace is currently left without much clarity.

Potential solutions

The long-term solutions for brand safety and youth advertising on YouTube are not yet clear, with each brand and advertiser needing to define this for themselves. However, the marketplace is beginning to evolve. Platforms like Facebook are adding new capabilities around measuring and managing brand safety issues (including Brand Safety Certification for FMP).

There is now a growing suite of tools/tactics that are addressing many of these concerns. Some of the potential solutions for advertisers include:

  • Content Transparency: By manually reviewing content and advertisers to ensure they match as well as increasing overall transparency in this process, YouTube Kids can address the concerns of both viewers and advertisers.’
  • Closing The Feedback Loop: YouTube Kids has also increased the capabilities around user feedback, even connecting the feedback loop back to the parents themselves.
    • Advertisers should have an understanding of what this data looks like to further inform buying and creative strategies.
  • Increase Oversight: Within TrueView or Reservation YouTube buys, advertisers can currently enlist the oversight and measurement tools from providers such as IAS to measure brand safety and deliver quality control.
    • YouTube should empower these third parties to dive deeper into video content analysis to better determine what aspects can cause brand safety issues. This can also potentially be applied to enhance the user experience by flagging/categorizing concerning content.

Aside from the tools listed above, we cannot rely on platforms alone to identify and resolve the issues themselves.

  1. Brands should increasingly share best practices when it comes to advertising to youth audiences. This can help to identify more brand safe opportunities/good actors and refine our operational infrastructure as an industry.
  2. Parents should continue to lobby their representatives and demand more transparency in how their children’s data is being used and how these platforms keep children engaged.
  3. Media buyers need to continue to focus investments in platforms and ad tech that is providing more visibility into the marketplace. Instead of worrying about defining the parameters of brand safety, advertisers can focus more on increasing visibility to the various factors that impact brand safety.

YouTube Kids is an especially promising platform for advertisers. However, we’ve seen how youth-oriented content can be taken advantage of by bad actors over time. Advertisers are right to be wary of any tech company promising too much. At the end of the day, it’s the consumer and the advertisers that must continue to push them to become more transparent and to continue to investigate areas of concern.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Justin is a seasoned media strategist, having managed $50MM+ in traditional, digital and social media campaigns at a global scale. As the senior paid media specialist at Fullscreen, he offers his expertise on a variety of paid media offerings and services to help clients get more value for their investment. He currently oversees several of Fullscreen’s largest client relationships and has developed a deep understanding of social media, online video and strategies around youth-oriented media campaigns. He holds his B.A. in environmental studies and studio art from the University of Vermont.

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