Google has centralised its brand suitability controls for advertisers across its first and third-party media properties, in recognition that its patchwork of ad settings is leading to inefficient ad spend and hampering creator monetization.
Brand suitability is the process in which advertisers tailor the type of content they want to be adjacent to as well as themes they want to avoid. Brand safety is a blanket approach by platforms to prevent unsafe content from being monetized and applies to all advertisers.
Advertisers have controlled their suitability preferences on YouTube by tinkering with various settings, including a three-tiered inventory control system, applying labels and inputting keyword and topic exclusions (see below). A smaller set of controls was available to ads placed across the Google Display Network, a collection of 35 million websites and apps.
But this disjointed system, with various suitability levers and measures, caused “unintended consequences,” including blocking content creators from monetizing and limiting ad reach, Marvin Renaud, director of global video solutions at Google and YouTube, told Campaign US.
After conducting interviews with advertisers and agencies, Google discovered an overly conservative approach to blocking “because we did not provide as much visibility as we could,” Renaud said. Exclusion lists were constantly being lengthened and then “copy and pasted” from one campaign to the next, rather than customized for specific brands.
A new, centralized suitability center will allow advertisers to manage suitability controls across YouTube and Google Display Network on a campaign or account-level, so the same settings can be applied across all campaigns. The Content Suitability Center is the culmination of two years of work with advertisers, agencies and third-party partners.
“What we hope is by bringing everything into a singular platform, advertisers will be able to be expansive in their thinking and make revenue-informed decisions about what they're excluding or what they are targeting,” Renaud said.
The new product also makes it easier for advertisers to manage their suitability settings themselves rather than relying on third-parties like DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science. Renaud said Google had no intention of replacing tech partners. “They will continue to be able to provide the services that they have in the past,” he said. “But if an advertiser chooses to manage their suitability themselves — which many and most do — we just made it easier for them to do so.
Google is taking a more nuanced approach to suitability now after years of trying to convince advertisers its platforms are brand safe. YouTube has had several major brand safety crises that led to advertiser caution. In 2017, an investigation found major brands were appearing alongside videos with extremist content, hate speech, and terrorist propaganda on the platform. Three years later, more than 100 brands were discovered to be advertising against climate change denial videos.
Renaud suggested that conservative approaches to keyword blocking are “somewhat of a hangover from safety concerns.”
“Historically, building trust and brand safety was this baseline that we had to get through. As those have been addressed, it's been a great opportunity for us to do an audit,” Renaud said. YouTube is the only digital platform that has earned content-level brand safety accreditation by the Media Rating Council.
“Now, advertisers are asking how to push the envelope beyond just being in a safe environment, but also supporting content creators and content that aligns with their brand,” he said.
Google is planning to add the ability to forecast the impact of each suitability setting on key advertising metrics.
The Content Suitability Center is unrelated to Google’s work to appease regulators which are probing its ad tech practices, Renaud said. While Google’s purported lack of transparency is one of the areas being investigated by regulators, advertiser demand drove the suitability controls, he said.
“We saw a problem and opportunity and we knew it would benefit the ecosystem, so we drove it. Obviously, we're aware of regulatory requests and desires, but this was separate,” he said.