YouTube Debacle Tip of the Industry Iceberg

Patience Haggin of the The Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell on the ad industry this week, reporting on research that purports to show that about 80% of Google YouTube’s ad deliveries onto third-party sites -- through the Google Video Partners program -- violated Google’s terms of service with those advertisers.

The research was conducted by Adalytics, which leveraged crawlers and accessed log-level data from a significant number of advertisers. It determined that a massive number of video ad deliveries on third-party sites were delivered on where the video was not visible, or where the sound was off -- and many on sites that were dynamically generated only to carry ads. All of which violate Google’s service promises.

Am I surprised? No. I have been in this industry for the past three decades and I have seen way, way too much of this kind of stuff. In the late ‘90s, it was the pop-under ads. It was the invisible pixel ads to win on “last-click tracking” reports. It was the rich-media units being sold as digital video, a five X multiplier of price created by changing how they were described.



And, since the massive growth of opaque programmatic platforms, there are the daisy chains of increasingly bad or fraudulent inventory that platforms happily bring to market, and the enormous and perverse incentives created. Since virtually eerie actors in the entire digital ad supply chain are taking cuts of every impression, this kind of stuff has become commonplace.

The shift of massive, multibillion-dollar TV ad budgets onto CTV has only put this whole process on steroids. Just last week, the Association of National Advertisers released a study on the digital media supply chain showing that at least $20 billion of U.S. ad spend is going to low-quality inventory, click-bait and made-for-advertising-sites -- just what Google apparently did here.

As many in our industry have been saying on Twitter these past two days, we are an industry rife with willful ignorance.

Yep, so many folks are making so much money pushing budgets downstream and taking cuts as the money passes them, that the last thing that any of them want is to know where the ad ended up actually running and how many rules were broken in between.

Who is losing? All the publishers with legitimate, premium inventory. So are the clients. Sure, they help cause this by pushing for irrational CPMs, which can’t be made by the legitimate providers, thus opening opportunities for people to break rules to fill demands for cheap inventory. But, at the end of the day, it is their money -- and their cost-consciousness is no excuse for the industry's immorality, negligence and fraud.

What will it take to fix this? We will all need to care, at least enough to call this stuff out as it is happening and to stop it when we can. Today, too few in our industry care enough to fix it.

What do you think?

14 comments about "YouTube Debacle Tip of the Industry Iceberg".
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  1. Dan Manella from Stephens Media Group Tri-Cities, June 29, 2023 at 7:10 p.m.

    Bob Hoffman is 100% right - we live in the golden age of bullshit.
    At what point does this truly become fraud?  Some company that has been fleeced will eventually file suit against their agency or the agency AND whomever they're working with. Then watch what happens. 

    9 years later and it still resonates .... 

  2. Scott McKinley from Truthset, June 30, 2023 at 7:06 a.m.

    At Truthset we see enormous waste due to data quality and questionable practices. Close to half the money spent on 3rd party identity and attributes is *still* wasted. This is probably why that quote won't die. 

    The only way to create change is to start at the top. The buyers (brands and agencies) at the top of the food chain need to acknowledge the problem. Then they need to actually quantify the financial cost to themselves - and it will be sizable. Out of that will come the will to change.

    Until then we will keep covering our eyes, holding our noses, and (for most) cashing the checks. 

    The remedy is to demand transparency and accountability from all their partners in the supply chain. In order to avoid being fleeced, brands need to build up their own expertise in these practices to be able to call foul. This is already happening, and it's very healthy. 

    But we need more credible studies from the industry bodies to make everyone aware of the hard financial cost of not knowing what's really going on. 

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 30, 2023 at 9:36 a.m.

    Dave, the answer is to have third party sources providing valid  audience data and audits for all sellers---in effect breaking down the silos. Otherwise there is little that media buyers and advertisiers---assuming that the latter even care---can do about this.except wrimg their hands and complain.

    A long time ago in the magazine business it became clear that some publishers were lying about their circulations big time and the solution as to set up the Audit Bureau Of Circulation to verify that they were printing and distributing the copies they claimed. Later independent readership surveys were started by Starch for primary readers and companies like Simmons, Nielsen, BRI, etc. for "total audience". Needless to say, radio and TV sellers also had to accept third party audience verification by Nielsen, Arbitron and others as no one was going to accept their claims. And the audience surveys had to accept auditing by the MRC.

    Why should YouTube, FB, etc, be allowed to operate  differently?

  4. M Cohen from marshall cohen associates, June 30, 2023 at 9:43 a.m.

    Until our community decides that "you shouldn't grade your own homework" (Said, I think, by Linda Yaccarino) and really supports valid and reliable third party measurement (including supporting the newer, young companies that are getting into the measurement business) and supporting the MRC, which does a fabulous job looking at the methods involved, we will not solve this.  

  5. Augustine Fou from FouAnalytics, June 30, 2023 at 10:32 a.m.


  6. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, June 30, 2023 at 12:14 p.m.

    Third party measurement (or any other) will not solve the problem unless it is subject to continuous and regular auditing. And then we'd best make sure someone audits the auditors. 

  7. Gabriel Greenberg from Octillion, June 30, 2023 at 2:31 p.m.

    As said by many already, the first step is brands and agencies stopping to consider this a cost of doing business and having a willingness to change. Octillion is proud to work with Tag, ANA and TrustNet to share our logs and prove we deliver real transparency with no-markups!

    Yep you heard that right ... .

    Octillion have also built tech to look at age of audience data, fraud and many other solutions using AI, cryptography and good old due diligence. So long as we continue to reward tech companies with billion dollar valuations who are part of the problem, brands and agencies continue to turn a blind eye and the walled gardens can continue to grade their own homework and buyers do not demand change, nothing will! 

    The cost of change, reltionships with their preferred buyer and the desire to turn a blind eye must change if the industry really wants change!

    Otherwise like always, this topic will die off again and in another 7-10 years during the next ANA study we will all be talking about the same topic. 

  8. John Grono from GAP Research replied, June 30, 2023 at 7:09 p.m.

    You are correct Jack.

    And I guess that is why AU's TV, radio, OOH etc. work so well.   The JIC (which includes the media owners and the media buyers) 'defines' the scope required, and also demands requires ongoing audits (typically monthly) conducted by vastly experienced and impartial media researchers.

  9. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, June 30, 2023 at 8:50 p.m.


    programmatic and the separation and disintermediation of the buyer from the publisher is heavily to blame here.  Forget the made for AdSense pubs for a minute, but even the the mid to long tail quality publishers have no relationship with advertises any more - only an SSP - who also doesn't know the advertiser, they only know the DSP, who at least may "know" the agency (but not much of a relationship), but no one up to this point knows the client, their goals, objectives, etc.  with the meltdown and bankruptcy of MediaMath (probably the first of many now that the investor dollars have dried up), and this spotlight on Google/YouTube (seemingly the "trusted" reputable 800lb. Gorilla, it's going to be interesting to see who else is swimming naked when the tide goes out.... as it always does, just before the Tsunami.

  10. Gabriel Greenberg from Octillion replied, July 1, 2023 at 10:08 a.m.

    Agree - ideally there ia daily if not real-time logs that are being checked. We are all for that

  11. Augustine Fou from FouAnalytics, July 1, 2023 at 10:19 a.m.

    real-time logs won't solve any of this

  12. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, July 6, 2023 at 8:51 p.m.

    This is fraud. I worked in a prosecutor's office in a previousl life. It's pretty clear.

  13. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, July 6, 2023 at 8:52 p.m.

    Totally agree.

  14. Ad Whistler from Self, July 7, 2023 at 6:50 a.m.

    It's willful ignorance all the way down, or as a wiser man put it, "it's hard to make a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it".

    The perverse incentives in this industry, as a (very large) microcosm of the perverse incentives of our capitalistic society, have led us here.

    Outside of the examples of clear, black-and-white fraud, everyone in this industry is simply operating according to their incentives, which increasingly pushes them into the grey areas of morality. And you know what always trumps morals? Dollars.

    Marketers are the only ones that are truly incentivized to fix this and ensure their media, and associated carbon footprint, are not wasted. But it's unlikely to be anybody below the CMO, CEO, or CFO that are going to care about this (and in many cases they're subject to more FOFO than anybody), so if you really want change to happen, those are the 3 people that need to be convinced. Anybody complaining about this issue that isn't reaching out to those folks, no matter how righteous their intentions, is doing little more than virtue signaling.

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