Is Inappropriate Video Content A Convenient Excuse?

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Jeben Berg, product marketing manager at YouTube, talk on the subject of how advertisers can best engage YouTube's users. It reminded me just how many people engage with the site and focused my attention on an old issue. Many brands have fought the idea of advertising on YouTube because they fear being placed next to inappropriate content.

Everyone knows YouTube and how big it is -- but even so, some of the statistics Berg threw out were mind-boggling. The site now contains hundreds of millions of videos, with an average of 8 hours of content being uploaded every minute. Every minute! And what is more, that content comes from only 2% of the site's user base. These "creators" are at the heart of YouTube's success and sit at the top of the user eco-system that includes "collectors," who generate playlists for every topic under the sun, "critics," who add their often irreverent and off-color comments to the content, and then finally the "consumers," the silent majority who just watch the videos that have been posted.



Berg was keen to point out that YouTube is a platform, not a media company. He stated that YouTube makes no decisions over what is shown and said that it simply provides the means for people to express themselves. Of course, that has led to many advertisers expressing concern over placing their advertising in such an environment. It is all too easy for a brand's ad to end up in close proximity to content deemed undesirable to the brand's positioning.

In the course of the presentation, however, Berg addressed this issue directly by putting up an iconic image from the Vietnam War: Nick Ut's photo, "Napalm Strike," which shows terrified villagers fleeing from a napalm strike on the village of Trang Bang, Vietnam, in June 8, 1972. Berg asked why advertisers seem happy to advertise in newspapers and magazines that carry disturbing images like that one, and yet they shy away from doing so with video content. Is it really worse to have Tiffany's and Armani ads appear next to pictures of bomb blast victims in Newsweek than to have videos created for Coca-Cola and McDonald's show up next to Paris Hilton's sleaziest on YouTube?

On reflection, the question seems justified. Is it simply that we are more comfortable with the juxtaposition of such images in static media because those forms of communication have been around so much longer? Or is it an excuse that advertisers use to avoid having to create content that will work in the free-for-all environment of YouTube?

Up to now I had accepted that concern at face value. Berg's presentation certainly gave me reason to question that assumption.

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