YouTube’s Misleading Ad Inventory: What to Know & Implications for Political Campaigns

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A recent report by Adalytics found that many advertisers may have been misled for years about Google’s proprietary TrueView skippable, in-stream video ads. 

This report points to billions in digital ad spend which was ultimately spent on small, muted, out-stream, auto-playing or interstitial video ad units running on third-party websites – not on YouTube, as media buyers believed. Advertisers of all sizes – such as American Express, Sephora, and The New York City municipal government – were impacted by these inventory concerns.

This report has generated a bigger conversation about ad fraud, reporting, and best practices within the digital space. In this blog, we’ll break down the report, what it means for you, and how this has shaped our digital buying strategies.

 What to Know About the Report:

TrueView is Google’s “proprietary cost-per-view, choice-based ad format that serves on YouTube, millions of apps, and across the web.” Using TrueView, Google allows advertisers to pay per 5-second view, rather than the impression. Policies also state that TrueView ads must be skippable, and audible, and the playing of the video (and ad) cannot be solely initiated by passive user scrolling – just like an ad you see at the beginning of a YouTube video. 

However, recent revelations have brought an unexpected aspect of TrueView’s use case to light. According to Adalytics, it appears that Google, the parent company of YouTube, has been serving TrueView ads on third-party websites, rather than solely on YouTube. 

When opting to serve on Google’s Audience Network using the TrueView pricing model, Adalytics found that hundreds of both small and large advertisers ended up spending the majority of their media budgets on video placements on third-party sites, misleading them about the concept – and billing structure – of TrueView, and ultimately the placements of their ads. Studies show that a majority of the ads served were on small, out-stream video players in the corner or side of the consumer’s device viewport, in a fully muted video player with little to no video content in between, and where the video ads auto-play without any viewer interaction or initiation, continuously, on a loop. 

Source: Did Google mislead advertisers about TrueView skippable in-stream ads for the past three years? Adalytics. 2023.
Source: Did Google mislead advertisers about TrueView skippable in-stream ads for the past three years? Adalytics. 2023.

What’s Next for Political Campaigns:

At SpeakEasy, this news from YouTube underscores the multi-channel, brand-safety-focused buying approach we’ve always implemented on behalf of our campaigns and causes. 

Our team believes that while no channel is the perfect solution to reaching voters, combining a wide variety of digital media channels — from Google to Instagram to Hulu to the local news site — creates a powerful surround-sound messaging strategy.

What does this look like in practice? Our media team buys across multiple channels, Demand Side Platforms (DSPs), and “walled garden” publishers such as YouTube and Meta. For programmatic placements, we deploy five unique filters (Bot Fraud Filter, Site Fraud Filter, Suspicious Activity Prevention, Malware Scan, and Content Blocking) to block fraudulent sites and bots from our inventory sources. 

Additionally, we partner with industry-leading companies such as DoubleVerify and Oracle (formerly known as Grapeshot) to identify and block non-brand safe or fraudulent placements. And when buying on Meta or Google, we always employ the strictest filters to run on owned and operated platforms, not third-party sites.

Want to learn more about our approach to digital placement and optimizations? We’d love to chat! Please feel free to send us an email at [email protected] or book a time to speak with us below:

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