Businesses face conundrum image when advertising on YouTube

By Vien Thong   April 5, 2019 | 10:22 pm PT
Businesses face conundrum image when advertising on YouTube
Many businesses have pulled their ads off YouTube in fear of being associated with toxic content. Photo by Shutterstock
YouTube advertisers face a Hobson’s choice: using a far-reaching medium with the risk of association with dubious channels.

After the streaming website blocked the accounts of online gangster Kha Banh for violating its terms of service on April 3, YouTube also terminated the account of the god of profanity Duong Minh Tuyen, another self-proclaimed gangster, due to repeated violations of YouTube’s policies on violence. 

Kha and Tuyen are two YouTubers who were recently condemned by the general public for uploading videos promoting gang culture, gambling and crudeness, but are adored and given superstar status by many Vietnamese youths. 

The public outcry in the country against YouTube channels promoting violence, profanity, and repulsive material is worrying businesses who advertise on the platform. 

Only recently Vietnam Maritime Bank (MSB) announced it was pulling out all its ads from YouTube. It would conduct a review with YouTube so that its ads would only appear on content compatible with "regulations, ethics and positivity," it said.

The private bank's ads have appeared in clips of internet gangster phenomenon Ngo Ba Kha (Kha Banh). Last week he was arrested and charged with gambling and organising gambling. 

In 2017 many major companies such as Vinamilk and Ford Vietnam also demanded that YouTube should pull out their ads, voicing concern over its lack of content control causing their ads to be associated with dubious channels. 

"Responsibility first lies with the content managers, or multi-channel networks authorised by YouTube if dubious channels register with them to make money," Vo Do Thang, a cyber-security expert, said.

"Let’s also not rule out the possibility these content managers overlooked or even promoted negative content on purpose to make money off views. 

"Some advertising agencies working with YouTube guarantee they will use tracking and filtering programmes using keywords and search terms to prevent enterprises’ ads appearing along with negative content.

"However, this cannot be 100 percent guaranteed by anyone, the risk to the brand image is still there."

Viet Phuong, who works for an advertising agency, said: "When uploading ads, there is an option not to post on specific channels. However, this job is tedious, and it is difficult for an advertising agency to cover everything unless the client hands their own list of channels. Sometimes this step is skipped, because it is more effective to run ads everywhere."

He revealed however that his company had been working vigorously on channel filters since Kha Banh’s arrest. 

YouTube's mechanism prioritizes ads for videos with more views. Most agencies in Vietnam have successfully filtered political videos well, but entertainment channels are difficult to control because they garner much more viewership and are traditionally considered harmless. 

However, agencies say their job is getting harder as videos with violent content are being uploaded in response to the general public finding them popular. 

"Brands should cooperate closely with agencies or choose only to run ads in the mid-range of popularity, videos which do not fall into the ‘top/hot’ categories on YouTube," Phuong said. 

But despite these risks, it is hard for businesses to abandon the website and lose a large audience.  

In 2017 the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information estimated that Google and Facebook accounted for 80 percent of the online advertising market share in Vietnam.

Speaking to VnExpress, the director of a major online business, who asked not to be named, said this ratio had probably not changed by much. 

In other countries too, major businesses have withdrawn their ads from YouTube. In March 2017 Walmart and PepsiCo terminated their advertising contracts with it after their commercials were featured on videos featuring racist content. 

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