The draft of the Government’s Online Safety Bill already receiving criticism for not being robust enough to keep children safe from illegal or harmful content. Coupled with the huge increase in internet and social media use among children, it is imperative that invasive action is taken to keep inappropriate content away from young viewers. Even more so in this increasingly connected digital world.

CTV platforms have come under fire for inappropriate content in the past. With 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, it is not surprising that some 65% of parents are at least somewhat concerned about the types of videos being recommended to their children. And yet, with YouTube being the second most popular social media platform as well as the second most popular search engine after Google, it’s a medium advertisers can’t afford to ignore.

The fact of the matter is, YouTube remains one of the safest environments. With tech innovation at its core and with initiatives like its YouTube Measurement Partner program, YouTube is committed to making sure its channels and content are not only safe environments for brands to advertise within but also contextually relevant and suitable for the intended audiences. 

The need for inclusive content

There is a growing responsibility for businesses and organisations today to ensure they are buttoned up from top to bottom when it comes to suitable advertising content. With advertising on platforms like YouTube specifically, we have a moral responsibility to ensure the content that children are watching is inclusive of, for example, black, Asian, or LGBTQ+ communities

Moreover, a research report from UNICEF clearly outlines the power that advertising has on influencing individual and community beliefs, ways of thinking and behaviours. As children and families are constantly exposed to advertising and media, diversity in marketing messages can have a significant positive impact on children and youth.

On contrary, stereotyping in advertising– in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, disability, family structure and many other facets of identity –can be harmful, affecting children’s confidence, including mental health. Discriminatory stereotypes can also cause harm by restricting opportunities for all children to lead a life with dignity, especially marginalized and excluded children.  

The advertising industry, and indeed all industries, need to go above and beyond to alter our approach to ensure a more positive impact on the development of the youth, their families and overall outlook on society and the world as a whole. 

Context, content and meaning are crucial

Advertisers have been forced to rethink their strategies in the last few years due to laws around data privacy. This means that instead of using tracking cookies to target potential customers with ads, businesses are having to make the effort to really understand their customers and provide them with adverts that are suited to them.

It might seem obvious that running adverts for cars or alcohol on videos aimed at children on YouTube is inappropriate. This is also likely to lead to a hugely unsuccessful advertising campaign in terms of return on investment. Channel Factory’s most recent research with IPG Magna found that misaligned content diminishes the impact of otherwise effective ads. The study saw a loss of impact on purchase intent (-8%), compared to standard content. 

In addition, the perceptions of the misaligned ads were different depending on the age of the person who viewed them. The older generations, Gen X (born between 1965–1976) and Millennials (born between 1977–1995), found misaligned content more damaging than did those of the younger Gen Z (born between 1996–2015) population. 

Furthermore, a recent survey by PwC of 1,000 shoppers found that 86% said it is ‘quite important or very important to purchase from a retailer with strong company values and who is committed to doing the right thing. This is coupled with evidence that younger generations place more importance on ethics than price when making purchasing decisions compared to older generations.

This demonstrates the need for brands and marketers to put steps in place now to ensure a safe, suitable, relevant, and positively aligned user journey for today’s customers – and the customers of the future.

Choose inclusion over blocklists to promote diversity and fairness

Advertising campaigns are fuelled by tools and tech behind the scenes that are meant to ensure relevant and appropriate audience targeting. This is in fact what drove the industry to clean up its houses, to operate in a more brand-safe and transparent manner. In turn, we saw the increase in utilising and relying on the creation of exclusion, or blocklists that call out and omit words deemed unsafe, harmful, or inappropriate. 

an image showing a transgender person sitting at the computer and creating more inclusive ads.

While these lists go to some extent to protect brands from appearing near this type of content and equally users from seeing inappropriate adverts, it can lead to overblocking in some situations. This is where words are added to exclusion lists without understanding the nuance and context of the content and intended audience. 

This type of overblocking can ultimately lead to advertising targeting lists that strip audiences, excluding minority groups and communities. Thus, limiting an advertiser’s ability to reach and engage with these audiences in an inclusive way. 

This is why the use of ‘Inclusion Lists’ is becoming so critical to marketers’ ad campaigns today. We all have a role to play within the industry – supporting and educating advertisers on how to be inclusive of all content creators by using inclusion lists in the right way, for example only blocking the content that is harmful or inappropriate, in an effort to promote diversity and fairness across the industry.

For example, a recent study found that 57% of neutral or positive stories were being incorrectly flagged as unsafe for brands. In addition, Channel Factory research across 126 neutral and positive LGBTQ+ channels on YouTube found that 93% of these were excluded from advertising lists because they included words such as “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual”, “sexual” “drag queens” or “same-sex marriage”.

Whilst some videos containing these words may not be appropriate for children’s viewing, it speaks to the moral responsibility of providing inclusive content for the younger generations. Advertisers should be accountable for the inclusion of minority content for children as a representation of the real world.

Social conscience 

In the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic, protests for racial justice, and hugely influential global political elections have consumed the world over. Unsurprisingly, this has presented a shift in social purpose across the globe, which is forcing businesses and brands to re-evaluate their advertising. Channel Factory’s research found that 60% of consumers would feel more positive about a brand knowing they advertised in inclusive and diverse environments. And what could be more important in our socially conscious world than protecting our children – today and tomorrow?

an image showing GDPR.

Online safety should be a top priority for every platform and advertiser and is equally one that YouTube in particular has worked hard to achieve over the past decade. What’s more, it is becoming more apparent that there are lessons here for customer experience in general.

Brands must find their north star – the vision that drives the business – and stick by it. Honesty, transparency, positivity and overall social good will be key driving factors for any business looking to engage with its customers in a more meaningful way. 

Video content isn’t going away but creators, brand advertisers and viewers need to be able to trust that the system is working. Children must be protected online but video content must also be safe and relevant for all viewers.

Advertising can no longer be done in a vacuum – it is going to take partnerships, certifications and even industry-wide standards like this to catapult the ad industry forward, to make it more accountable for its actions and to strive to improve the lives of those who we’re advertising to. Just paying lip service to these initiatives will ultimately be damaging to businesses in the long run – it’s time to change. 

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