MediaRadar Blog

Did angry advertisers really boycott YouTube? The answer may surprise you.



Digital Content Next – In March this year, a few big national brands were reported to have been found running adjacent to hate speech and even videos promoting terrorism on YouTube in the UK. This triggered a cascade of negative press with articles titled “YouTube is facing a full-scale advertising boycott over hate speech” (The Verge) or “YouTube boycott over extremist ads slams shares” (USA Today).

In the immediate aftermath on March 23 Google’s stock dropped 4% and some top advertisers stated that they would stop advertising on YouTube.

Specifically, there were eight brands frequently mentioned in the press as stopping YouTube advertising: Starbucks, Dish, Pepsi, GM, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and Walmart. With all the fiery press commentary (which I read with more than a hint of schadenfreude), I was curious to see if the list of brands that said they were boycotting YouTube actually went through with it. Some did, while others did not.

Here’s what we found.

  • Starbucks, Dish, and Pepsi stopped buying abruptly in April.
  • GM, J&J, and Walmart continued to advertise on YouTube.
  • We found an increased number of national brands on You Tube Preferred channels, which aggregates YouTube’s top content, such as Michelle Phan and Good Mythical Morning. There was a definite flight to quality.
  • GM’s ads moved to the YouTube homepage, where there are absolutely no editorial adjacency concerns.
  • J&J said that they “paused” in late-March, but in April, they were back up-and-running with ads. They even announced a new partnership with YouTube during New Fronts.

YouTube quickly acted in order to retain business by shifting national advertisers into the safest inventory. GM and Walmart are clear examples of this. As a result, only a handful of brands that were considering defecting actually stopped buying. And in the six weeks since the original controversy, Google reported strong quarterly results, and the stock is up more than $100.

The experience does however speak to how significant brand safety is becoming. In fact, during this year’s New Fronts, many publishers and broadcasters emphasized that their strength is the sort of brand-safety you only get from platforms that proudly wear the name “media company” and, as such, have robust editorial oversight.


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To see MediaRadar’s findings: click here