Christine von Gosen, senior media manager at Ferrero, shares three lessons the chocolate brand learned on its journey to a better partnership with YouTube.
Choosing to work for Ferrero was among the easier decisions of my career. I grew up with the company’s brands. The quality of its chocolates and the iconic place it held in my childhood drew me in then and has me here now.
When I came on, I learned Ferrero has always been as committed to brand safety as it is to creating world-class confectionery. For years, this core brand principle was a simple proposition, because the world’s leading media environments were heavily curated. As we all know by now, those days are long gone.
For over a year, we chose not to advertise on YouTube, but we kept an eye on its progress.
Even so, I would not have anticipated that our commitment to suitable content would disrupt our investments with one of the largest content platforms and an advertising mecca. But that’s just what happened in 2017, when reports revealed advertisements were appearing adjacent to inappropriate, extremist, or disturbing content. As a result, we were forced to rethink whether YouTube was the right platform for our brands. Advertising comes with great responsibility; even though we had experienced strong performance on YouTube, we quickly decided to pause our YouTube campaigns while Google took measures to create a safer platform.
For over a year, we chose not to advertise on YouTube, but we kept an eye on its progress. We saw significant improvements in its products and policies around the issue of brand safety, including the removal of egregious content from the platform, the elevation of authoritative, trusted voices, and the strengthening of its community guidelines. We also took note when YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki committed to responsibility as the company’s No. 1 priority. Eventually, we felt comfortable reopening conversations around advertising on YouTube. Like any breakup and makeup, we were excited to make it work, but we needed assurances.
At this stage, our relationship with YouTube pivoted from a brand safety conversation to one more focused on brand suitability.
In 2018, we resumed responsible advertising on YouTube. But we were cautious. We started with very restrictive suitability measures. For instance, we used content-label exclusions to opt out of whole categories to ensure safety for our brand, even though those restrictions came at the cost of audience reach. YouTube is known for its reach, but we felt this was a trade-off we had to make to protect our brand.
Fast forward to 2019, when we worked more closely with our Google team to further develop our content suitability playbook. The goal of this process was to gain a clear understanding of how our suitability preferences matched up to YouTube’s controls and what had changed during the previous year. We learned that we could adjust our approach on certain elements, almost doubling our reach.
Below is a summary of our learnings, along with three key lessons we learned along the way.
1. Brand safety doesn’t require a sacrifice of reach
We had been missing the opportunity to have our ads in front of many popular and trending videos. For instance, eight of the Top 10 trending videos in Germany in 2020 fell under content labels that we had been excluding. Yet, we learned that many of our restrictions were not leading to incremental safety improvements.
Because we were protected by YouTube’s updated safety measures, there was no longer a need for additional restrictions.
Beginning in 2018, we reviewed our exclusions and realized that we would be better managed through inventory modes, which cater to various sensitive themes, such as profanity, sexual suggestiveness, and violence. Later we expanded our content labels, which led to increased reach, while continuing to use inventory modes as our main “safety lever” in 2019 and beyond. Because we were already protected by YouTube’s updated safety measures and technologies, there was no longer a need for us to continue overlaying additional content label restrictions and overexcluding safe and popular inventory.
2. Brand suitability controls no longer need to be a proxy for safety
Whenever digital platforms, YouTube included, have struggled through brand safety crises, marketers have pulled back on the reins. Ferrero was no different. But YouTube has spent years enhancing its brand safety technologies, as evidenced by its Media Rating Council accreditation. Knowing YouTube was the first digital platform to receive this stamp of approval for content-level brand safety made us feel comfortable loosening those reins and trusting that our brand would be protected. YouTube’s technology now limits the need for advertisers to rely on controls for brand safety, but rather, it allows us to use them for their intended purpose: suitability.
3. Responsibility is an ongoing conversation
Safety is always top of mind for brand marketers, and I’d venture to say it always will be.
It would be easy to stop here and celebrate our successes. But since platforms, and brand requirements, are in a constant state of flux, the only sound approach is to repeatedly reassess. Ferrero has instituted regular pulse checks to monitor how platforms live up to their responsibilities, how they approach brand safety, and how their suitability controls evolve.
Safety is always top of mind for brand marketers, and I’d venture to say it always will be. But as the world’s largest content provider evolves, brands should now feel empowered to pivot and focus instead on their own suitability settings, not as a defensive fortification but as a set of dials they can use to calibrate an environment that aligns best with their values. The result will be stronger growth and better ad performance without sacrificing safety or trust.