YouTube Boycott: Is it all a storm in a teacup?

Research conducted by Nature Pty Ltd shows that ads perform no less favourably when followed by undesirable content

After learning their ads were being played alongside “undesirable content”, a number of major Australian advertisers including Telstra, Bunnings and Holden, as well as the Australian Government, recently joined a global boycott on YouTube advertising. Analysts predict this may cost YouTube over US$750 million, with digital ad spend declining for the first time in 8 years (Source: SMI).

This hotly discussed topic has sparked a lot of dialogue at the Nature office recently, with the team honing in on the key question of “does it really matter if an ad is followed by undesirable content?”. To place some evidence behind the debate we interviewed 750 adult Australians.

Our experimental approach involved dividing our sample into three groups. Each was exposed to the same ad from a well-known Australian brand. The first group was exposed to the ad on its own, the second group saw the ad followed by a potentially undesirable YouTube video (a racially charged speech), and the third group saw the ad followed by a more innocuous clip (some cute babies).

After seeing the ad/ad then video, each group was asked a series of advertising diagnostic questions followed by a brand association exercise to see if the response to the ad and brand changed depending on the context in which the ad was viewed.

Critically, there was no statistically significant difference in results between the three groups, providing evidence that an ad followed by undesirable content performs no less favourably than others. In fact, the ad was just as engaging and had the same brand impact (on positivity and consideration likelihood) for those who saw it when followed by the undesirable video clip, as it was for those who saw the ad on its own, or followed by a more innocuous video. Similarly, we saw no significant differences in brand perceptions between the three groups after exposure. Seeing the ad followed by the “undesirable content” didn’t impact associations with ‘Australian’, ‘honesty’ or being a ‘trustworthy’ brand.

Our suspicion is that the brands that have pulled their advertising from YouTube have not only done so for ‘in principle’ reasons, but also to avoid potential negative washback on their brand. Our small experiment on this big issue suggests the latter concern is largely unfounded and could be a storm in a teacup. More research and investigation is certainly needed.

Overall this raises the question as to whether going dark and not appearing at all may have a more adverse effect than appearing next to “undesirable content”? While YouTube is implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning to control where ads appear, advertisers should be wary of the potential impact of pulling their spend from the channel and consequent failure to remind certain audiences they exist.