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YouTube fails to lure AT&T back despite advertising system revamp

We're very hopeful we can get back onto YouTube, said Fiona Carter, chief brand officer, AT&T

Sapna Maheshwari | NYT 

“We’re very hopeful we can get back onto YouTube,” said Fiona Carter, chief brand officer at AT&T. The company pulled its advertising last year because of concerns about offensive content

AT&T, one of the nation’s biggest marketers, has yet to return to nearly a year after pulling its from the platform because of concerns that it could appear alongside offensive material.

The company was among a wave of major marketers who paused their spending on last March after it was found that ads were appearing on videos promoting hate speech or terrorism and other disturbing content. The Google-owned video service has since introduced a series of changes aimed at limiting the types of videos that can run ads, and most brands have resumed marketing on the platform.

But that has not been enough for AT&T, which wants to get “as close to zero tolerance for this issue as possible,” Fiona Carter, the company’s chief brand officer, said in a recent interview.


“It became apparent to us as we worked through this that too much of the content our could appear against was not brand safe — it was objectionable by any measure,” Carter said. “You really have an epiphany when you see some of that content.”
She added, “Our findings are that no matter the algorithm or the filters or the formula that you currently apply, nothing beats human review.”
believes that its dialogue with played a role in the platform’s announcement last month that humans will manually vet videos from channels that are part of Preferred—a designation applied to channels representing the top five per cent of content on that helps brands advertise on popular videos.

Over the past year, major marketers have been demanding more accountability from Google, and the rest of the digital ecosystem, as they have come to the conclusion that the same algorithmic tools that allow unprecedented access to consumers can be used to spread misinformation, hate speech and harmful videos that target children. On Monday, Keith Weed, the of Unilever, called on tech to take greater responsibility for what appears on their sites and said that his company would not invest in platforms “that do not protect our children or which create division in society and promote anger or hate.”
“We’ve been talking about the digital supply chain for several years but what happened last year is it became a societal issue, a people issue,” Weed said in an interview after delivering remarks on eroding trust in tech at an industry conference in Palm Desert, Calif Weed said that while he would pull dollars from the platforms “if something happened which was completely inappropriate for our brands or our business,” he wanted to work with the to improve their sites.

Brian Wieser, a media analyst at Pivotal Research, said that marketers were clearly having an influence. “If they said nothing then the only thing that would cause the platforms to act is the risk of government regulation,” he said.

But Unilever, he said, was not taking an especially hard line with the tech as far as its budget. “It’s not like they set a threshold and said who don’t do this lose their money specifically,” he said.

Unilever, which owns brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Dove, did not pull its marketing dollars from last year, saying at the time that the number of ads running with objectionable content was proportionally small and that it would use the moment to win new concessions from Weed reiterated that position on Monday. “What I’m talking about here is moving the conversation along,” he said.

Unilever, for example, has been talking with about implementing more human screening of videos that include children to make sure that they are not being exploited.

“There is nothing we take more seriously than the trust and safety of our users, customers and partners, and we will continue to work to earn that trust every day,” a spokesperson said of Weed’s remarks.

Even though hasn’t been spending money on ads in the past year, it has worked closely with the platform to improve its systems and is eager to have its ads again seen by YouTube’s huge audience of teen and twentysomething viewers. has said that its manual reviews of Preferred channels would be complete by the end of March.

“We’re very hopeful we can get back onto YouTube,” Ms. Carter said. “It delivers the scale we want but we had to roll up our sleeves and find that performance elsewhere.”
spent more than $1 billion on in the last year through September, while spent $644 million, according to data from was the sixth-biggest advertiser in the country during that period, was Number 16.

also said that it would audit its programmatic ad spending in coming months, as it tries to better understand the process through which technology and automation place its in front of consumers. That realm of has drawn scrutiny from marketers in recent years amid reports that much of their spending, which is difficult to trace, is going to tech and agency fees rather than publishers.

Carter said that it would be working with its agency, Omnicom’s Hearts & Science, and the firms AdFin and Amino Payments to figure out how its money moves through those systems.

“I believe that marketers, and to a certain extent agency partners, have not been in control of the way the process is moving,” Carter said. AT&T’s efforts underscore the strange world that advertisers are navigating online.

“Five, six, seven years ago, the majority of spend was in TV, print, even outdoor, and you had absolute clarity in where your was appearing but far less data around who you were against,” Carter said. “We’ve flipped that now.

“We have incredible data and insights into the people we’re against, but we no longer are really seeing across the digital ecosystem.”

© 2018 The New York Times

First Published: Thu, February 15 2018. 23:23 IST