Advertisers Seek Refunds Over YouTube Skippable Ads

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Advertisers are demanding significant refunds from YouTube following new research that suggests millions of adverts on partner websites are hidden away from users in ways that breach the Google-owned group’s policies.

Adalytics, a digital ads analysis group, has conducted research into YouTube’s “TrueView” system, through which users can skip watching an advert after five seconds.

It found “hundreds of thousands of websites and apps” in which these ads play imperceptibly in the background, without sound and on automatic loop. This appears to be a way to avoid viewers noticing the videos altogether so ads are not skipped, but the strategy violates Google’s terms.

Google, which denied the researchers’ claims, tells advertisers that a key selling point for its “choice-based ad format” is that they are only charged if a user watches the full clip or at least 30 seconds of it. If skipped, an advertiser pays nothing.

TrueView ads are a core product for YouTube’s $30bn a year business. Ebiquity, a media investment analysis group in London, said its global clients typically allocate 40-50 per cent of their YouTube budgets on the skippable ads.

They are supposed to play “in-stream”, meaning viewers see them “before, during, or after other videos on YouTube” or through its Google video partners network of “high-quality publisher websites and mobile apps where you can show your video ads to viewers beyond YouTube”.

But Adalytics, which used web-crawler data to scour the internet and also worked with dozens of media buyers from brands and agencies, found thousands of TrueView ads were placed “out-stream” — tucked away on portions of a website where viewers had little to no interaction with them. The Wall Street Journal previously reported on some of the findings.

Joshua Lowcock, global chief media officer at UM, a New York-based ad agency, said he expected YouTube to investigate the issue and refund the affected advertisers. Adalytics created a list of those hit, which includes dozens of leading brands such as JPMorgan Chase and Johnson & Johnson, as well the US Department of Health & Human Services.

“This is a systemic failure by Google and YouTube to have proper oversight and enforce their policies,” Lowcock said. “Google must have a qualified third party do a full independent audit of policy enforcement, as well as this failure, and refund all impacted advertisers.”

He added: “It’s symptomatic of problems that occur in a concentrated and unregulated market.”

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