Mark Bassett
Mark Bassett 14 September 2017

Brands can solve their digital safety woes by getting inside influencer content

Which advertising options are the biggest risk for brands - programmatic ads or influencer campaigns? We explore how brands can craft creative ad campaigns away from the traditional models in the light of current ad safety concerns, harnessing the power of influencer marketing.

A lot can change in a single minute on the internet. From the 300 hours of video content uploaded onto YouTube to the 46,200 posts uploaded on Instagram, every minute brings a wealth of new content delivered by a vast army of content creators that these days combine the roles of presenter, producer, creative director and business entrepreneur into one. This is the age of the influencer – from today’s social megastars through to the growing army of micro-influencers, each with their own unique and engaged audiences.

But how should brands work with this influencer community?  Well, the prevalence of more content certainly equates to more opportunities for brand advertising. That in turn feeds the content creators, allowing them to invest more in their output and create more engaging material to further grow their audiences and give brands greater reach.

However, 2017 has seen a huge rise in brand insecurity about advertisements being aligned with the growing volume of inappropriate or offensive content appearing on these platforms. Back in April, YouTube lost five percent of its top North American advertisers following a boycott around brand safety fears. Brands withdrew from every category except ‘safe bets’ such as beauty/fashion, family/parenting and food. Just last month it emerged that the platform had lost a further handful of advertisers, including, Etihad Airways, Marriott, Deliveroo and the Labour Party, after they found that their ads had been appearing in front of content created by a hate preacher.

But as YouTube has worked frantically to rewrite the rules around what sort of content is considered advertiser-friendly, in doing so, it has rewritten the rules around content monetisation, making it harder for them to create content eligible for advertising. This includes a tighter stance on comedy and satire around the ambiguous concept of ‘family entertainment characters’ and a clampdown on incendiary or inflammatory content that shames ‘an individual or group, a subjective and potentially all-encompassing statement. We’re not quite at the stage where content creators are literally subject to the whim of YouTube and whether it likes the content or not, but this is the clear direction of travel considering such changes. Therefore, it was no surprise to see research from Captiv8 showing that YouTube creators’ CPMs fell between February to April this year in all but the ‘safe bet’ categories.

Furthermore, YouTube now requires its channels to have at least 10,000 "lifetime" or total aggregate views before their owners can run advertisements. In effect, what this means for some influencers on the platform is a double financial blow. Firstly, they’ve lost out on ad revenues as brands citing safety fears have withdrawn from the platform; secondly, it’s now harder than it was before to create content that advertising can be aligned with. For micro-influencers (i.e. those likely to have fewer than 10,000 aggregate views), the situation is even worse – they now find that their opportunity to run advertisements via the platform has been withdrawn entirely.

Questions certainly remain over whether these movements to deliver greater brand safety may lead to a minor influencer exodus from YouTube over to rivals such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitch, but irrespective, the reality is that the volume of content is only going to continue growing, and digital advertising – especially given the growth of programmatic – is always going to be hard to police.

Influencers need and rely upon brands to keep doing what they’re doing and keep entertaining and engaging their audiences. Similarly, they’re called influencers for a reason, and brands can’t simply afford to ignore the power and sway they hold over their audiences. But the fact is that conventional forms of digital advertising are failing to deliver and, if the ads end up in the wrong places, are causing significant reputational damage for the brands involved.

So, what’s the answer? Brands need to get inside the content, rather than surrounding it. This form of influencer collaboration – co-creating content with known entities, building relationships and trust, and delivering the brand messages through the influencer themselves is a far more effective form of brand safety. There’s no risk of ads appearing against inappropriate content because there are no ads – the brand message is intelligently woven into the content itself.

Working with influencers allows brands of all categories (i.e. not just ‘safe bets’) to gain access to influencers’ loyal audiences – which can span from the thousands, in the case of micro-influencers, through to the millions – and get them to make genuine and engaging content that thousands or even millions of followers will love and interact with. Organic genuine influencer-driven content is increasingly proving to add value for brands, from improved views, likes, shares, and comments to viewers watching minutes, rather than a few seconds, of paid content.

Historically, some brands have been resistant to wade too deeply into influencer marketing for fears of ceding too much creative control (necessary to allow influencers to do their jobs properly). But it’s now worth asking the question, which is the bigger risk: creating an engaging advert that ends up aligned with content that’s completely brand inappropriate, or collaborating with a known influencer to develop an engaging – and likely more authentic – piece of content housed on a known channel?


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