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Unveiling the Google Video Partners Ad Debacle: A Closer Look at Advertisers' Experiences

Published: Jul. 12, 2023

A 202-page research post analyzing Google's advertising practices is making waves in the ad tech world.

The research comes from Adalytics, an advertising analytics firm that found nearly 80% of YouTube's ad campaigns violated their own standards. Affected advertisers include Fortune 500 brands, small businesses, and even government agencies.

So what exactly does this mean for the advertising industry? What do advertisers need to know moving forward? To better understand this hot topic, we've broken it down below.

Google Video Partners: Let's Explain

Advertisers invest big into YouTube — the media giant's total ad revenue for 2022 amounted to $29.24 billion dollars. Advertisers pay Google to serve their ads on YouTube, but these ads are sometimes run on third-party sites and apps — also known as Google Video Partners.

Google claims it vets these partner sites to ensure they're of the utmost quality, but Adalytics' report reveals the opposite. According to the report, "many media buyers were surprised to learn that the majority of their ad budgets against a so-called "walled garden" environment was spent on muted, auto-playing video ads on third party websites.."

To make matters worse, many ad buyers have since reported they unknowingly opted-in to YouTube's audience extension. Nandini Jammi, co-founder of the advertising industry watchdog group Check My Ads, identified a significant inconsistency in the language used by Google in response to the research. While Google's blog post states that it provides the option to opt-out of displaying ads on third-party sites at any time, Jammi discovered that Google's support page contradicts this statement.

Just how bad is the situation? A look at the numbers is telling.

  • Adalytics found that, in one ad campaign, 3 of the 4 out-stream ads claimed to be in-stream TrueView ads were, in fact, fully muted, played on a loop, and in small, out-stream video players.
  • Advertisers have been paying $100 for ads only worth $5, according to Nandini Jammi of CheckMyAds. In other words, Google has charged advertisers 20x for low-quality, misrepresented ads.
  • Adalytics also found a well-known consumer goods brand had 75% of its TrueView budget distributed through Google Video Partners. Within this budget, 56% of the funds were allocated to websites that displayed ads in muted or non-in-stream video players, while 19% of the budget was utilized for ads shown on ineligible mobile apps that do not function as video streaming platforms.
Pie chart of distribution for youtube trueview in-stream ad campaign budget versus GVP network

Our Biggest Takeaways

There's much to take away from Adalytic's report, from larger industry issues to technological flaws and more. Our main takeaways are as follows.

This instance highlights a bigger industry issue. A lack of transparency has plagued the ad industry for years. A week prior, the Association of National Advertisers released a study uncovering nearly $20 billion dollars of U.S. ad spend funnels into low–quality inventory. With this in mind, Google's debacle is more likely a symptom of a bigger problem — rather than the illness itself.

Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, puts it best on MediaInsider. "Am I surprised? No. I have been in this industry for the past three decades and I have seen way, way too much of this kind of stuff. In the late '90s, it was the pop-under ads. It was the invisible pixel ads to win on "last-click tracking" reports."

Ask more of your partners. Whether it's your verification partners or holdcos, your partners should join you in your fight for more transparent inventory. Are you on the same side? Are they fighting as vigorously as you to ensure each dollar is efficiently invested? Questions like these are crucial to curating a list of partners that will set you up for success in the future.

Don’t be afraid to push for transparency. Yes, some publishers don’t want you to know that 60% of your delivery is on popular reruns — but now is the time to start demanding more. How? Convince publishers that a way for them to differentiate against Google and YouTube is by being more transparent than they already are. Ask resellers for impression logs and other forms of audit trails that make it harder for bad actors to get away with fraud.

If the pricing looks too good to be true, it probably is. Video inventory is scarce. The pressure for cheaper inventory is stronger than ever. Factors like these have created a phenomenon of made-for-advertising (MFA) sites and artificially low prices, which begs the question: Low CPMs are great, but at what cost?

In fact, the ANA recently released a report uncovering that MFAs make up 21% of impressions and 15% of ad spend.

MFA impressions vs MFA spend

Balance out your need to drive lower CPMs with reaching your audience in more well-lit, trustworthy and transparent places. While this may be more costly, this strategy will pay off in the long run.

Push to know if your ad buys are being fulfilled through audience extension. In other words, ask publishers if they’re working with other players to fill demand they can’t fill themselves. As we saw with Google Video Partners, when publishers extend their audience through partnerships with external entities, they have less direct control over the placement and context in which their ads appear — often leading to lower-quality or even fraudulent inventory.

Try TV if you haven’t yet. Naturally, advertisers may be wary of digital video like YouTube. If you find yourself in the same spot, consider rerouting your campaigns to linear and connected TV. Why? For one, inventory is often cheaper. YouTube’s CPMs average to around $10, while both linear and CTV are sometimes cheaper.

Think of all the perks of advertising on the big screen. Ads on linear can be 15 or 30-seconds long. Customers are used to watching ads at that length while watching long-form content like TV episodes. On the other hand, viewers who watch short-form content like YouTube, where the norm is a 6-second ad, are likely to be annoyed watching a 30-second ad for a 2-minute video and they’re likely to skip the ad when given the option. Better still, getting started is easy — as is gleaning better insight into where your ads are actually running.

Feel Confident in Where Your Ads Are Running

Transparency into where your TV campaigns are running is possible, but as we mentioned, you need partners who align with your values. Partners who values transparency know that:

  • Merging connected TV reports from different DSPs can be confusing. Having too little visibility into which shows your ads appeared next to when buying CTV is more worrisome than ever before. Simulmedia’s TV+’s integrations with clean rooms across major inventory sources allow us to de-duplicate impressions, reach metrics and fuse them into a consolidated dashboard.
  • Non-transparency is the enemy. Google’s debacle is certainly cause for concern, Professional fraudsters who spin out MFAs and armies of bots are even worse — and it’s easy for them to get away with bad practices when visibility is opaque.
  • Look further down-funnel and see how linear and CTV ads drive incremental web visits, app installs, purchases, and other KPIs that matter most to your business. Fraud oftentimes gets harder to perpetrate the further down the funnel you measure, especially when it involves a monetary exchange. TV+ platform provides you with reporting to these lower-funnel metrics at an extremely granular level – by network/publisher, program, daypart, and day of the week on both linear and CTV.
  • Even if fraud isn’t involved, the opaqueness of CTV buying still causes advertisers issues. Access to granular data can change this. TV+ also reads, interprets, and reconciles various programmatic signals to provide show-level reporting, so you can ensure that ads appear next to brand-aligned programs. Your brand may choose to exclude showing up next to certain genres, and seeing show-level campaign data allows marketers to get better peace of mind that their ads are showing up in the right places.

Interested in seeing how Simulmedia can help you gain confidence and take control during this uncertain time? Schedule a demo with one of our experts.