Do advertisers actually care about YouTube’s struggles with disturbing and hateful content?
Based on the cheers at this year’s NewFronts presentation whenever a “YouTube-first” campaign was mentioned, and the apparent acceptance of chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki’s third straight year of assurances that the Google-owned video platform is “committed” to tackling such a “serious” issue, the answer can only be no. Nevertheless, the problem persists (a live-stream of a congressional hearing regarding hate speech on YouTube became so overrun with hate speech that the company took the rare step of turning the comments off completely) as YouTube relies on hosting as much content as possible to keep growing its user base, which currently sits at 2 billion active users a month.
Johnson & Johnson even made a lengthy presentation of its own on how wonderful a partner YouTube has been over the last year, helping the personal-care company increase sales of a new Listerine product and inform product launches around trending topics, like lemons in at-home skin care. Johnson & Johnson had announced a global boycott of YouTube in 2017 over concerns that its ads were appearing next to violent or politically extreme videos.
“YouTube is the only partner where you don’t just learn who your consumer is, but what they want,” Alison Lewis, Johnson & Johnson’s chief marketing officer, said during her segment. She added that the company has increased its spending with YouTube by 250 percent over the last three years and intends to continue using a YouTube-first strategy.
So much for that boycott. Until YouTube’s user base starts to decline, advertiser boycotts or even concerns are likely to remain fleeting, at best. And with a new slate of shows with popular YouTubers and major stars, more views than ever (channels with over a billion views have grown by 400 percent) and a new commitment to keep YouTube TV forever free with ad support, any decline is unlikely at this point.
Alicia Keys is coming to YouTube this summer with a new show “Unwind,” in which she’ll speak with other artists and celebs about their process, but in a “really casual way.” Keys, who also performed at YouTube’s after party, said the style of the show “leads to places you can’t even imagine.” She added that what drew her to YouTube is the ability to “claim my own narrative” and of course, promote upcoming music and a book she’s written with Oprah Winfrey.
Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business officer, said simply: “All the biggest stars want to be on YouTube.” Case in point, the platform has a “top secret project” in the works with Justin Bieber, which Kyncl said “promises to be one of the most talked about YouTube originals ever.”
Tiffany Haddish is getting more into YouTube, too, with a new channel coming and her own original show coming to the platform. The actor and comedian was on hand to talk up the platform in her signature way, and how much she’s been able to learn from YouTube’s catalogue of how-to videos. “I’m a mechanic…I’m a reiki master now…I can build a house…I can do hair now. Did you know you can open up your own bank? Watch out Bank of America…If you don’t know how to make bread, go to YouTube! They got everything.”
As for her upcoming projects with the platform, Haddish said there will be some gardening (there was talk of selling vegetables with Oprah) and some “celebrity hoarder” action, because so many of them get so much for free and keep it. “It’ll be more of a home invasion situation,” Haddish joked.
But the speaker who seemed to get to the heart of what YouTube is was the “creator” Simone Giertz, who has gained popularity and millions of video views for comic inventions, like an alarm clock she affixed with a rotating hand to slap her awake.
First, she got a crowd of young fans YouTube brought in to surround the stage to give her a second chance to make her entrance so she could record their reaction. “I just assume this is a safe space for the awkwardness of content creation,” Giertz said, touching on the calculated, unreal aspect of social media content.
She went on to discuss her realization that people were “excited to watch me being excited,” and that her success with YouTube started after she had been ignored by traditional levers of celebrity, like an agency in her native Sweden. However, she admitted that no executive would likely support some of her content, like cleaning out the septic tank on her house boat. Giertz also admitted to at first feeling defeated by posting content to YouTube because “they literally take everyone.” The quip got a big laugh from the audience.
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