Obituary Pirates and Brand Safety

Posted by Brand Safety Institute • May 10, 2023 6:33:41 PM

 MarketingBrew is out with an article about news-like obituaries appearing on YouTube in what appears to be an effort create cheap, monetizable content.

Obituaries for Stubblefield are also on YouTube, like a video titled “Gary Stubblefield passed away, family, Carl Junction community mourn his death.” Instead of featuring the sorts of photos and anecdotes you might expect from a news outlet, the video features a man who encourages viewers to subscribe to the YouTube channel before reading what appears to be part of an obituary for Stubblefield.

Like sites that copy and republish obituaries, which seem to rely on online searches for people’s deaths to attract traffic and ad dollars, some YouTube channels appear to be deploying a similar strategy.

Occam’s razor would suggest that these videos are created for profit, intended to attract ad dollars by mining the complex and opaque systems of programmatic advertising. Marketing Brew saw ads for TurboTax and Virgin Atlantic play before the Stubblefield video, and ads for Wix, HBO’s Succession, SeatGeek, and Jack Link’s play across other similar videos.

The article notes that these videos are unlikely to fall afoul of GARM's brand safety standards.

Content related to death is considered low-risk so long as it’s “educational, informative, [or] scientific,” or within the context of a “news feature story on the subject,” according to the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), an industry group created by the World Federation of Advertisers to create standards for brand safety and suitability. However, the group was probably not considering videos like these. GARM did not respond to Marketing Brew’s request for comment.

However that doesn't mean the videos aren't problematic. As BSI co-founder Neal Thurman explains, "There are lots of reasons not to want to be associated with what appears to be poorly produced content, even if obituaries don't seem like they'd inappropriately make it through the GARM filter. There's nothing inherently unsafe about an obit. It just sounds like the quality of the obits that they're referring to is poor which is a different problem."

Poor- or low-quality content tends to attract bad actors. Within the programmatic landscape we know that this type of content is widely available and has limited oversight, which allows for unintended partnerships and alliances. We also know that when the supply chain is not clean, that well-intentioned campaigns could easily go awry.

What you can do:

As a reminder here are some steps you can take to steer clear of low-quality inventory.

  • Downplay your reliance on programmatic channels and go directly to premium channels.
  • Use TAG certified channels
  • Analyze log files to understand where your CPM floor should be, based on historical activity
  • Make sure you're using IAB tech labs protocols (ads.txt, apps-ads.txt, buyers.json, sellers.json)

With a host of resources such as checklists, best practice guides, and instructional videos from industry experts on current challenges in brand safety, the Brand Safety Institute can help you navigate the pitfalls of digital advertising. Whether you use our tools or have your own, industry best practices in brand safety and suitability include ensuring that you know what your ads are appearing next to and supporting financially. Your brand’s reputation depends on it.

The BSI also offers certifications for individuals and organizations so that marketers can be out in front of ongoing challenges when it comes to protecting your brand.


Topics: Brand Safety, Standards, YouTube, Brand Suitability, IAB Tech Lab, TAG