Amit Relan
Guest Article

YouTube ads on kids channels raise concerns for advertisers: The rising need for transparency

Our guest author dives into the complexities of ad transparency as YouTube ads for adults infiltrate children's channels, sparking concerns for brand safety.

Is transparency becoming a losing point for advertisers? 

The year 2023 seemed like a year of errors for one of the biggest video advertising platforms. After the case of the TrueView scam, where questions were raised about the authenticity of YouTube video ads, another more significant concern started creeping up in the middle of 2023.

According to a report by Adalytics, an ad quality and transparency platform, YouTube ads for adults are found on kids' channels. Further findings mention that approximately 300 brands' ads promoting adult products were displayed on over 100 kids' YouTube videos.

The importance of transparency

In June 2019, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) was established to cultivate a transparent and ethical digital landscape, safeguarding consumers, the media industry, and society. ASCI's general advertising guidelines, inclusive of child-targeted ads, prioritize honesty and respect, vital in light of recent concerns over inappropriate adult ads appearing on kids' YouTube channels.

Understanding the problem

Let's understand the problem with an example. Suppose an automobile company is looking to target adults for their newly launched car. So, they run an advertising campaign on YouTube. But these ads are shown on a Barbie-themed children's video on a kids' channel for preschoolers whose videos are watched by billions of users, especially children.

When a child clicks on the ad, it gets redirected to the automobile company's website, which saves its cookie for future targeting with tracking software from Google, Meta, and other companies. As a result, for further advertisements meant for adults, children are targeted, violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.

More cases and consequences

Consider a scenario where an ad for a perfume brand with an adulterated theme runs on a channel for kids' rhymes. The advertisers are getting impressions and clicks from kids who are neither the brand's intended audience nor an appropriate one.

A multinational conglomerate conducted a Brand Safety Audit of their sub-brands adult-oriented chocolate product for YouTube campaign placements with mFilterIt. Their ad placements were scanned and analysed for brand safety, with examples classified into brand-safe and brand-unsafe categories, including prohibited, sensitive, contentious, and brand image conflict content.

Out of 838,466 YouTube videos analysed, 4.43% had unsafe placements, and 2.35% were detected as "Made for Kids" videos/placements. This is not just a waste of ad spend and unsafe placements but a massive brand reputation hazard for the FMCG giant's popular sub-brand under a widely popular category.

The need for transparency in ad placement

Transparency has been a questionable thing in the open web programmatic landscape. According to ANA, the open web programmatic market was estimated to be $88 billion in 2023, out of which 25% leads to wastage.

While programmatic has changed the way of advertising, advertisers are still in a black box when it comes to inventory quality. The recent ANA report also highlights the further challenges of advertising in the programmatic space, where 21% of the impressions appear on low-quality websites.

Alongside that, there is an issue of viewability, where there is a lack of visibility on how many people viewed the ads. The key components of a successful ad campaign on an open-web programmatic landscape are that the ad should be viewable by the ideal audience, the ad placement should get real human views, and the ad should be placed beside relevant and brand-safe content.

Lack of transparency creates a gap between the efficiency and effectiveness of an ad campaign for an advertiser.

The way forward

The digital landscape is moving at the speed of light. To survive this dynamic movement, brands need to uplevel their way of advertising. The biggest organisations and associations are coming together to throw light on the need for trust and transparency in the digital ecosystem. Traditional methods of brand safety and ad monitoring will not be effective in combating the evolving issues of digital advertising. The keyword-based brand safety will not be enough to identify unsafe ad placements, especially in a multi-linguistic landscape.

Brands need to broaden their horizon and opt for solutions that provide relevancy and contextual brand protection. With the right solution that enables the identification of unsafe ad placements, thereby empowering advertisers to verify, optimize and protect their ad campaigns resulting in better targeting, greater ROI and avoiding non-relevant ad placements.

The complexities in the programmatic advertising landscape will continue, leading to the creation of a mature programmatic space. To be in the stream with these changes, advertisers need to focus on improving media quality, clean measurements, and safe ad placements, thereby protecting the brand image.

With verification tools, technology for analyzing content quality and brand risk analysis, advertisers can tap the best opportunities. They can implement best practices, optimise and invest in quality inventories, and ensure only human traffic interacts with their digital ads.

The movement towards transparency and safety has started. Advertisers need the right partner to power through the challenges and strive for increased transparency in the programmatic ecosystem to make decisions that matter.


As the digital advertising landscape continues to evolve, the need for transparency and brand safety has become paramount. Advertisers must prioritise solutions that provide contextual brand protection, ensuring their ads are placed in relevant and appropriate environments.

By partnering with the right technology providers and implementing best practices, brands can navigate the complexities of the programmatic ecosystem, optimise their ad spend, and protect their reputation. The call for transparency is clear, and those who embrace it will be well-positioned to succeed in the ever-changing world of digital advertising.

(Our guest author is Amit Relan, Co-Founder and CEO of mFlterIt)

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