Open Letter To Google Regarding New YouTube Popup Ads

olympic spirit
With Much Respect To The Folks At Google,

The 2010 Olympics are coming, and to get into the spirit of things, my family has been watching great footage from past Olympics and other sports events on your marvelous website, Every four years, everyone from my littlest niece to the honored patriarchs and matriarchs of our family catches Olympic fever as the Winter Games approach, and YouTube is simply matchless when it comes to finding out how favorite athletes have been doing in the various competitions leading up to the Games. We’re especially strong on figure skating around here and it’s pure joy to spend a January afternoon viewing past highlights, medal-winning programs and other fun videos that have been posted by the YouTube community.

But you’ve put a fly in our celebratory Olympic ointment this past couple of weeks with what appears to be your newest methods of ad placement and I think this is important enough to write to you about. I’m well aware that there are many different types of content on YouTube, catering to people with widely different tastes. I can choose to watch or not watch any given video. But choice is abruptly whisked away when I’m watching a lovely, family-friendly figure skating program and suddenly find myself looking at sexual content in the form of a pop-up ad. The campaign I’ve now repeatedly encountered while watching winter sport videos hails from some sort of dating website and the imagery and calls to action are not appropriate for general audiences. The pop-ups appear across the video screen about 10-20 seconds into the videos, without any warning, on videos that have absolutely no relation to the content of the ads.

in response to youtube popup ads
I’m not going to attempt to dictate which companies YouTube/Google might consider as appropriate sponsors, but I do want to issue a request that you start matching ad content to video content. I firmly believe that the responsibility for protecting young people from unwanted messaging falls on the shoulders of parents and guardians, but I also know for a fact that many adults grant their children carte blanche when it comes to Internet use and am certain that children are now being exposed to these sexually-themed pop-up ads on YouTube, even if they are just looking for videos of their favorite skaters, skiers or snowboarders.

Yes, it’s the parents’ responsibility to monitor Internet use, but on a societal level, Google (with its Montessori background) is as aware as I am that many children grow up in neglectful homes and only receive protection of their basic rights and dignity through societal norms and laws. In some nations, it’s illegal to slant ads towards children, and while we have no similar laws in the U.S., I would like to believe that Google doesn’t take this as an invitation to act without conscience in this regard.

I understand that YouTube, like nearly every other Google property, makes its money from selling ad space. I know this won’t change in the near future, so my request is very simple, and I’ve already stated it above. It deserves repetition: please, consider matching ad content to video content. I’d rather you did away with forced pop-up ads all together, folks. As a human being, I find this run of dating ads to be demeaning, depressing and ugly and I don’t like to see them. As a web designer with a strong interest in Human Usability, I find the delivery of pop-up ads to be pushy, overbearing and obnoxious. I always shut them. I never click on them. I feel annoyed that my *choice* has been interrupted by someone else’s choice. I feel a loss of control and a loss of enjoyment. From a marketing standpoint, too, you are hardly serving your sponsors well by showing this type of content to such a broad and irrelevant audience, though this is really the last of my personal concerns.

If this ad format is here to stay on YouTube, please start doing a better job of showing ads to a correctly targeted audience – not my family who is simply trying to enjoy the good spirit of the 2010 Olympics to the fullest. What you are choosing to do with these ads does not have a good spirit, and as a person who has enjoyed YouTube for many years, I thought this was important enough to write to you about.

I welcome your response, as well as public comment.

Miriam Ellis, CEO
Solas Web Design

6 Responses to “Open Letter To Google Regarding New YouTube Popup Ads”

  1. on 21 Jan 2010 at 5:16 pm Mike Ramsey

    Agreed… Think of all the negative press that could come about if a school or business or family was trying to show a video and half way through inappropriate material pops up. Good way to get youtube blocked in even more places. Not a smart move Goog.

  2. on 21 Jan 2010 at 5:20 pm Lori Bourne

    Bravo, Miriam! Thank you for this. You are correct – many children live in homes where parental supervision is not what it should be, and society bears some responsibility in making sure that children aren’t exposed to inappropriate content when watching age-appropriate content.

    Hopefully Larry and Sergey will remember their Montessori beginnings and show “respect for the mind of the child” just as they were shown as young boys.

  3. on 21 Jan 2010 at 5:34 pm admin

    Excellent point, Mike, and if Google continues to deliver such unrelated ad content this way, you can be sure this scenario will be playing out in schools and businesses everywhere. I’m really hoping Google with re-think this. After all, they are pretty good at matching Adwords to Organic searches. They can do the same here, at the very least.

    Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s always so nice to receive a comment from you.

  4. on 21 Jan 2010 at 5:38 pm admin

    Hi Lori!
    I value your opinion on this so highly. Your experience as an educator gives you very special insights into the welfare of the young and I’m glad to know you concur. I second your hopes that Google’s founders will think about the Montessori background and the respect they were shown as children. Terrific point!

    It’s wonderful to have you comment on this, Lori.

  5. on 05 Feb 2010 at 3:24 pm Bernadette

    Thanks for this. In Australia we are faced with similar situations but worse we are seeing it with inappropriate merchandise in general clothing stores. Thanks for taking the time to let them know on behalf of all families across the world.

  6. on 10 Feb 2010 at 8:44 pm admin

    Welcome, Bernadette!
    Yes, sometimes business owners have no concept of how to present a family-friendly shopping experience. That can be very disheartening. I hope you speak up when you see things like this in your neighborhood stores. It can take courage to do this, but it’s the only way to get the ball rolling for change.

    I’m glad you stopped by.

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