Ten years ago, Google launched AdSense, a service that allowed creators and businesses to mutually benefit from running advertisements before, during and after videos. AdSense has since generated over $7 billion for a community of creators reaching far into the multi-millions.
In 10 short years, the digital advertising structure has been revolutionized by AdSense, which has ultimately gone on to alter how ads are bought and sold online. Video advertising has exploded online according to a 2012 Social Media Examiner report:
“A significant 76% of marketers plan on increasing their use of YouTube and video marketing, making it the top area marketers will invest in for 2012.”
Unquestionably, AdSense and YouTube introduced the world to a brand new career path, allowing creators to earn a living (in some cases a six-figure one) following their passion. But, for all of its outstanding contributions to the world of online video, AdSense also brought with it several negative consequences.
Black Hat Marketing Invades YouTube
As AdSense was rolled out by Google, people began realizing that money could be squeezed out of YouTube through a variety of scams and hacks. Forums like Black Hat World have entire threads dedicated solely to inorganically driving traffic to videos using any number of “black hat” or unethical marketing techniques.
One Black Hat World member writes about YouTube marking his comments as spam even after he used several bots and IP masks:
“I use [SIC] to be able to just copy and paste the same comment and mass post it on lots of videos. I didn’t even use a different account or change my IP… Now however this is not the case. I tried using Proxies and YT accounts. I tried switching proxy provider and YT account provider, still no luck.”
This exchange proves two interesting points about the role AdSense plays on YouTube: (1) Google seems to be doing a damn good job of staying one step ahead of black hat techniques and (2) people are doing everything they can to drive inorganic traffic to their videos.
Once money entered into the YouTube equation, the entire platform was cheapened in many ways by scammers, reply girls and a host of other snake oil peddlers. That’s not to say that YouTube could have ever prevented those things — the promise of money in any format is bound to bring out a Nigerian Prince or two.
A Lack Of Control For Creators
And what of the YouTube creator? How has AdSense helped or hindered their careers? In most cases, the advertising structure has been a blessing to creators as it’s allowed them to launch careers solely through YouTube. AdSense gave us a new type of celebrity for a new generation.
Creators have had their fair share of AdSense woes in the past, though. Last year, one of YouTube’s biggest names, Ray William Johnson, entered a very public dispute with Maker Studios. Johnson claimed that Maker Studios was holding his AdSense account “hostage” even after he had terminated his contract with them.
The entire event shed a light on what happens when corporate entities step in to manage creators and their money. It was the ugly side of things on YouTube, a slice of creator life that saw many partners being taken advantage of just for an AdSense percentage
Control became a talking point among the YouTube community soon after as creators began questioning how and why ads were being selected for their channels. “The whole thing is really unpredictable,” says popular creator Qaadir Howard. For him, having no real say on what ads run before his videos is a huge downside. “I find that some YouTube creators have priority over what ads run before their videos more so than others,” said Howard.
The actual ads in AdSense have been a major point of contention for some, including entrepreneur Jason Calacanis who wrote about the lack of creator control in a recent blog post:
“YouTube controls consumers and advertisers already, and they are using special events like ‘YouTube Comedy Week’ to control #2,” writes Calacanis, “If you’re building a publishing company on YouTube, you now have no control over advertising and consumers, and you’re going to lose your talent next.”
Calacanis is relating this point to networks in this case, but the principle applies to individual creators as well. Advertising for a specific market online isn’t the “one box” experience Google is selling it as. Just because you own a gaming channel does not mean Ubisoft or EA ads will do well on it. However, AdSense is selling advertisements in that way. With no control over ads, gaming creators are left with ads in the broad category of “gaming,” beauty gurus in “cosmetics” and so on.
We’ve seen this type of one-size-fits-all strategy pre-YouTube with the advent of the blogosphere. For years, advertisers saw huge numbers on blogs and figured that, for example, automotive blogs could run any type of car ad and it would sell. However, as time has passed we have seen that strategy die down as more niche ads took over.
Blogs like Rock, Paper, Shotgun, which only cover specific PC gaming news have a built-in audience of PC gamers. These are the new niche markets of the internet. Google’s current AdSense structure, however, does not accommodate this type of advertising.
Despite its flaws, AdSense has irrevocably changed the face of digital media forever. It has supported a platform for talented entertainers who, without YouTube, may not have ever reached millions of homes — and for that, we can all be thankful.
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