YouTube and the Importance of Image in the Marketing Industry

YouTube is a product of a digital revolution in terms of video content on the Internet. What started out as a platform for user-generated content (UGC) has become one of the most popular websites in the world, even inspiring its own set of vocabulary (YouTuber, “to go viral,” vlogging, etc.). It seems only natural that advertisers would attempt to take advantage of YouTube’s rising popularity. However, while marketers value YouTube as a commercial space, the site’s very nature poses an obstacle to their tactics. That is, the dominance of user-generated content on YouTube discourages marketers from posting on the site.

But why, exactly? According to Mark Andrejevic in his essay Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User-Generated Labor:

The real concern on the part of marketers and commercial content providers seems to be control over the media environment – not whether amateur content can generate revenue, but whether accepting such revenue means ceding the type of control over content to which advertisers have grown accustomed (413).

Screaming ChildIn other words, the problem is not so much the amateur content that the advertisers are being forced to associate with but whether accepting monetization of such videos means relinquishing the control of content in order to make money. In a way, advertisers are like frustrated parents who can’t control their children. Such parents are less concerned with what their rebellious child says but rather, the fact that they can say anything at all without prior permission. YouTube is growing up, and the marketing industry can’t do anything about it.

What’s interesting about this situation is the marketers preoccupation with their own image. As Andrejevic notes, “advertisers have been reluctant to commit major marketing dollars to running brand campaigns alongside grainy, unprofessional home videos” (412). Marketers refuse to invest advertising dollars into YouTube for the mere fact that they may become associated with a certain cat video. Additionally, the uncontrollable nature of UGC may allow certain ads to play over potentially negative content (i.e. automated systems on YouTube may accidentally pair an ad for Sour Patch Kids over a user-generated video mocking Sour Patch Kids and its company). Mainly, marketers are not concerned with the content of the videos, but how that content will reflect on them in the long run.

YouTube’s uncontrollable nature, and the marketing industry’s hesitant response to it, channels a larger, more pertinent idea: the uncontrollable nature of the Internet and thus, its influence over the media. As the hacktivist group Anonymous has demonstrated on multiple occasions, whoever controls the Internet controls information and whoever controls information controls the media, and thus, controls public opinion. The marketing industry’s refusal to adapt to YouTube’s community-based public represents its inability to grasp (or perhaps, its denial of) the uncontrollable nature of the Internet as a whole.

This reluctance to associate with UGC captures the primary reasoning behind advertisers preference for television. On TV, marketers know exactly who they’re targeting and what their product will be associated with. On YouTube, this is not always the case. So while advertisers may appreciate the user-generated data that YouTube supplies, its inability to control its own image through YouTube advertisements prevents the video-site from gaining any real traction in the world of marketing.

Image via Flickr.


Andrejevic, Mark. “Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User-Generated Labor.” The YouTube Reader. Ed. Pelle Snickards and Patricia Vonderau. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009. 406-423. Print.

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