The Truth behind YouTube: Can the TV-Industrial Complex Corrupt YouTube?

When I talk about the future of YouTube and my opinion against the interruption business I notice two things: (1) users are really tired with advertising, and get dissapointed every time there’s an ad hidden in YouTube, and (2) people don’t like my ideas, because they prefer to stay with the status quo and keep doing advertising as always have been done.

In any case, that’s the truth. People don’t want to watch ads of anything related with them, and brands still treat YouTube as they did on TV.

We shouldn’t forget that YouTube is a platform that follows the money (as they should), but far too often we forget that the money is where we, the marketers, decide where to put it. In the end is up to us whether we decide to interrupt people or not, it’s our choice. And until we don’t decide to take the steering wheel, YouTube will still offer the interruption model that TV used for decades.

Before you start disagreeing with me, let me put some context of why is YouTube in the position it is right now, and where my hate to advertising and the interruption model began.

My adventures in Asia

I spent a few years working and traveling through Asia. Most of the time I lived in Shanghai, which was a city that I really loved but also hate from time to time. But let me explain you why, because that was when I started to hate ads, and I think you’d hate them too.

My offline experience in Shanghai

Shanghai is a terrific city where everything’s possible. If you like technology, fashion, food, and cultures, Shanghai is one of the best cities I’ve been. It’s like NYC on steroids. But the ads… that plays in another league.

Let me put you into context, and show you one of my typical days (in terms of advertising):

I went out of my apartment watched an ad while I waited for the elevator (I lived in a 18th floor and there are TVs everywhere), I watched another ad inside the elevator and in my way out I would hear the same ad from the TV at the hall.

On my way to the subway I’d watched 3 ads: 2 while waiting to go in and out; and another one inside the train. Well actually two, one is on the TVs inside the train an another one is projected on the tunnel, to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

I had the gym in my office’s building so I watched another 3 ads in the elevator, again inside the gym on their TVs. Also in my way out I’d watched the ads 3 more times in my way to the office.

And… I don’t want to continue because you’d give up with this post. But by the time I arrived to the office I had more than 10 impacts… And it was 9 a.m. (!)

And the problem was that almost always it was the same ad played over and over and over again. So, at the end of the day I had seeing the same ad more than 30 times. It went so far that at some point I couldn’t read because I had the music of the ad on my head. (I’m not making this up.)

So, even though I loved Shanghai not everything could be perfect. And it turns out that this happens in every major city in Asia.

I’ve been in Mordor

I mean, I’ve been in the future and I’ve seen how YouTube looks like. And it’s not as beautiful as agencies and mediums tell you.

When I went to China and came back for the first time, I’ve noticed that we were behind on some things, technologically speaking. That idea started to resonate in my mind when I saw an old woman paying at a small shop with her phone. I don’t know in your countries but in Spain that won’t happen. Not today, not even in a few years.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that big companies such as Google or Facebook, in the end they copy what Chinese companies do. For example, Facebook has been copying WeChat for a while. In fact, I remember when they started to release some new features last year, I had been using them for a while in China.

And the same happens here with YouTube. I know very well Youku—the Chinese YouTube—and if I’m doing this movement right now is not because I want to, but because I have to.

In terms of advertising, I’ve been in Mordor, and I want to warn you that is not as fancy as it looks.

Youku is hell. It’s based on pure interruption, showing ads everywhere. It’s even worse that my offline experience in China with ads.

And you know what? This doesn’t happen only in China.

Youku users are mainly from China (actually YouTube is restricted there), but what’s more interesting here is what YouTube is doing (and testing) overseas in Asia.

The truth here is that YouTube is testing how to interrupt more people in their platform.

In Asia I’ve been in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia… I’ve been in places most people would love visit, and of course in places where people wouldn’t want to. That’s the deal when you want to know any culture. And I’ve seen this not only in China.

It turns out that in every of these countries YouTube is playing the interrupting game again and again and again. So it’s easy for us to predict what’s coming.

This is like Facebook copying WeChat, but in this case Youtube western edition is copying the eastern edition. So this is gonna happen whether we want it or not.

Well… Maybe we can do something about it.

The small difference between Google and YouTube

In order to understand really where this comes from, we’ve got to go a couple of decades ago and with the definition of Permission Marketing from Seth Godin:

“Permission marketing is the right, not the privilege, to deliver anticipated, personalized, and relevant messages to an audience that wants to get them.” — Seth Godin

Again and again we’ll remark this idea throughout this blog. As you can see it’s nothing new. Seth Godin has been talking about it over the years in his work.

Google’s approach

Early on, Google did their best marketing decision they could ever have done. And that was making a system that was able to anticipate and personalize ads in the searches, so by its nature their advertising is relevant.

People that goes to Google with a problem they hope to find a solution. And in that precise moment is when they don’t mind to see ads that help them to solve a problem. A problem that they know they have. So as it goes, Google makes their ads relevant.

I’m not going to talk about Google Adsense because I think that goes with a different idea, but Google Adwords —in the context of Google’s search—is brilliant, and that’s the reason Google makes billions of dollars in advertising.

YouTube’s approach

On the other hand, with YouTube is different. Well, they also make billions of dollars in profits but they miss the point here.

Their advertising is based on anticipated and personalized messages, but, and this is a big but, they are not relevant.

These ads are based on the TV mindset that interrupts people.And I don’t think that somebody that goes to watch an episode of something would want to be interrupted, even though the message might be personalized.

People don’t want to waste their time watching ads. And being honest, I don’t remember the last time I was looking for an ad on YouTube. But I do remember several times when I clicked on ads in Google.

The TV-Industrial complex

So here we go again with Seth Godin. Seth Godin in almost all his books have talked about the TV-Industrial complex. For years. So this is not new and I’m not rediscovering anything.

Image from The Purple Cow by Seth Godin

In the chart above you can see how the television industry—the one that Procter & Gamble and other big companies brought us—actually works.

This is a cycle that start buying ads. Then you hire a sales force to interrupt people. Lots of people. Because in their mindset, if you have money you have the right do it. Then you get more distribution, which leads you to sell more stuff and make money. And the circle goes again and again, putting every time more money to interrupt more people.

That’s how the TV-Industrial complex works.

When people talk about CPVs this is the model they have in mind.

And this is the reason at some point YouTube Ads won’t work anymore. Because everybody is busy interrupting people until one day they discover that Ad-Block won’t let them keep doing it.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Back to 2008 Seth Godin explained in a talk called Why Marketing is Too important to be left to the Marketing Department, how works what he describes as the Fashion/Permission Complex:

Image from Why Marketing is Too important to be left to the Marketing Department talk by Seth Godin

Step 1: make something worth talking about. If you can’t do that, start over.

Step 2: tell it to people who want to hear from you.

Step 3: they do what people used to think of as marketing. They’re the ones who spread the word. They’re the ones who interrupt their friends. 

Step 4: Get permission from these people to tell them about your next fashion. So as your asset base grows, you don’t have to start from scratch every time.

This is how successful brands have become successful.

However, there are still so many brands that don’t get it, trying to find customers for their products—which is futile. It’s the other way around: you’ve got to find products for your customers.

The hard truth is that you don’t do that by running ads on YouTube or paying YouTubers to talk about your products that nobody wants. Today brands can’t buy our attention. They can spend millions of dollars, but we, the consumers, have learned how to ignore them.

Elon Musk understands that advertising is dead

From the beginning Elon Musk understood that attention is earned, not bought. Thus, by understanding that basic principle—among other things—Tesla has become the most valuable US automaker.

But Elon Musk is not the only one. Jeff Bezos also understood this when at Amazon decided to put the advertising money into free shipping instead. Did it pay off? You betcha.

In the long run, leaving behind the TV-industrial complex is not only the right thing to do, it’s also profitable. What they have done is building a permission asset where people are eager to hear from them, that when they receive a new email from them, they are thrilled to see what it is about.

It’s time to level up

It’s not comfortable to admit it, but advertising died a long time ago. And here we come again to the idea of growth and numbers. Yes, advertising still gives you numbers. But it is a short-term solution for a sure death.

Now is the time to ask how to change a business to be able to use the new tools. Not use the tools to feed your existing business.

Nevertheless, fighting change is hard. It takes guts to stop doing what it seems to be your main traffic income, but in the end, you’ve got no choice but to challenge the status quo.

The only way is to stop running ads on YouTube and make a remarkable product. It’s cheaper too.

I believe we should make some change happen now, before is too late on YouTube.

It’s not about us, the marketers. In the end, a good marketer is the one who thinks and communicates with the final consumer in mind. And clearly here the only ones that benefit from these practices are the companies that don’t want to change and keep making money by interrupting people.

Every brand should aimed to be missed if one day they don’t show up. And that won’t happen by running ads on YouTube or spamming people with the help of the YouTubers.

“Twenty years later, marketing is still taught backwards. It’s assumed that marketing is something we do TO our audience, for the sole purpose of meeting our own goals. But marketing is now something we do WITH our tribe, helping them reach their goals first.” — Seth Godin

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