Has Advertising Gone Too Far?

Has Advertising Gone Too Far?

Has Advertising Gone Too Far?

It was a Wednesday afternoon and our team were reminiscing about our favourite childhood tv shows; we all agreed that Fireman Sam was one of the best and this then prompted us to watch the very old, original opening sequence. We happily watched and got all the feelings of nostalgia rushing back to us. As we discussed our childhoods, the next video started to play, and this is where the idea came for this blog post.

Here is a screenshot of the video below, look closely – do you notice anything concerning?

If you didn’t see anything strange, look again. You see those little yellow dashes? They are adverts. So that means that, for an hour-long show, the child watching is exposed to 48 ads. We were shocked at this statistic so decided to delve deeper into the YouTube world.

Digital First ran an experiment to learn about advertising on YouTube; what channels attract advertising the most? What is the average number of adverts per minute? And what kind of adverts are there?

We decided to compare kids tv show channels to lifestyle channels; these are both very popular on the platform but has two very different audiences.

YouTube for Kids

The first part of the experiment was gathering data; we used 8 videos of different shows to gather a varied sample. Shows included: Polly Pocket, Teletubbies, Om Nom & Bob the Builder. First thing we noticed was the length of the videos, the average running time was 56 minutes. This means that the children will engage with this video for just under an hour; whether this be on a long car journey, at dinner out or a treat before bed, either way - they’re locked in and committed to this video.

We then took note of how many adverts were on each video from the sample 8. Here is what we found:

That’s a total of 369 adverts over 453 minutes, which calculates that 1 advert is shown every 1.2 minutes. That’s a crazy calculation! Why do adverts need to be this highly exposed to kids?

The next stage in the experiment was to see how the adverts were formatted. This is because we didn’t understand why big companies paid to put their message on kid’s channels, when they have no purchasing power.

From the 8, and browsing other videos, the adverts all seemed to follow the same two formats:

Source: Creator Academy

Here is an example (note that the adverts in this image are based on my search history – so they probably won’t appeal to kids):

From looking at this screenshot, they’re not the most intrusive adverts (more on that later) and they don’t stop the video playing - so the high number doesn’t seem too bad now does it? We disagree. You see, this is how the channel publishing the content makes money through ads:

  • Display ads (the one at the top right) - a viewer sees the ad or if the ad is clicked on.
  • Overlay ads (the banner on the video) - a viewer clicks on the overlay to expand and view the full ad.

So let’s get into the mindset of a child… the display ads will not bother them since it doesn’t interfere with the video but it will still be present on the page, and that qualifies as them ‘seeing’ the ad.

BOOM the creator is paid!

The overlay ads on the other hand; they pop up in the video and will annoy the kid watching, so what will they do? They’ll try to click the extremely small ‘x’ in the corner to close it, which usually results on clicking the ad anyway and being transferred to their page.

And BOOM the creator is paid!

These are very clever tactics and each channel now seems to be displaying the same strategy.

However, that’s from the creator perspective; but what about from the advertisers themselves? They effectively choose where they place their ads, so why is there such a high volume on kid’s videos?

‘Advertisers look at YouTube as way to reach and target audiences. If your audience is really engaged, and if they’re a demographic that brands really want to reach, advertisers may be willing to pay to run ads on channels like yours.’


The first thing that stuck out there was the word engaged - remember we discovered that children’s shows are on average 56 minutes? There’s reason one why advertisers love these channels.

Next up, we have a handy checklist from YouTube themselves, that helps creators be more attractive to advertisers. Let’s see if this relates to the kids tv show channels:

  • Who’s your audience? Where are your viewers, what’s their demographic, and is it easy for advertisers to see this?

    Easy, children! It’s SO easy to see this, since it is showing tv shows that are made for kids.

  • What makes connecting to viewers through your content desirable to advertisers? Why should they promote on your channel? Will your audience be excited about their products or services?

    You’ve already got their engagement for over 30 minutes but add in the bonus of promoting extremely fun toys or any sort of product in an advert – then they’ll get excited and will think ‘I want that!’

  • How large or loyal is your audience? Having diverse and engaged viewers all over the world can be appealing to advertisers.

    These channels attract big numbers, here’s some examples:

  • Is your content friendly for all audiences? Many advertisers and brands will not want to associate with content that isn't appropriate for a family audience, so if your content is age-restricted, it may be more difficult to attract advertisers.

    This is a resounding YES

  • Does the voice of your own brand remain unique and original? Staying "true to your roots" may help you keep your existing audience as you continue to grow your own brand and reach.

    This doesn’t really matter when you’ve got constant content available to keep kids entertained.


This research has shown that children are a fantastic audience to market to; they click on the ads, they engage for long periods of time on each video and they’ll get excited for the content advertised to them.

YouTube for Adults

Now let’s compare this information to another popular subject for channels on YouTube; Lifestyle. This is a very broad topic that covers; vlogs, fashion, make up, reviews, relaxation and so much more.

We followed the same format and analysed another 8 videos to document the channel, the run time of each video and how many adverts were present.

That’s a total of 22 adverts over 175 minutes, which calculates as 1 advert shown every 8 minutes. The ad number is much lower compared to the kid’s channels and the length of the videos are much shorter (trust me we tried to find hour long lifestyle videos, but they don’t exist).

So what strategy is being used here? Let’s look at some examples.

First up we have Grav3yard Girl and she seems to follow the same ad placement as the children’s channels:

This will have the same impact on her audience and she’ll be paid accordingly.

However, as we investigated further, we discovered that each YouTuber uses a range of advertising techniques and they don’t stick to the same format as kids.

These formats all depend on the channel, for example ‘Non-skippable ads’ are for larger channels:

Source: Creator Academy

Good Mythical Morning is a channel that has 12.9M and always places an advert, that you cannot skip, before the video starts. The way they get paid is if the viewer watches the whole advert and because they have dedicated audience, they’ll watch the advert to get to their content.

This style wouldn’t work for smaller channels, as it may deter new viewers since they don’t know the content after the ad.

YouTubers combat this by going for ‘Skippable ads’:

Source: Creator Academy

Kendall Rae has 708k subscribers and she chooses just this, so her audience and new viewers have the option skip to get to her content. They’re not forced into watching an advert. And the way she’ll get paid is if a viewer watches 30 seconds or till the end of the advert. This won’t be as profitable as ‘Non-skippable’ ads, but it won’t damage her growth.

We’ve discovered that the size of the audience depends on the advert types, but in both instances the message is still explicit as it interrupts the video for a minimum of 5 seconds. That’s enough to imprint on the viewer.

Finally, let’s answer; why videos for adult audiences have far less adverts present, compared to kid’s channels?

This can be summarised into a few points:

  • Adult audiences don’t want to be bombarded with adverts, so creators must limit the number on their videos
  • If creators don’t limit their ads, then they’ll lose viewers, and this will damage their brand
  • Adult audiences are more aware of advertising so changing the ad format will be the most effective way to make an impact
  • The audience for each adult channel is more niche; they have specific values and will be harder to market to than kids

So, have advertisers on YouTube taken it too far? They understand that kids will be watching a video for a long period of time, and that is a great opportunity to plug their products as much as 1 ad per minute. But is it just the advertisers to blame? The channels that produce the content are profiting off this too.

Can’t we just go back to the good old days where kids played outside and were only susceptible to ads when Saturday morning cartoons were on.

Those were the days…

Posted by Lucy Richards

Lucy is the Marketing Manager at Digital First, she focuses on social media management, content creation and branding. She previously worked in the investment banking industry for over two years, but decided to pursue her dreams of travel and marketing; and emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. She graduated from the Glasgow Caledonian University in 2014 with a Bachelors degree in Entertainment and Events Management.

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