How Advertisers Reach YouTube's Young Audience

25 Jun 2024


(1) Tinhinane Medjkoune, Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, Grenoble INP, LIG France;

(2) Oana Goga, LIX, CNRS, Inria, Ecole Polytechnique, Institut Polytechnique de Paris France;

(3) Juliette Senechal, Université de Lille, CRDP, DReDIS-IRJS France.

Abstract and Introduction


Legislation on Advertising to Children

Mechanisms for Targeting Children

Usage of Placement-Based Targeting


Related Works

Conclusion, Acknowledgements and References



2.1 Advertising on YouTube

Google provides seven broad categories of targeting for advertising on YouTube [33]:

• Location-based: Advertisers can specify the country, city, postal codes, or a radius as small as 1 km around an address.

• Demographic-based: Advertisers can select over 440 combinations of demographic groups based on gender, age, parental status, and household income.

• Behavioral or interest-based: Advertisers can select people with particular interests (such as technology), habits (such as Cinema enthusiasts), or Market Audience and Life Events.

• Re-targeting: Re-targeting allows advertisers to reach on YouTube, the users that visited their websites or application (outside Google or YouTube). Advertisers can also upload a CSV file that contains the contact information (e.g., emails, phone numbers, physical addresses) of the users they want to reach. This data is typically collected through loyalty cards.

• Keyword-based: Advertisers can specify a list of keywords, and their ads will appear when users search for the particular keywords on YouTube.

• Theme-based: This allows advertisers to place their ads on videos related to a specific topic. There are over 26 proposed topics ranging from real estate to art.

• Placement-based: This targeting category is the most interesting to our study. Google allows advertisers to specify precisely on which YouTube channels or videos they wish their ads to appear on (see Figure 1). For example, an advertiser can specify their ad should only appear on the "Food Court: France Edition" video.

Figure 1: Placement-based targeting in Google.

Both theme-based advertising and placement-based advertising are two forms of contextual-based advertising, as the targeting is based only on information related to the content and not the user. For placement-based targeting, the advertiser specifies precisely the placement of the ad; hence, the ad will then appear only on the specific videos selected by the advertiser. For theme-based targeting, the advertiser just specifies the theme, and the ad platform decides what videos are related to the theme selected by the advertiser.

Demographic, behavioral, interest-based as well as re-targeting are forms of profiling-based advertising, as the targeting is based on information gathered on the (historical) activity of the user. This targeting is also sometimes called personalized advertising.

These targeting categories can be combined when placing an ad. In addition, advertisers can set the language, the time when to broadcast the ad and the devices used by the users they want to reach. Google imposes a minimum reach requirement, and ads will not be delivered if Google estimates they have an audience of less than 1000 users. Finally, Google proposes an “audience expansion” feature that gives Google the power to expand the targeting to additional relevant audiences [29].

Google supports different ad formats: (1) in-stream video ads – which appear before, during, or after a YouTube video watched on YouTube or the Display Network. The Display Network is made of applications on mobile phones or websites that partner with Google to serve their ads. A video ad can be skippable or not, depending on the parameters chosen by the advertiser. (2) floating banner ad– which is an image banner shown on top of the video watched for several seconds. And (3) video discovery ads–that can appear on the YouTube search results page, alongside related videos, or on the YouTube homepage.

Transparency All ads are marked with an "Ad" disclaimer. When users are watching an ad, they can click on “Why you’re seeing this ad” to learn what parameters and data were used to target the ad. Figure 4 (appendix) shows a screenshot of such an ad explanation

2.2 Advertising on YouTube Kids

YouTube Kids is a video streaming platform that only contains video content curated for children [37]. While YouTube Kids is widely adopted, still more parents say they are using YouTube to let their children watch videos [45]. Videos that are on YouTube Kids are curated from YouTube according to three age categories: (1) The very young: 4 years old and under; (2) The little ones: 5- 8 years old; (3) The older ones 9-12 years old. The selection is made through a combination of algorithmic detection and manual review [36]. YouTube Kids is “invitation only”, and creators cannot request to participate. Whenever a video exists on the two platforms, YouTube proposes a redirection link to YouTube Kids (see Figure 2 in appendix).

In YouTube Kids, advertising is possible, but the total number of ads delivered is limited. All YouTube Kids Paid Ads must be pre-approved by YouTube’s policy team before being served in the YouTube Kids app. Ads have to follow strict creative guidelines, and many products are prohibited from being advertised, such as food and beauty products [31]. Advertisers cannot instruct Google to show their ads on YouTube Kids–the platform itself curates ads and whitelists them for being shown in YouTube Kids. Moreover, it is not possible to send interest-based ads, it is forbidden to use remarking and tracking pixels, and ads are not allowed to redirect to websites or product purchase paths [31].

Transparency Before being shown an ad, children are presented with a short intro video explaining that what comes next is an ad. In addition, the video ad is marked with an "Ad" disclaimer. On YouTube Kids, there is no equivalent to the “Why you’re seeing this ad” button; hence, there is no way, to our knowledge, to know the precise reasons and parameters why an ad has been shown.

This paper is available on arxiv under CC 4.0 license.