My wife pulled me aside during the holiday break.

“Ben, I think my phone might have been hacked.”

“That doesn’t sound good.  What do you mean?”

“Well, when Sydney [our 3-year-old daughter] is watching YouTube on my phone, I get these alerts that look like iPhone warnings but they aren’t clickable.  Maybe it’s a virus?”

“Can you show me next time?”

The YouTube ad experience is fascinating.  It is here that optimization of the trade-off between interruption and engagement plays out at scale.

Every day, users watch 1 billion hours of video content on Youtube, and more than half of it was on mobile devices.   So.  Much. Inventory.

“I’m not sure what’s happening, but can you show it to me the next time it happens?  There are lots of weird ads out there that pretend to be apps, maybe we can figure out how to block it.”

In the car on the way to the airport, my wife is keeping our toddler busy using her phone.  Yep, the YouTube app to the rescue!

“It’s happening again!”

My wife hands me her phone.  It’s playing an ad I’ve seen a few dozen times for the Google Photos app that targets iPhone users.  You know the one.  You don’t?


YouTube offers video ads in three flavors: “TrueView in-stream ads, TrueView video discovery ads, and bumper ads. While video ad content must be hosted on YouTube, video ads can appear on YouTube and on video partner sites and apps across the Display Network”  The In-stream ad inventory Google sells can be targeted by device OS and even device model – say, my wife’s aging but still working iPhone 6s.  When you’re a parent trying to keep a kid occupied, you also watch YouTube for extended periods,  like TV available everywhere, in the same experience.  Net: we’re at the platform’s mercy when it comes to ads.

“That’s actually an ad for the Google Photos app.  They store your photos in the cloud, saving space on your phone. They want iPhone users to switch away from iCloud/iPhoto.  This ad is really obvious and even funny on TV, but it’s downright confusing on an Apple Device while watching YouTube.”

We have Macs at home and are pretty deep into the iPhone iCloud/iPhoto universe.  Chipping away at this is key for Google to reduce the friction of switching to Android, especially with their brand new Pixel, which I have heard is pretty nice phone (that runs Android).

Sales of the Google Pixel were forecast to reach almost $4 billion, representing an estimate of 5-6 million Pixel devices. It’s a small share of the total smartphone market, but a priority one for Google.  Apple routinely claims the lion’s share of the Profit in the category, while its installed base of android devices is far larger.  A strong entry into this market could improve penetration  with a key consumer target.  So, it’s not surprising that Google’s house ad inventory would be helpful. However, initial indications are, this is not yet the case. Analytics provider Flurry captures the spirit: Apple Holds Holiday Share; Google Nowhere In Sight


The results point to some clear limits around the market power of Google to push its own devices.  With visibility into every mobile device I’ve checked my email on, Google should know if I’m a die hard Apple user, switching between platforms easily, or even the owner of a Kindle Fire table (guilty as charged).  So-called “house ads” are a notorious phenomenon in the publishing world, and it is striking to think of Google’s opportunities for rich media house ad campaigns.  However,  selling the phone may be too much, perhaps.  Google Home and its voice-controlled brethren –another story.

“So I’m not being hacked?”

“No.  Actually, this is targeted marketing by G-“

“May I have the phone back now?”


Happy New Year!


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