A Frustrating Oxymoron in YouTube’s Ad Algorithm

Chad Hughes
3 min readDec 26, 2020


Credit: Nordwood Themes on Unslpash

I might be in the minority, but I enjoy watching ads. They can make you laugh, cry, donate to ASPCA… but most importantly they make your brain perform rigorous mental gymnastics every time a new product catches your attention.

I wonder how expensive that is? Does it come in more colors? I wonder what other features it has? Is all of this legitimate or total bullshit? These questions and more dance around your mind in furious little pirouettes.

As we watch ads, research more into products, and let our subconscious unravel each narrative, the questions begin to fade. You‘ve checked out the website. You’ve read the reviews. Or maybe you weren’t that interested in the first place.

This is where the law of diminishing returns sets in.

For me, it takes seeing the same ad maybe 5 times in a row before I’m dangerously close to buying YouTube Premium. YouTube has the option for you to like or dislike ads, and the ones you like (and others similar to it) show up more times. Should be a good thing, but it isn’t. Because it’s narrowing the selection pool for each video, you’re much more likely to get the same ones over and over again.

On the 10th repetitive ad I find myself poised over the “Skip in 5 seconds” button like a cat over a mysterious, wispy object. On the 20th time I’m ready to close my computer and boycott YouTube and Liberty Mutual forever.

An algorithm that doesn’t consider this factor in advertising is flawed. A better approach would be to expose a viewer with the same ad a couple of times at first, but never twice in a row. Then, wait a few days and show it again, and longer at the next interval, etc. This method accomplishes the purpose of exposure without the burnout.

This just plays into my theory that YouTube’s main goal isn’t to assist advertisers in generating leads — it’s to make the ad process so frustrating that it drives users to purchase YouTube Premium.

All I want is for people to understand that the algorithm might or might not be in their favor. If you or your company advertises on YouTube and wants to beat ad burnout and keep customer attention, follow these points:

1. Create ads in a mini series format.

Make 3–5 small versions of one larger ad, and highlight different points of your marketing message in each video to keep the content fresh and interesting.

2. Update often.

Don’t be afraid to film a new set every quarter or even sooner. If you think your product might be a great gift for dad on Father’s Day, film a mini series for it. Your target market might celebrate another more quirky holiday. Help people prepare for International Dog Day, Shades Day, or Naked Gardening Day (note: this link will not take you to any seedy images). The point is to change at relevant times. Automotive commercials are great at this.

3. Demographic hop.

This could be a great way to test a new set of viewers while giving others a break. If your target audience likes you, they will have probably checked out your website in the first few views already. Try something close to your original message, or come at it from a different orientation. If this isn’t an option for you…

4. Take a break.

The reality is that YouTube ads are an effective means of reaching mass amounts of consumers, but there are other avenues. Work out a sponsorship. Partner with another brand. Do something cool. Don’t write it off entirely but just be wary about making it your only communication medium.

I’ve never seen anything that’s brought me closer to a product than this film. Ads aren’t going away any time soon, but every day thousands of people are installing ad-blockers onto their browser and investing in ad-free subscriptions. We’re seeing a shift in the way businesses communicate with consumers and I hope this helps you ride the wave.

(Note: This is all opinion and I don’t wish YouTube or Liberty Mutual any ill will. They just annoy the crap out of me.)



Chad Hughes

Hey there! I'm a marketing guy who's passionate about everything from design and music, to AI and aerospace.