AdWords Using Product Recognition Technology to Show Shopping Ads on YouTube?

My boss, Jordon Meyer, was looking for help to perform some maintenance on a speedometer cable in his 1988 Range Rover Classic. As most people do nowadays, he searched on YouTube for an instructional video to help make the task easier. When viewing the video, everything seemed normal until he hit the 50 second mark. It was at this point the man in the video held up a can of speedometer lube to show to the camera.

speedometer cable lube video

At the exact same moment, a block of Shopping ads appeared in between the title bar and the video description. What’s the first product we see? You guessed it. The same PJ1 Cable Lube can the man is using in the video. After the familiar product we see a bunch of related products a viewer can scroll through just like on a desktop search on

product recognition shopping ads on youtube


If you click on the Sponsored icon in the top right of the ad set, you see the following message from AdWords…

relevant product ads in youtube

Yeah that’s right. I watch Star Wars theory videos on YouTube

Google is flat out telling us they’re showing related products to viewers based on the video content they are watching on YouTube. A new possibility for Shopping placements? No one at Granular has seen this in the wild before or have heard of YouTube doing this.

The really wild thing about this exact product showing in the video and shopping ad is that the product is not mentioned anywhere in the title or description of the video. This is beyond simple text-based contextual targeting.

What I Can’t Confirm

  • If the YouTube Channel Is Involved in Any Way – Our initial assumptions are “no.” The video is noticeably created by an amateur and not a store. It’s safe to assume this user isn’t running AdWords and doesn’t have his own Merchant Center account. We can assume this because all the products in the Shopping ad section are from different retailers.
  • What Image Recognition Technology Google Is Using – Our initial assumption here is we’re seeing same technology which helps run Google Goggles.  This is an app which allows users to take a picture, then upload it to Google Search to find results. Using Google Goggles technology would make sense and be of no surprise whatsoever if Google has this technology in place on other channels.

How This Could Affect Retailers on YouTube

AdWords advertisers can already sync their Merchant Accounts with YouTube to start running TrueView for Shopping campaigns. This allows advertisers to show related products based on their own videos. But with this new placement of Shopping ads, other retailers could show up if your videos contain products other businesses can also sell. Does this force YouTube channels from eCommerce brands to run ads on their own videos to make sure competitors don’t show up? Who knows.

This is the only example we’ve seen this scenario occur in the wild. It’s also the first time we’ve seen any type of contextual product targeting like this on YouTube. If you have any other ideas or have noticed these type of Shopping ads pop up as well please leave a comment below.

Update 2/28/17: Ginny Marvin from Search Engine Land weighed in with her opinion. She believes these are contextually targeted ads potentially related from the video title, tags and/or description.