Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 | 6 min read
What’s the difference between a video ad that inspires eye-rolls and skips, and one that simply inspires?
The answer can be found in AdWeek and Google’s YouTube Ads Leaderboard list for 2015, which rounds up the most-viewed video ads posted to YouTube last year. To qualify for the Leaderboard, videos must be marked as ads on YouTube (meaning they get some paid views) and must also earn substantial organic views.
The winning ads are fun, engaging pieces of content in their own right, and, while they were initially conceived for a paid advertising campaign, many rival some of the best organic content posted to YouTube throughout the year. In fact, two ads made the top 10 list of most-watched videos of the year, alongside pop culture hits like Justin Bieber singing karaoke and Obama reading mean things people tweet about him.
YouTube’s Kate Stanford points out that we spent roughly 30 million hours—or about 3,500 years—watching the ads featured on 2015’s monthly YouTube Ads Leaderboards. For brands, this means that consumers are definitely willing to pay attention to video advertising, as long as it’s a worthwhile experience.
What can marketers learn from these ads as they plan their video campaigns for 2016? Let’s take a look at some of the big-picture reasons why these commercials were so crazy-successful.
A couple brands on this list have clearly figured out that one of the most effective ways to capture your audience’s attention is to introduce an element of surprise into your marketing. About halfway through this sexy Durex ad, after a good amount of build-up, there’s a surprising twist that makes everyone laugh (hint: the key to improving your sex life is way more straightforward than you’d imagine).
Similarly, the seemingly-epic Clash of Clans ad quickly shifts to a mundane scene: Liam Neeson waiting for a scone, having his name butchered by a barista, just like the rest of us. In both cases, the punchline is unanticipated, clever, and entertaining, which means the ad is far more likely to stick with the viewer and make an impression.
It’s a good thing these advertisers seem to have done their homework, applying knowledge about YouTube’s viewer demographics as they crafted their campaigns.
Millennials are a major audience on YouTube; the platform attracts more Millennial viewers than cable television. And it’s no secret that Millennials are passionate about social issues, so, naturally, content that appeals to this cohort’s commitment to social change catches the eye of key YouTube viewers.
Often, these ads are warm-hearted and positive, with a big-picture social message.
As a follow-up to their first hugely popular #LikeAGirl ad, Always released #LikeAGirl – Unstoppable. For this ad, the brand gave a group of young women a chance to call out the sexism that they experience in their day-to-day lives—something the adult-woman Always customer is sure to relate to.
Meanwhile, Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels” is the ultimate feel-good, no-hate message for the modern generation. There’s no finger-wagging or guilt—just a celebration of family, human connection, diversity, and positivity. Given that Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history, and diversity is an integral part of Generation Z’s collective conscience, it makes sense that this ad would be a hit on YouTube.
Even the seemingly straightforward Samsung ad incorporates moody, movie-trailer-style music and brief teaser messages to catch the viewer’s attention. Meanwhile, Hyundai’s ad immediately asks a provocative question: “Can a car deliver a message to space?” When you have mere moments to to grab a viewer’s attention, introducing intrigue can do the trick.
Elegant, compelling, fully-produced—. tTat times, these ads feel more like short films than traditional commercials. They’re focused on storytelling, not blatant selling, leading with the idea that a and trusting that a captivating narrative is an effective way to inspire brand engagement. Even if you’re not equipped with a Superbowl Sunday-sized budget for CGI or large casts, it’s important to remember that dreaming up a well-thought-out story is free.
Pets, babies, and other warm and fuzzies dominate in every corner of the web, and both men and women watch and “awww!” at pet-related videos in equal measure. So, of course, cuteness is something YouTube viewers are hesitant to click away from, especially when it’s part of a great story, like in this Budweiser ad. The video wastes no time cutting to the adorable chase—its protagonist puppy pops his head out of the hay in the very first second.
Video advertising made a big splash in 2015 and shows no signs of slowing down; digital ad revenue is set to nearly double in 2016. Understanding what made the most popular ads of 2015 great can give marketers a head-start in planning knockout video campaigns for the year ahead. Qualities like a strong narrative, intrigue, and surprise will go a long way in ensuring that your ad doesn’t feel like just another sales tool; your campaign might even be the next Man Your Man Could Smell Like.
About the Author: Jess Keefe is a writer, editor and branding buff who lives in Brooklyn.