Consumer intent is better than demographic data for video ads

Vanessa Hensler / August 2020

The promise of digital advertising has been the ability to better tailor ads to what people are actually interested in, but even in 2020, we hear a great deal of talk about reaching a millennial audience or a Gen Z audience. But consider this: The Gen Z audience ranges in age from 5 to 25. On one end of the spectrum, we have someone who plays with toy cars and, on the other, someone who can now rent a car.

When it comes to marketing, the use of demographics has always been a blunt instrument. To get the most out of your marketing spend and to increase engagement with consumers, ads must be relevant to what they care about, not just their demographic.

Relevance — creating ads that appeal directly to a shopper’s interests and intent — drives brand lift and sales. A recent study conducted by Google and Ipsos found that video advertising based on consumer intent does have significantly more impact than advertising based on demographics.

We’ve known that YouTube ads drive significant brand lift across the funnel, regardless of approach. But we wanted to see how intent compared to demographics. So we conducted an online lab experiment using YouTube and measured brand lift data across 16 video ads relevant to four different life events: getting married, buying a home, moving, and home renovation. The ads were served using three different levels of alignment: demographics only, demographics with intent, and intent only.1

Bar chart shows a 10 percentage point decrease in skip rate for ads served by intent alone versus demographics alone.

Significant lift in recall and purchase intent

YouTube ads served in alignment with intent only drove significantly higher impact than those served using demos only, with a 32% higher lift in ad recall and 100% higher lift in purchase intent. Interestingly, the addition of demographics to intent did not produce a significant incremental lift versus using intent alone.

Additive lift by levels of alignment with intent

Bar chart shows that intent or demographics + intent has a higher additive lift than demographics alone across four categories: ad recall, awareness, consideration, and purchase intent.
  • Demo only

  • Demo & intent

  • Intent only

Respondents exposed to YouTube ads based on their intent skip them less, at a later point, and, as a consequence, watch ads longer than respondents exposed to ads based on demographics. Relevant ads served based on intent only drove a significant decrease in skipping rates, with 10 percentage points fewer skippers versus respondents exposed to the same ads based on demographic profile.

10 percentage point decrease in skip rate

Bar chart shows a 10 percentage point decrease in skip rate for ads served by intent alone versus demographics alone.
  • Average skip time (in secs)

  • Average playback duration (in secs)

  • % skipped

A word about content quality

Marketers running ads on YouTube have a wide variety of content quality to choose from. If you’re running intent-based ads around topics like getting married or home improvement, you’ll likely come across home videos, more polished videos from YouTube creators, and “broadcast”-level content, the sort created by networks. But does the quality of the content around your ads have an impact on your ads’ effectiveness?

In a separate Google/Ipsos study, we found that lift was similar across content type regardless of the quality level.2 YouTube ads preceding YouTube endemic content drove significant lifts in ad recall and purchase intent, comparable to the same ads preceding broadcast content.

Additive lifts

Additive lifts bar chart shows that ad recall was significantly higher than purchase intent, and both outpaced awareness and consideration in two categories: broadcast and endemic aggregate.
  • Broadcast

  • Endemic aggregated

For marketers looking to reach people via online video, the implications are clear. Consumer intent trumps demographics. Pairing the two makes sense, but if you’re going to focus on one only, it should be intent. A tool like Director Mix lets brands and agencies create multiple versions of an ad, customized for audiences’ interests. Figuring out the intent portion of the equation and reaching out to people with relevant messaging is more important than the production quality of the content around which your ads run.

How to ensure your video creative is driving performance