How to create an effective video ad for every stage of the customer journey

Megan Haller / September 2019

Ad creative has long been — and remains — the most important driver of campaign effectiveness. But while it may be a no-brainer that good creative is good for business, what exactly makes ad creative “good” is harder to decipher, particularly when it comes to online video.

That’s why we decided to study thousands of skippable TrueView ads across 11 verticals, from around the globe. Our goal? To better understand how creative elements, such as narrative structure, visuals, audio, and characters, influence brand metrics.

The ABCDs of effective creative

Red A styled as a magnet: Attract; Blue B with gray price tag: Brand; Green C surrounded by gray dots joined by a white line: Connect; Yellow D with gray, right-pointing arrows in the background: Direct.

Our findings revealed several insights about what works, which we organized into simple guidelines: Attract, Brand, Connect, and Direct. These ABCDs of effective YouTube creative are not intended as a one-size-fits-all model, but they are a helpful starting point for anyone looking to create or adapt an ad for YouTube. They may even be useful beyond online video. Research shows them to be effective for TV as well.1

Once we had the foundations of what works well on YouTube, we went one step further, and sought to establish how certain creative elements correlated to different metrics across the marketing funnel.2 For example, if a video very prominently featured a brand logo, what, if any, effect did that have on a metric like consideration?

Here are some patterns we saw in the data, along with recommendations for using specific creative elements to optimize video ads based on marketing goals. As you read these findings, bear in mind that the best way to understand how to create an effective video ad is to experiment for yourself.

Creative elements that positively influence metrics across the entire funnel

Our analysis showed that there are many creative factors that positively influence upper, middle, and lower funnel brand metrics. Consider these tactics, which will help set any campaign up for success, regardless of its particular objectives.

Creative factors that contribute to campaign success

Close-up on black woman applying mascara: 1 Tightly framed subjects; Talk show set with guitar: 2 Memorable visual elements; Man in yellow shirt dances: 3 People who are core to story; Close-up on soda can: 4 Brand introduced in the first five seconds

First we saw that videos featuring tightly framed subjects and ads incorporating memorable visual elements helped grab people’s attention and correlated to positive lifts in ad recall, consideration, and purchase intent. Videos that made people core to the story were similarly impactful, suggesting that viewers are inherently drawn to and relate to other people. And introducing a brand or product within the video’s first five seconds positively influenced all metrics tested.

When we looked at storytelling style, we saw that emotional elements, such as action, intrigue, and surprise, worked well across the funnel. Interestingly, our analysis also showed that functional storytelling — ads that convey a tangible, measurable benefit — also influenced ad recall, consideration, and purchase intent.

Perhaps our most surprising finding of all was that we saw a positive correlation between a clear call to action and all brand metrics. Traditional marketing wisdom dictates that we should only encourage someone to take action once they’re toward the end of the customer journey. In fact, our research suggests it can be a successful tactic to deploy across the entire marketing funnel.

Influence upper funnel goals by picking up the pace and focusing on characters

When looking specifically at lift in ad recall as a measure of success, we found two elements to be particularly influential: pacing and the appearance of characters on screen.

By pacing, we mean the rate at which a video cuts between scenes. Our analysis showed that ads featuring more than two scenes in the first five seconds had the strongest correlation with ad recall.

With respect to characters, we found that opening with actors on screen and having them mention the brand made viewers’ more likely to remember the ad. Having actors address the audience directly or provide a first-person perspective also helped boost ad recall.

Influence mid-funnel goals through thoughtful branding

For mid-funnel metrics like consideration, our research showed that the way a brand presents itself can have a big impact. For example, pairing visual and audio cues when introducing a brand was positively correlated with a lift in consideration.

Videos that used unique visuals like a mascot or colors strongly associated with the brand also saw a bigger bump in consideration, as did those that integrated their logo into the storyline or simply featured it on their product.

Influence lower funnel goals through clear offers and calls to action

Finally, when looking to influence lower funnel metrics, such as purchase intent, we saw that featuring offers and calls to action — through text cards, simple animation, or voice-over — helped. We also saw that incorporating calls to action that inspire a sense of urgency and direct users to take action also correlate with purchase intent.

Explore more about the ABCDs of effective YouTube ads by downloading this guide.

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