How to use context and targeting for stronger brand impact

August 2018

With intelligent media planning, advertisers can ensure their messages are as relevant as possible. Choosing the appropriate context (where the ad appears) and getting the targeting right (who sees the ad) can go a long way towards maximizing an ad’s impact. To understand how context and targeting tools on YouTube contribute to brand impact, we conducted three studies.

Context and Premium Content

Google Preferred inventory is made up of YouTube’s top content aggregated into packages for brand advertisers. Whether content is included in this premium category depends on its preference score, which is an algorithm that identifies the most popular and engaging content on YouTube.

So when an ad appears before Google Preferred inventory, is the brand lift greater than when it appears before non-Google Prefered content? To find out, we analyzed more than 5,500 Google Brand Lift studies over a six-month span. For each survey we had several thousand responses. Looking at individual responses from these studies, we grouped the data by the preference score of the video following either the ad (for the test respondents) or the ghost impression (the ad shown instead of the test ad to the control respondents).

This approach allowed us to understand the relationship between preference score and brand lift. Consistently across brand metrics and devices, we found that lift increases according to increasing preference score. In other words, ads work better when they’re shown before more popular and engaging content.

Contextual Match

Taking our research a step further, we then aimed to understand whether ads perform differently when they’re shown before content that matches the ad’s context, compared to when they’re shown before content that does not. An example of contextually matched advertising would be showing an ad for a new car model before a video about driving.

We analyzed Google TrueView Brand Lift data from one quarter, splitting the studies into two groups – those where ads were shown before contextually matched content (such as car ads shown before car content), and those shown before other content (such as car ads shown before non-car content). We then compared the average baseline response and brand lift between the two groups.

The outcome? Across eight verticals and sub-verticals we saw higher levels of baseline brand awareness among users exposed to ads before contextually matched content compared to users exposed to ads before unmatched content. We also saw a number of examples where ads shown to users consuming contextually matched content had higher brand lift than ads shown to users consuming unmatched content.


On YouTube, intent signals include Google’s affinity audiences, custom affinity audiences, in-market audiences and remarketing lists. We wanted to test whether using intent signals to target ads on YouTube affected brand lift compared to when the same ads were served using demographic signals.

To get our research underway, we identified situations where the same creative had been included in two ad groups in a YouTube Brand Lift study – one using demographic signals only and the other using intent-based signals only. We also looked at situations where intent signals were used in conjunction with demographic signals.

To isolate the impact of targeting, we only looked at responses from mobile devices. For each pair of ad groups, we compared the brand lift for the demographic targeted ad group to the intent targeted ad group, and we then calculated the average of this difference across all pairs of ad groups.

We discovered that:

  • Ads served with intent signals alone on mobile had higher ad recall and double the brand awareness of ads served with demographic signals alone.
  • Ads served with intent-based signals added to demographic signals on mobile had higher ad recall, brand awareness and consideration uplifts than ads served with demographic signals alone.
  • Ads served with affinity targeting added to demographic on mobile had higher brand awareness lift than ads served with demographic signals alone.
  • Custom creative paired with custom affinity audiences drove greater brand lift than demographic targeting.

The outtake here? Using intent signals on their own or in conjunction with demographic targeting drives higher ad recall and brand awareness than targeting based on demographic signals only.

If you’re hoping to make your ads work as hard and perform as well as possible on YouTube, consider targeting your ads using intent signals, advertising on Google Preferred inventory and contextually matching your ad to the content it appears with.

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