People turn to YouTube for just about anything — but in a world where everything is always available, people’s expectations are higher. More than ever before, audiences want content to relate to them on a personal level, with research showing they find its relation to their passions significantly more important than whether a video features celebrities or has a high production value.1
How has this shift in behaviour influenced the way in which brands approach video commercials? We spoke to four industry leaders to understand what informs their YouTube strategies – and to hear about their own (not so) guilty pleasures.
‘YouTube is my digital life assistant’
I’m obsessed with ‘How-to’ videos’; workouts, wedding hair tutorials, carpentry tips… YouTube has essentially become my digital life assistant. If it wasn’t for YouTube, buying my first house would have been a nightmare.
For me to like an ad, it should be so relevant that it looks like something I’d search for anyway. Another thing is authenticity. Younger generations have grown up watching YouTubers in their bedrooms; they don’t care about perfect lighting — a video needs to feel real. To build this type of connection, more and more brands shoot their ads with a smartphone.
Another great way to stand out is to play with the format. Geico did this brilliantly with their Crushed ad, as did REMA 1000 with their Smarthus series — both funny and entertaining. IKEA’s Irresistible Pointless TrueView ads are hilarious, too. This concept would never have worked for regular TV commercials, but by using a YouTube product to talk directly to the audience, they chose to have fun with it.
‘A good ad needs to be loaded with a deeper character’
In my free time I love to use YouTube for in-depth research and inspiration around music, cars and boats, though I’ve been increasingly using it to watch football with my sports fanatic kids. Compared to a few years ago, my interest has shifted from short clips and quick reviews to content that dives deeper into a subject matter.
That’s something I look for in campaigns, too. A good ad captures the viewer with a unique experience, but it also needs to be loaded with a deeper character. Start with a strong context and build up the suspense to keep people entertained. Music is a great tool for that — just look at Chrysler’s ‘Imported from Detroit’ with Eminem. The feeling that ad gives me is phenomenal. A perfect example of how a commercial can make your target audience like you.
'I want an ad to enchant me’
I use YouTube as a visual Google. It’s my go-to place when a sudden curiosity strikes me, which is how I ended up absolutely loving Kikagure Cook, a Japanese YouTuber obsessed with fish whose energy is seriously contagious.
Content needs to make me feel something. It might be terrible, disgusting, fantastic or just comfortable, but as long as it makes me feel, I’m interested. But keeping it interesting all the way through is one of the biggest challenges. You need to really care about all the tiny details. It’s a pretty draining process, and sometimes it feels like it isn’t worth it, but it always is.
Ultimately, I just want an ad to enchant me. I want to be able to see the core message clearly. As this is personal, targeting needs to be more sophisticated. Don’t serve me an ad based on the fact that I am a 30-year old living in Stockholm, but look at what constitutes me as a person. Then I probably won’t skip.
‘Don’t be afraid to go against the tide’
I spend way too much time on YouTube, watching everything from car reviews to vine compilations. But that’s the normal stuff. I’m also into obscure videos, like abandoned sites, urban exploring, and restoration videos.
When it comes to ads, emotion is what grabs people’s attention – but I also strongly believe in contrasts. If everyone is adding drama to their campaigns, doing the opposite can be a smart move. One of my all-time favourites is Tide’s ‘It’s a Tide Ad’, which premiered at 2018’s Superbowl. The ad is evergreen, channel independent, thought-provoking and hilarious all at the same time. As a concept, the ad can live over time and work across any media format.
People overthink the optimal length of an ad. Say what you need to say and take as long as you need for that. Short ads may get you more media investment, but if you squeeze several messages into a very short video your customers won’t get the message at all. As a rule of thumb, longer films are suited for storytelling while shorter films are great for tactical messaging.