3 learnings from creative teams who tackled audience-tailored video ads

Sadie Thoma is a director of creative business development at Google, where she and her team help creative agencies pursue new ways of storytelling. Here she details insights from a recent experiment with personalized video ads, revealing takeaways for any brand looking to make the most of signal-based custom video assets.

Audience insights have always been invaluable to the creative process, and these days, you have access to more audience signals than ever before. For many advertisers, it can be a challenge to move past demographic data and tap into newer, deeper signals, like interests and intent. The questions I often get are, “Where do we start?” and “How will this affect the creative development process?”

To answer these questions, we partnered with the Ad Council and six creative agencies to explore how deeper audience insights — beyond demographic data — can inspire more relevant, impactful video storytelling. The initiative focused on bringing attention to three social causes: preparing for natural disasters, ending hunger, and empowering girls in STEM. Using intent- and interest-based audience signals from Google and YouTube, each agency developed custom video ads for two niche audiences, like crafty DIY fanatics or people who love outdoor adventuring.

The resulting 12 videos ran as skippable YouTube ads for two weeks, and we measured impact with Brand Lift surveys. Results showed that ad creative, fueled by deeper audience signals, can drive considerable impact and yielded plenty of learnings. Here, we’ve distilled those learnings into three key takeaways, which you can put to work in your own creative process.

1. Small personalization tweaks can make a big difference

Building custom video assets for different audiences may seem resource intensive, but there is plenty of room for efficiency. For instance, while you can create a totally different campaign idea for each audience, it’s not required. Most of our agency partners approached their respective briefs by developing a core idea that allowed for slight executional tweaks, such as different on-screen characters, custom text overlays, or unique calls to action.  

For example, We Are Unlimited’s campaign tapped into day-in-the-life scenarios of world travelers and people who are stock market savvy to drive awareness about the importance of emergency preparedness. To build relevant messages, the creative team used a text-focused execution that nodded to each audience — running around the airport versus a status meeting in the office. These copy adjustments didn’t require a heavy production lift but still delivered videos that felt personalized for each audience. By taking this approach, the team achieved their campaign goals efficiently.

Video creative can be customized for different audiences with just small tweaks

Example 1: Geared toward world travelers

Example 2: Geared toward stock market enthusiasts

2. A strong creative concept can resonate even beyond niche audiences

Our agency partners wanted to explore whether videos tailored for niche segments would alienate a broader audience. As the campaigns played out, we saw that when ad creative is rooted in a core truth or concept it can spark interest and drive people to tune in beyond the target audiences.

Videos built to drive awareness about ending hunger help demonstrate this. Grey’s video creative, for example, was anchored in an emotional story arc that highlighted how hunger can hide in plain sight. To tailor the ads to particular audiences, the team made two versions that were largely similar but with subtle tweaks. For instance, based on the insight that environmentally conscious people are motivated by community, the team used “Join us” as a call to action, encouraging people to be part of the movement. And for sports fans who are motivated by personal pride, the call to action made an individualized challenge: “You can keep America fed. Donate now.” The team found that both ads resonated broadly, driving brand lift across niche segments as well as a general audience.

3. Unexpected audience signals can be springboards for new creative ideas

Our final observation was simple: Digging deeper into what interests, excites, and moves an audience can inspire more meaningful and impactful video campaign concepts. Thinking beyond basic demographic information to things like passion points gave teams new territory for brainstorming.

For example, AMP Agency tapped into findings that bargain-hunting parents promote curiosity and experimentation, which resulted in a creative execution about encouraging exploration to communicate a positive message about girls in STEM. And to reach technophile parents who have diverse passions, from gaming to pop culture, and who encourage the same from their daughters, the creative team was inspired to build a story about providing a variety of experiences. In other words, these insights informed not only how the team reached these audiences but how they told the actual stories.

Different approaches to creative execution based on different audience insights

Example 1: Geared toward bargain-hunting parents who were found to promote curiosity

Example 2: Geared toward technophile parents who were found to encourage diverse passions

So what’s the best way to begin infusing deeper audience signals into your own creative process? And how can you move beyond a one-ad-fits-all approach? Experiment with using deeper insights in a way that feels accessible to your own brand. That may mean focusing on a lower-stakes campaign to start. Then take what you learn and build up from there.

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