2019 was a year of unskippable stories: Here’s what we learned from them

Priya Barve, Pei Ling Ho / February 2020

Marketers are constantly looking for — and finding — new ways to push creative boundaries and tell richer stories that resonate with their audiences. The Unskippable Labs team reviewed more than 150 ads from 2019’s APAC YouTube Ads Leaderboards. Here are the five themes they uncovered that cut across them all.

Length is an advantage

The average length of all the ads we reviewed was roughly 110 seconds, with 46% of the ads lasting one minute or longer, and 37% even going three minutes and beyond.

From celebrating the generosity of spirit in Petronas’ Deepavali spot to a touching story of a single mom and her son from Lactum to a tribute to Gojek drivers, brands are using length to engage their consumers with a rich variety of stories that would be impossible to convey in a shorter time span.

To hook audiences and hold their attention, many of these ads were shot and edited using a variety of cinematic techniques. For instance, Celcom played with a suspenseful cold open to set up its epic inter-generational reunion. Meanwhile, Watsons turned an ordinary taxi ride into a telenovela scene with magical realism. We also saw Pepsi collaborating with music company T-Series on this visually spectacular Bollywood-style song and dance spot.

What’s key to note here is that the brand isn’t lost when longer stories are told. Instead, it plays a role in the plot or assumes the role of the narrator and is integrated into the narrative. Whether an ad is long or short, a rich story thoughtfully told can be a powerful way to make your brand more relevant.

Challenging stereotypes

More than ever, we see brands taking a leap forward to challenge social stereotypes. This means presenting stories that defy outdated conventions and aim to be more inclusive, diverse, and progressive.

Whether it’s reversing gender roles, like HSBC Hong Kong showed, or redefining the notions of how and between whom love can blossom like Closeup Philippines did, brands are pushing creative boundaries for positive cultural change. Marketers have a wealth of data at their disposal that can also be a tool to tell inspirational stories, as seen with Google India’s #BeUnstoppable rally for women.

It’s clear these ads conveyed messages of inclusion that resonated with viewers, and this type of marketing can also resonate with your bottom line. According to Kantar, unstereotypical advertising leads to 37% more branded impact, 28% uplift in purchase intent, and 35% increased enjoyment of the ad itself.

We see brands taking a leap forward to challenge social stereotypes.

Unexpected story arcs

As attention becomes a scarce commodity in our saturated media landscape, brands have to rethink their storytelling to stand out and grab attention. Looking at the 2019 Ads Leaderboard, the unpredictable, heartbeat story arc is emerging as the winner in the attention game. It starts strong, paces quickly while keeping a tight focus on its subjects, and adds unexpected surprises throughout to keep viewers immersed in the ad.

We see some brands masterfully adding these surprise elements to captivate and entertain audiences. Nestle Thailand’s ads tapped into music trends such as rap music and Thai Isaan songs to make a hot case for ice cream. These ads also deliberately shift scenes every five to eight seconds to keep the spot from becoming too predictable.

Other unexpected surprises from brands include Kia Motors India’s magical inspiration through the use of a unique cast of characters, Brawl Stars Korea’s time period shift, and Aldi Australia’s unconventional response to consumer complaints.

Music is a secret weapon

Another surprising observation from the Leaderboard is that more advertisers are leveraging catchy jingles and original songs to drive consumer engagement and relevance.

From short, repetitive lyrics that drove tactical promotions, like those from Shopee and AirAsia’s #RedFlashSale, to Panasonic’s K-Pop-inspired spot about the pains of spring cleaning, music has become a creative lever in the marketer toolbox, giving even the celebrity endorsements a fresh new groove.

More advertisers are leveraging catchy jingles and original songs to drive consumer engagement and relevance.

Imperfect situations can tell the perfect story

Real people, real issues, and real emotions continue to be key creative drivers behind compelling stories. We’ve seen that ads don’t always have to be bright and optimistic or have a beautiful cast to get your audience’s attention.

A funny take on unwanted souvenirs became China Airlines’ open call for people to brave the unknown, while IKEA’s docu-style spot on the challenges of living in Hong Kong’s micro-apartments was a way for the brand to help consumers make room for happiness. A meditative short film about friendship and loss from 7-Eleven City Cafe celebrated the Sakura season and gave viewers plenty to think about over a cup of coffee. Life is messy, so when brands recognize and acknowledge what that means to consumers, they can tell richer stories that resonate.

From challenging stereotypes to making full-length films, marketers across the region have taught us to expect the unexpected when it comes to online video. Trying something new can pay off in a big way, and we expect (and hope!) 2020’s batch of Ads Leaderboard winners will push the envelope even further as marketers continue on their quest to optimize their creative and connect with viewers.

Methodology
The Leaderboard is a monthly celebration and showcase of the most creative ads that people choose to watch on YouTube. Each month, we release a list of the top ads in each APAC country for the preceding month. The winning ad is determined quantitatively by an algorithm that factors in a combination of organic and paid views, earned-to-paid view ratio, watch time, and audience retention.

Top YouTube ads people watched in APAC, December 2019