Time well spent: A year in advertising on YouTube

Charlotte Morton / January 2017

Candid cameras, vlogger skits and cinematic stories. It’s been a fascinating year for creativity on YouTube. Nestled amongst the TV ads, our End Of Year Ads Leaderboard reveals brands who are stretching the limits of video and getting consumers to stick around.

Time spent with your brand is a valuable commodity. In an age of flicking, swiping and clicking, retaining a viewer’s attention has become the north star. The UK ad industry has been doing this for years, tugging at the heartstrings and tickling the tear ducts. While this skill remains a constant, the canvas is changing. This year on YouTube, the most popular ads stood at an average of 6 minutes 2 seconds with a stunning combined watch time of 200 years. YouTube is allowing brands and agencies to tear up the rule book and create what is right for the audience not just the schedule.

The top spots are, as ever, occupied by retail behemoths Sainsburys and John Lewis. The rush to YouTube every Christmas is a consumer habit now as familiar as the first mince pie and agencies are evolving their strategies every year. As AMV’s Craig Mawdsley says of Sainsburys, “We learned from Mog about the power of YouTube as a family experience, so this year created a piece of joyous entertainment that families can enjoy together as often as they like, whenever they like, uniquely on YouTube.”

Yet beyond this unique festive moment, what else is driving this magnitude of time spent? Consumer behaviour itself is a significant factor. According to recent data from comScore, 18-34s in the UK are now watching 45 minutes of YouTube every single day.

Creatively, 4 ads - if you can even call them that - leap out from the Leaderboard. Their only likeness is how they push beyond the :30s. Beyond that, all three films are wonderfully diverse in style.

While the term “storytelling” may be overused, it’s fair to say Nike are master producers of extended brand stories on the platform. The Switch at almost 6 minutes is the longest and most popular video on their channel and takes viewers through a fantastic “Freaky Friday-esque” football fan’s dream of living in the shoes of Cristiano Ronaldo. Their efforts also show that cinematic production is not the sole preserve of the big screen.

Conversely, KitKat sub in native talent to re-create the iconic Crossy Road game in a playful branded “skit”. YouTubers Miniminter and TBJZL (with a modest 8 million fans between them) deliver an immense ready-made audience to the brand and help accrue 39 years of watch time.

Gaming is a key Cultural Spotlight on YouTube in 2017. Crossy Road, in one film, gives us a taster of what kind of audience scale this genre can deliver for a brand.

Dolmio with The Look Up Experiment chooses the “candid camera” genre so beloved of the British public that flourishes on YouTube to dramatise how technology can disrupt family meal times. Iconic campaigns like Carlsberg Cinema Bikers and 10 Hours of Walking in New York have shown how the platform has an incredible ability to draw viewers into less scripted scenarios. Better still, the Dolmio ad sparked a deluge of people searching for the now famous Wifi-disabling Pepper Hacker!

Finally we have EE’s epic Wembley Cup - the 36 minute “ad” is the climax to this hugely popular web series. On average, people watched almost 10 mins of this film, distributed via TrueView - an incredible achievement. It works hard alongside Saatchi’s Kevin Bacon TV spot both promoting the brand’s BT Sport proposition. Combined, these campaigns together had a significant effect on purchase intent for EE. When we recall Peter Field and Les Binet’s research from last year this is no surprise, with Online Video and TV together delivering a 54% uplift in large business effects.

This campaign’s results signal where the industry should be adjusting its gaze: beyond the view counter. We know that accruing views grows watchtime, a key factor in driving positive brand metrics. But there’s more. We want a deeper understanding of how YouTube pays back for brands.

Isolating the “YouTube effect” further and encouraging our industry to look beyond views and even watchtime is the very reason we’re excited to launch YouTube Works for Brands with the APG this year. We’re inviting our agency partners to show how their great work on YouTube has impacted business results, a brand, or wider culture.

2016 was a bumper year for creativity on the platform and the Ads Leaderboard reminds us how YouTube is an incredible engine for brand fame, ignited by diverse ideas and burgeoning time spent. It also serves to remind us that the metrics that matter - those of businesses and brands - remain the same.

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