What can the top 10 most viewed ads from 2017 teach us about marketing?

I spotted this headline in my LinkedIn feed while subconsciously scrolling my way through the holiday season, bookmarking it in my head to revisit it for a January blog. So, here we are. Last month, AdWeek published their 2017 YouTube Ads Leaderboard, listing their audience’s top 10 most-watched ads on the platform from January to December.

Now, as a Brit living in Barcelona who rarely watches TV, I can tell you that the first thing I learned was that I hadn’t seen any of them before, bar one that I’d stumbled across while planning a workshop. This, of course, speaks volumes – increasingly, brands are under pressure to come up with something that is so good, people actively seek their content out to watch. Because nowadays, few will see it by chance on a prime Saturday night telly slot.

When was the last time you searched for an ad on YouTube and watched the whole thing? Your answer represents the challenge facing all businesses, not just those who can afford flashy above-the-line campaigns. More and more, consumers choose what advertising they are exposed to and engage with, so when they choose you, it’s because they really want to hear what you’ve got to say.

It’s worth paying attention to the note in this article explaining the criteria to be eligible for this list:

Note: To be eligible for the YouTube Ads Leaderboard, videos must be marked as ads on YouTube (i.e., they get some paid views) but must also earn significant organic views. The algorithm factors in paid views, organic views and audience retention (how much of a video people watched).

The two most important pieces of data in that algorithm are the organic views and audience retention. We all know it doesn’t really count if you’ve been forced to watch something for 5 seconds before skipping it – you’re most likely watching the countdown not the content.

So, to continue in multiples of five, here are my five things I think we can learn from this leaderboard.

Be aspirational

Whether you’re marketing a product or service, the key is to show or tell your audience that it will transport them somewhere that, before, they’d only dreamt of going to. ‘Aspirational’ doesn’t have to be as grand as the word itself sounds. We can aspire to do small things differently or better to influence a bigger change in our lives as a whole. Sometimes, the narrative will appear to take you so far down a path that you become curious about how on earth you’ll get back to the brand and their offering, but that is the hook you need to keep us watching until the end.

Humour can really work

Put a ‘lol’ in the right place, and it really works. Between depressing headlines and an insatiable desire to get more Insta-likes, we’ll take all the lighthearted relief we can get. Humour can range from a slight turning-up of the corners of the mouth and a knowing smile, to a giggle and a cry-face emoji laugh. Aim for raising a smile if it works for your brand and appeals to its values. Kia cleverly combined an aspirational narrative with a classic backing track and a good dose of humour – at a guess I’d say Kia want to be known for being accessible and part of the everyday, while making sure mum can concentrate on saving the world in a practical and safe car.

Exploit your heritage

A large majority of the brands featured here are global, well-established names that have been around for quite some time. The brand strategy discussion often seems most relevant to newbies who are starting from scratch, but it is very much applicable to the traditional brands we know and love. Just because we know and love them doesn’t mean they can hang their creative hats up. Adidas tells us exactly this with their #7 spot and their campaign ‘Original is never finished.’, reinventing Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ to carry their brand mission into 2018. Similarly, if you are new to all this, there’s still an opportunity to tell a story about where you came from and how you started out. It’s probably a lot more relatable to your audience than the workings of the tech solution you’re selling.

influence your audience

You don’t even need to click play to notice that celeb endorsements feature fairly heavily here. If that’s your thing, by all means seek out celeb approval and create a campaign out of it. But do ask yourself if that’s what your audience wants. If anything, using The Rock to market Siri only confirms to me that I will never utter the words ‘Hey Siri’ out loud. But equally, I like picturing myself as Natalie Portman wearing Chanel in the throes of a fiery romance. Remember that endorsements come in many different forms, from testimonials and recommendations to social influencers. What it comes down to is the true meaning of a tribe – if he or she uses it, I’m more likely to use it too.

The best narrative wins

The number one spot on this list is occupied by something vastly different to the rest of the those that ranked. It’s longer than the optimum length for video, but Samsung absolutely do deserve four minutes of your time for this. I’ve already mentioned narrative and storytelling – even the Ping Pong Trick Shots 3 captures the audience and builds the right kind of tension to make us start rooting for whatever it is that is actually happening (I think it’s marbles). But, with over 150m views, Samsung’s script is just a little bit different. Watch it. What a wonderful way to tell a simple, but deeply emotive story about customer service. The most recent comment says ‘this made me look for the replay button instead of the skip button’. What’s stopping you from connecting with your audience in the same way?

Inspired to delve deeper into the possibilities for your next campaign? I encourage you to do so! Ask me for a free campaign planning session and I bet we can find a story that hasn’t been told before. You might not make the 2018 list, but that’s another article entirely…

Photo by Derick Anies on Unsplash

Hannah Tufts Written by:

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