What Makes a Great YouTube Ad

What Makes a Great YouTube Ad?

We all know YouTube is important – it has over 1 billion users, it reaches more 18-49 years old than cable network TV, and is the #2 search engine in the world behind Google. But there is still a mystery around what makes a great YouTube ad. If you Google “what makes a great YouTube ad”, you’ll get over 120 million results from nearly every news site and blog declaring they know the keys to success, but there is no clear consensus.

To try and clear up the debate, we looked at the YouTube Leaderboard, which ranks the top ads that people choose to watch each month, and evaluated the lists for April, March, and January to highlight key trends (we omitted February because it was dominated by Super Bowl ads, which we’ve already analyzed). Here is what we learned:

People Want High-Quality Videos

Out of the 30 top ranked ads we looked at, only two of them were less than extremely high quality footage (one of those was a found-footage ad showcasing Trump quotes over the years). Even ads from smaller brands, their ads were still of the highest quality footage possible. It demonstrates that people denote quality not just in the storytelling, but also in the footage.

Average Length of a Great YouTube Ad – 1 minute and 30 seconds

This is somewhat astounding – in an age where attention spans are shrinking, the best ads on YouTube are longer than standard TV ads. One would think the less intrusive an ad is, the better (no brand animosity, makes sure your message is delivered quickly, etc.). But, what YouTube has proven to us is people are more than willing to watch longer content if the story earns it.

Humor is King

55% of all the top YouTube ads of the three months we analyzed were humorous stories. What makes this a little muddy is that half of the humorous YouTube ads featured a celebrity. This makes it difficult to separate whether the funny story was why it became popular or whether it was the inclusion of a celebrity. Those funny ads that did not include a celebrity tended to be clever humor and had elements of social commentary.

If Humor is King, Empowerment is Queen

Emotional ads with an empowering message were the second largest group and were largely true stories or utilizing real people to comment on social inequities. Unlike humorous ads, these ads did not rely on celebrity inclusion and ranged greatly in brand size, meaning you don’t have to be Apple or Nike to accomplish this kind of story. Outside of humor and emotion, the only other type of ad that emerged was action-based, which was largely action sports or action products being promoted in use (i.e. a hoverboard ad, a drone ad, and a video game ad to name a few).

Relevance Helps

A third of the top YouTube ads were popular because of how timely they were. Examples included political ads for and against candidates, tribute ads to retiring athletes, and celebratory ads around world events like Earth Day. Making an ad timely to what’s happening in the world gives it a shot at joining mainstream media’s current topics rather than fighting to become one of those topics. It’s easier to join a national conversation than to try and start one.

If you’re able to achieve 3 of the 5 trends we identified, then you’re well on your way to creating a highly impactful (and potentially extremely popular) YouTube ad.