Industry Experts Explain How to Get the Best Out of YouTube Campaigns


Getting a campaign up and running on YouTube is relatively straightforward, but getting the most out of the platform is a different matter. Navigating YouTube’s massive library of content and range of ad products while targeting specific KPIs requires careful planning.

VAN spoke with some of those working with the platform to hear what’s working well on YouTube right now.

Exploit Current Trends

One of the first tasks for advertisers on YouTube is finding, among the 500 hours of content uploaded every minute, videos and channels which users are engaging with.

Christian Dankl, co-founder and chairman of Precise TV, a global social video advertising platform, says keeping track of content trends is important. Right now, unsurprisingly, videos relating to the lockdown are proving particularly popular.

“The whole ‘#WithMe’ category is a big focus at the moment, there are lots of relevant videos which we’re targeting for our campaigns,” said Dankl. “All that content is very popular as users are turning to YouTube to adapt, to learn, and to find community during the pandemic. That’s a good starting point for what’s working right now.”

Away from current trends, advertisers wanting to find higher quality content can turn to YouTube Select (recently rebranded from Google Preferred), a curated list of YouTube’s more popular channels.

Rob Cootes, managing director EMEA at OpenSlate, a social video analytics company, said for those buying through YouTube Select, it’s important to still curate which channels you advertise against within that selection, as not all Select content will be appropriate for every brand.

But he added that buyers can find good value (and a lot of channels available on YouTube Select) in the open auction, especially when using a whitelisting strategy.

“The auction has huge performance benefits and great data segments to reach the right audiences,” he said. “Don’t rely on the native tools alone. Through whitelisting you can simply limit wastage and focus on the right environments.”

Sara Luckow, senior director of strategy at Channel Factory, a marketing analytics provider for social video, said it’s also necessary to look beyond YouTube Select if you want to find certain types of content.

“YouTube Select was originally designed to reach young audiences,” she said, “so if you’re trying to reach the 35 + demographic, you have to look beyond Select.”

Similarly, channels which are too niche for YouTube Select can still reach large audiences and prove valuable for the right brand. A channel focussed on pottery for example would likely not be chosen for YouTube Select, but could still be appropriate for the right brand. Luckow said brands should work with third-parties to help identify these channels within YouTube’s auction.

Contextual Relevance

Alongside identifying content which is performing well, advertisers will usually be keen to advertise next to contextually relevant content.

Last month Channel Factory, in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Applied Consumer Psychology department, published research demonstrating the benefits of contextual targeting. The study found that contextually aligned video ads drive a 93 percent increase in brand awareness compared to misaligned ads.

But the degree to which content should be contextually aligned with a brand depends on that brand’s goals.

Precise TV’s Christian Dankl said that during the lockdown, brands have become much more focussed on performance and return-on-investment. And for these sorts of campaigns, close contextual alignment drives the best results, according to Dankl.

“The more focus you put on performance, the more contextually relevant the content needs to be,” he said. “If you’re a toy company focused on sales of toys, you’ll see higher sales and higher ROI on toy unboxing videos than on, say, a Minecraft channel. Both those channels might have the same audience, but you’ll see the best performance on directly related videos, like unboxing videos.”

And Dankl said performance campaigns should combine close contextual alignment with conversion data from e-commerce stores and subscription pages, so that campaigns can be further optimised towards content which is driving results.

For brand campaigns meanwhile, it’s less important to have such a narrow definition of contextual alignment. Adam Chugg, head of biddable at the7stars, an independent UK-based media agency, said that awareness campaigns should be “focused on reach and frequency against big audiences and not measured by impulse response, a lot like linear TV”.

Chugg said YouTube has native tools available which allow advertisers to buy and measure in ways which are more familiar to their AV planning teams. “If you’re running alongside TV you’ll want to plan it together to make sure you have an understanding of the incremental reach YouTube is providing as an accompaniment,” he said.

Achieving Brand Safety

YouTube has struggled with brand safety issues for years, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought a new dimension to the fore. While brands want to make sure they’re not advertising next to inappropriate content, an overly blunt approach has its own risks. Brands have drawn backlash for strict keyword blocking which has left important coronavirus-related content defunded.

Companies like Precise TV, which scan individual videos for content and brand suitability, say tech like their own can allow brands to buy within the auction while still maintaining brand safety.

But OpenSlate’s Rob Cootes says a channel whitelisting strategy can also be effective. If a channel is known to reliably produce sensitive and appropriate content, brands can be relatively comfortable advertising on their content regardless of the topic.

With the example of COVID-19, brands have been wary of funding content which spreads mis-information relating to the virus. But if brands whitelist reliable news sources, they can advertise next to coronavirus content without this worry.

“Don’t rely on negative keywords. COVID is a great example of that, as it has been well documented that using negative keyword throttles quality news,” Cootes added.

Advertisers can also choose only to work directly with established media brands, but this has its own tradeoffs.

“One good strategy is to work with Youtubers and publishers directly,” said Cootes. “Viacom has been very vocal about their YouTube content strategy. It’s good if you want to work with a smaller footprint of publishers directly. However, similar to YouTube Select, control and transparency is often limited.”

Optimal Ad Formats

YouTube has a range of formats available, and regularly releases new offerings. But those VAN spoke with generally agreed that its most popular product, TrueView in-stream ads (its skippable format), are the most effective.

“YouTube has got lots of different products, but I would say keep everything simple unless you have very specific KPIs,” said OpenSlate’s Cootes. “Usually, the basic TrueView product is probably the best route to go down and very effective for most advertisers. Some of YouTube’s other products, like Discovery ads [clickable video ads that appear in search results], are cost-effective, but I don’t know how effective they are compared with standard Trueview.”

Precise TV’s Dankl agreed, saying that one of the benefits of TrueView is that advertisers get feedback based on whether users skip the ad or not. “Our contextual DMP [data management platform] thrives on data, with TrueView we get feedback on 100 perecent of impressions served. They either skip and aren’t interested, or they clicked or watched signalling interest.”

YouTube does provide variants of the basic TrueView product, and the7stars’ Chugg said these can add value. He pointed to ‘TrueView for Action’, a relatively new offering which he said provides better measurement, optimisation goals and formats for performance focused campaigns.

Channel Factory’s Luckow said it’s important for advertisers to use a range of ad lengths for their YouTube campaigns.

“Depending on what users are watching and the type of content they happen to be consuming when the campaign is live, you want to make sure you have different ad lengths that adapt to the content,” she said. “So for example, because of everything going on at the moment, people are watching more long-form content. So they’d be more likely to sit through a thirty-second video ad, and you want to have a thirty-second ad available to take advantage of that.”

In a different quarter however, shorter form videos could prove more popular, and brands would need shorter ads available to better fit that content.

The7stars’ Chugg added that whatever formats brands choose to use, it’s important that the creative is tailored to these formats. “The right creative for the right format is absolutely fundamental,” he said. “The best planning and buying in the world can’t make up for a creative that’s not fit for purpose, i.e. a TV commercial just plonked on YouTube.”

Cross-Channel Strategy

Finally, Chugg emphasised that while all of the above can help advertisers get the most out of YouTube, these strategies are most effective when YouTube is combined with other channels.

“YouTube is most effective when you’re leveraging it as part of a wider campaign,” he said. “Of course, you could say the same for any digital media channel (or indeed any channel), but it’s perhaps more challenging for advertisers with YouTube because of how it’s developed. There’s an increasingly comprehensive offering to advertisers and it has effectively developed from within a paid search buying platform,” he added.

Chugg said that different agency teams (be they paid search, paid social, programmatic or AV teams) will have different perspectives on how YouTube is best used alongside other channels, but that regardless of which agency team is responsible for YouTube it shouldn’t be bought in silo.

“It’s all the more important that you’ve got a broad range of experience feeding into your planning and buying to ensure you’re using the right combination of formats to achieve the right outcome,” he said.

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