Sight, sound and motion have always been powerful ways to tell a brand’s story. On the web, brands can now do so much more with video -- and they certainly are. In recent years, there’s been an increase in “branded video content” online and it’s attracting massive audiences. In fact, some of the most popular videos now on YouTube come from brands. Today, the question that marketers often ask of online videos isn’t, “Should I create them?” but rather, “Should I focus on creating ‘branded video content’ or ‘video ads?’”

“As more brands try to answer this question, they wonder how they can create branded video content at scale and make it work in tandem with ads. They usually don’t know where to start,” says Kim Larson, head of Google’s BrandLab. Indeed, 81% of marketers recently surveyed by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) indicate “the need for content and new customer experiences” as a top challenge on their agenda.

We decided to poll consumers. Partnering with IPG Media Lab, we surveyed 7,213 consumers on how they perceived videos, both “branded video content” (made for web) and “video ads” (made for TV but promoted online). Participants viewed 69 videos selected by 15 IPG clients across multiple categories and were asked to rate how closely each video mimicked traditional advertisements.

The lines are blurred: Video ads are branded video content (and vice versa).

We discovered something surprising. People don’t actually distinguish between video ads and branded video content -- it’s a false dichotomy. When consumers ranked videos on a scale of “more like advertising” (0) to “less like advertising” (100), both branded video content and video ads were much closer to the more-like-advertising end of the spectrum (25.4 average for branded video content and 13.2 for video ads). They understand that brands create both video ads and branded video content as part of their marketing strategies and they choose to watch both.

The key to compelling videos: Make them feel authentic.

Advertising is becoming, well, less like advertising. In an age of authenticity, brands strive to tell stories and build genuine relationships with their consumers. Research reveals that the videos consumers perceive as being “less like advertising” -- regardless of whether they are video ads or branded video content -- are seen as more informative, authentic and original.

It’s a strategy that’s resonating with audiences across YouTube. More than ever, people choose to watch brands’ video marketing messages if they tell compelling stories. In 2014, the average length of a video on our YouTube Ads Leaderboard, a list of the top-ranked videos from brands, averaged three minutes in length. That's 47% longer than the videos on the Leaderboard in 2013, as we saw in a recent analysis. It shows that if you make a great video, audiences will stick around.

The takeaways:

Build a holistic video strategy: Don’t get hung up on terminology.

Brands that get the most out of online videos are thinking beyond single spots, embracing holistic strategies that are rooted in consumer behavior. We’ve developed just such a framework built around three content types: Help, Hub and Hero.

  • Help content shows audiences how to engage with their product, brand or category. Product demos and how-to videos are great examples.
  • Hub content speaks to consumers’ passions to broaden a brand’s appeal, such as sponsorships and partnerships with YouTube stars.
  • Hero content builds around the major events in a brand’s marketing calendar, such as big product launches and tent-pole moments.

It doesn’t really matter whether they’re video ads or branded video content. Rather than debate terminology, we marketers should focus on what matters: Building relationships with our audiences. The immersive experience of watching videos on YouTube is an incredibly powerful way to do that.

Discover more brand marketing insights at thinkwithgoogle.com/youtube-insights.

Cenk Bulbul is the Head of Strategy and Insights for Brand Advertiser Marketing team at Google, where he is responsible for the B2B marketing strategy for YouTube as well as publishing insights based on case studies and research. It is a good day on Cenk's team if their strategy and insights helped brand advertisers build successful marketing campaigns leveraging YouTube and other Google Brand Ad Solutions. Cenk can be reached at

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