For some of these campaigns, YouTube served as the cornerstone of their media and content marketing plans. Always’ #likeagirl campaign and The Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labelscampaign are a few of the examples of great campaigns that harnessed the power of YouTube to reach millions of viewers. We’re waiting with great anticipation to see who will bring home the gold!

These campaigns not only drove great organic success on YouTube, but also reached millions of consumers via TrueView ads. By now the industry knows TrueView very well. What I like about YouTube TrueView is that it is a great way to get your content in front of consumers by giving them the choice to watch or skip. But the introduction of the “skip” button after five seconds means advertisers now have to create engaging stories that not only grab a consumer’s attention, but sustain it.

We wanted to see what creative elements made ads work best and to do this we looked into thousands of TrueView ads across 16 countries and 11 verticals, categorizing them according to 170 creative attributes* including brand mentions and featured celebrities. We also used aggregated analytics from AdWords to see how long people watched without hitting the skip button. To measure brand awareness and ad recall we took advantage of Google’s Brand Lift (video below).

 

We didn’t unearth a holy grail for making ads that consumers choose to sit through, but we did discover that certain creative choices affected how long viewers watched or how well they remembered ads on YouTube. It turns out that there is a certain science to the art of engaging video advertising. Below I’ll share some of what we learned.

Brand placement matters

Brand marketers and creatives tend to butt heads around logo placement in video ads, and with good reason. Marketers want their logos to appear early on, while creatives recognize that logos can be offputting to consumers. So what did our research tell us?

When ads on YouTube included the brand early on -- through a logo or an audible brand mention -- there was an inverse relationship between recall and engagement. While ads with overt branding within the first five seconds had higher ad recall and brand awareness lift, people were also more likely to skip them.

No matter what your goals are as a brand, our research suggests that if you are going to show your logo in the first five seconds, you should make sure it’s tied to your product and doesn’t appear elsewhere on screen. Our study showed that viewers are less likely to watch and remember brands and ads when they featured floating brand logos that weren’t actually on products. So, whether your goal is viewership, brand awareness, ad recall or all of the above, try to show your logo on a product.

Finding the right tone

Tone is also a major factor, according to our research. When you think of the most recent ad you saw and loved, did it make you laugh? Maybe it made your eyes well up? Setting the tone within the first five seconds is guaranteed to grab your audience’s attention.

For our study, we organized ads into ten categories of style and tone, including “humorous,” “emotional” and “calming.” Humor won across the board. Unsurprisingly, people are more likely to watch funny ads, and those kinds of ads also see greater lifts in ad recall and brand awareness.

Businesses that don't necessarily lend themselves easily to humor can still have a little fun. Take Geico’s recent Unskippable” ad series or the “Dumb Ways to Die” video (below) by Metro Trains Melbourne. Insurance and train safety aren’t inherently hilarious, but these brands still found a way to inject some humor into their spots.

Authenticity is key

YouTube creators like Hannah Hart (below) exude authenticity by building fandoms based on who they really are. Hannah, specifically, lives by a mantra -- “reckless optimism” -- and her approach to content really works.

 

Our study showed brand metrics increased when ads featured “smiling characters” in the first five seconds. Having a recognizable face in the first five seconds of your TrueView ad will also result in higher viewership and better brand lift. So bring on the YouTube creators and/or traditional celebrities!

Mixed results on music

As you can see, there’s no perfect formula for an attention-grabbing ad. And to be frank, quite a few of the creative choices we tested came back with mixed results. However, we did identify some musical styles that were more effective within the first five seconds than others.

People were more likely to skip ads that featured calming, relaxing or action-oriented music. Here too, humor won. Viewers in our study better remembered TrueView video ads that featured humorous music (like the funky dubstep Mountain Dew selected for its Kickstart ad).

But when it came to brand awareness, we found that featuring any music in the first five seconds may actually have a negative impact. Ads like Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” (video below) and Nike’s “Winner Stays” were onto something when they muted music in those initial moments. Perhaps people are intrigued by the change of pace in ads without music or they don’t immediately recognize videos without music as ads.

 

Mixed results invite further investigation, but we know now that music (or no music) matters, so don’t rely on your default. Try testing ads with and without music and use analytics and Brand Lift to see what works for your brand.

In an effort to balance the magic and the math -- the art and the science -- we're using equal parts data and creativity to understand video advertising. What I’ve written about today is the science portion. At Google we’re using data to understand what’s working well for ad creatives. So what's the magic, you ask? Check out the video ad experiments Art, Copy & Code is running with Unskippable Labs. They're working alongside creative agencies and brands to figure out what types of stories work best in the modern, mobile age.

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

*All ads used had at least 10,000 impressions between Jan 2012 and Feb 2014. 10% of ads were coded by two people to ensure consistency, and attributes with less than 90% agreement discarded.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage management or associated bloggers.