On YouTube’s Homepage, Hints of Broadening Ad Appeal

In a possible sign of the site’s broadening appeal to advertisers, YouTube signed McDonald’s as the first brand to use a new synchronized homepage placement. The chain is using the ad to promote its new McCafe espresso drinks.

YouTube’s homepage has traditionally appealed to movie studios, game publishers, and other sectors that are focused on young people — especially young men. Of the 17 brands that have tried the video portal’s new masthead unit since its January launch, many have come from these industries. The list includes EA, ABC, Apple, Lionsgate, Universal and Sony.

But the video portal is eager to make inroads with CPG giants, national food chains, and other brands that cast a wider demographic net. YouTube execs argue its massive reach justifies the attention of these advertisers. They may have a point. The site boasts upward of 35 million U.S. impressions per month on its homepage alone and 83 million total unique visitors to the site. That gives it a fourth-place ranking among all U.S. Web sites in March, according to ComScore.

YouTube execs argue the new McDonald’s ad represents progress in its efforts to appeal to everyman brands of the sort that routinely buy homepage placements on traditional portals like Yahoo, AOL, and MSN.

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“You’ll see a lot more [verticals] in the next few weeks,” said Zal Bilimoria, YouTube’s product manager for the homepage. One of those is Sprint, which will run a rich media placement on Friday to promote its Now Network.

With the McCafe ad, McDonald’s becomes the first official advertiser to purchase YouTube’s “tandem” ad unit, one of two new formats available to marketers as of yesterday. The tandem consists of two synchronized ad placements (a 960×250 masthead and a 300×250 box below and to the right of it).

“The idea is that they can interact with each other and [create] a good experience,” said Bilimoria.

The other new unit is an expanding masthead that grows, when clicked, to a mammoth 950×500 pixels. (View a sample expanding masthead ad for Volvo)

The new ad formats were motivated in part by YouTube’s success with its original masthead unit, which has enjoyed a high adoption rate among advertisers since its January launch. And evidence suggests the unit performs well, with an interaction rate of 14 percent, well above DoubleClick’s industry benchmark estimate of 4.6 percent interaction rate for ads of a similar size. (YouTube’s definition of “interaction” includes user actions that may be construed as negative — for instance stopping a video from playing or closing an ad.)

Additionally, the masthead unit has international appeal. A campaign for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” involved masthead placements in 11 countries on April 23. It represented YouTube’s largest deal in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region to date for a campaign running on a single day, as measured by cost and geographical reach.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the homepage had 35 million unique users. In fact, it records upward of 35 million impressions per month. The number of homepage visitors is lower.

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