The Shift From Commercials to Content

In my last column I discussed paid YouTube campaigns and how brands are advertising on the search engine through the flexible TrueView platform. As the success of video ads increases, marketers are looking at online video differently – and telling their brands’ stories in new ways. In this column we will explore the shift by advertisers to content over commercials, and how this has shifted viewer consumption patterns.

Not Your Typical TV Spot

Online video provides a wealth of marketing opportunities to brands – and an array of formats not typically found on television. It was simply a matter of time before advertisers realized the potential for reaching their audiences with something more than a traditional :30 or :60 TV spot.

As television viewers’ attention has become more splintered and the DVR allows them to skip over commercials, brands are seeking new outlets to tell their stories – through meaningful video content on YouTube. They are wise to do so, as recent studies have shown that 66 percent of consumers who are engaged on at least two digital channels visit YouTube daily.


A similar study has also shown that the digitally active users (two-plus channels) spend around five hours a week consuming YouTube content vs., for example, just 2.9 hours on LinkedIn.


This is not a new trend but a growing one. Last year, TED’s “Ads Worth Spreading” awards went to highly creative, compelling commercials that were much longer than TV spots and told (and sold) brand stories.

The big questions for marketers then are: what type of brand content does your audience consume? What kind of content engages and excites them?

In a prior column about optimizing video for search, I talked about the importance of creating compelling, engaging videos that viewers want to watch, interact with, and share. These factors apply here as well. The successful commercials (now posing as video content) follow the same path to high viewership and brand loyalty, fed by consumers’ growing appetite for content, especially in longer form.

The data reveal that consumers love and consume long-form content digital commercials.


Longer content is also getting longer view times; digital video ads running with long-form videos had a completion rate of 93 percent as opposed to 68 percent for those running with short-form videos.


Content – the New Online Advertising Format

Advertisers are telling us a very different story on YouTube than we would see on TV and they are winning new fans and greater brand visibility. These videos, some of which are three minutes or longer – as long as an online video – offer a unique experience. They are immersive. This is due in part to:

  • YouTube’s flexible format. Without the constraints of broadcast/cable media buys, brands can create their own video channels and publish content that resonates deeply with their audience.
  • Creative freedom. The digital platform provides a wide-open canvas for marketers to develop a narrative that draws in the audience, whether because the stories are touching, entertaining, nostalgic, funny, or otherwise meaningful to viewers.
  • Fan participation = cost efficiency. Content posted on YouTube, when done right and well, will have a life beyond a brand’s channel. View counts, sharing across social networks, interactions, comments, and channel subscriptions all amplify a video’s and a brand’s digital presence and social currency – without paying for the additional engagement.

Ads Leaderboards

Every month, Google posts YouTube Ads Leaderboards that showcase the video ads that consumers watched and shared most – two potent signals of audience engagement. These are determined by YouTube’s algorithm that factors in paid views, organic views, and view rate.

These ads are more like short movies that show how today’s savvy marketers are feeding consumers’ video habits in ways that keep them coming back for more.

YouTube’s Ads Leaderboard from this year’s Cannes festival, where the advertising industry bestows its most prestigious creative awards, is filled with great examples of this. It lists YouTube’s 10 most-watched, most-shared digital ads uploaded during the Cannes submission period.

The long and short of it all? Long-form videos that entertain and engage are helping brands sell as viewers watch, share, subscribe, and interact with these commercials-as-content to build brand awareness and engagement.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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