YouTube’s First Decade: The Top Ads and the Trends That Define Them

YouTube has just announced the winner of its YouTube Top Ads contest in partnership with The Webby Awards. The contest is part of the celebration of YouTube’s 10th Birthday. Digital marketers can learn some important lessons from brands that have created great content as well as iconic ad moments on YouTube over the past 10 years.

The favorite YouTube ad of the past decade

The favorite YouTube ad of the past decade was created by Turkish Airlines, along with the teams at Crispin Porter & Bogusky (CP+B) and Starcom. It’s “Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout.”

 

The follow-up to their 2012 “Legends on Board” spot, “Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout” was an instant hit on YouTube. In fact, the video, which puts two of the world’s biggest sports superstars against each other in a game of selfie-shooting one-upmanship, skyrocketed to 25 million views in the first three days! Cleverly combining the world’s newfound “selfie” obsession with the star-power of Kobe Bryant and Messi, the ad found its way to the top of the YouTube Ads Leaderboards for both December 2013 and the Cannes Special Edition.

Andrew Keller, CEO of CP+B, says, “Selfie Shoot-out had all the right ingredients for success on YouTube: an adventuresome client, two of the most globally well-loved figures in sports, a great idea and a terrific platform to share our work. We love the opportunity YouTube gives brands to interact, build relationships and share their stories with consumers in authentic and fun ways. The fact that it was voted the top ad in YouTube’s ten year history is amazing, and we are really proud to be a part of their anniversary celebration in this great way.”

Other Top YouTube Ads from the Past Decade

In second place, Volkswagen’s 2011 Super Bowl spot, “The Force” (Deutsch Los Angeles, MediaCom), delighted viewers with a little boy dressed as Darth Vader, attracting over 8 million views before anyone saw it on TV.

In third place, “Always #LikeAGirl” (Leo Burnett, Starcom MediaVest Group) challenged and shattered negative perceptions of what it means to do something “like a girl.”

In fourth place, Volvo Trucks’ “The Epic Split feat. Van Damme” (Forsman & Bodenfors) took live truck testing to an epic new level.

In fifth place, “Dove Real Beauty Sketches | You’re more beautiful than you think” (Ogilvy Brazil, PHD, Mindshare), a social experiment showing women that when it comes to their beauty, sometimes they can be their own worst critics.

Combined, these five videos have been watched for over 7.7 million hours. That means people chose to spend over 875 years watching ads!

The Top Trends Behind the Top Ads on YouTube

Although advertisers and marketers voted for the top ads above, consumers have been voting too – with their views. And for most of the last decade, they’ve been choosing to watch ads on YouTube. At the end of last year, YouTube analyzed consumer “votes” (in the form of views) as well, and found that four of the top trending videos on YouTube in 2014 were created by advertisers.

Whether advertisers are voting or consumers are viewing, there’s certainly a lot that digital marketers can learn from the winners. What secret formulas do leading brands use? Here are 10 probable trends from the last 10 years of successful ads on YouTube:

1. Be authentic: On YouTube, authenticity is always the right choice. Look no further than the massive fandoms that vloggers like Grace Helbig continue to build with their straight-to-camera videos. Consider taking a page out of their books, like Dollar Shave Club did in 2012 with a video that shared everything from the brand’s persona to its value proposition—all while oozing authenticity.

2. Make video ads interactive: YouTube viewers are able to engage—comment, share, and click—in ways the TV generation never could. Make it easy for viewers to watch more or click-through to your website with interactive cards. Or consider responding to their comments directly, like the Old Spice Man did back in 2010. However you make your videos interactive, give the engaged YouTube audience the opportunity to do something, not just see something.

3. Collaborate with experts who live and breathe YouTube: Consider partnering with an experienced YouTube creator, like Friskies did with BuzzFeed on “Dear Kitten,” and get the added bonus of engaging a fandom of millions. YouTube creators are experts in cultivating relationships with their fans through the content they produce. They know the right tone to take and the right topics to cover because they’re having conversations on their own YouTube channels every day.

4. Take the time you need to tell your story: It’s time to break free of the 30-second spot. Nike’s “Winner Stays” video, which has more than 115 million views, is more than four minutes long. Your story doesn’t have to fit into a timeframe of 15 or 30 seconds anymore; it just has to be a story viewers want to watch.

5. Think like a filmmaker, not an ad maker: “Epic” used to be a word to describe the films that followed ads, but it’s not anymore. Ads these days can be epic too. Consider creating videos with a film-y feel and a dramatic, storytelling quality. Chipotle’s animated short “The Scarecrow,” launched a movement. Cartier’s “The Proposal” moved us emotionally. If you have the time to tell any story you like, why not make it epic?

6. Play a positive prank or two: There are such things as positive pranks, and people love to watch them. Pepsi Max, for example, put an unsuspecting car salesman in a Mustang with Jeff Gordon in “Test Drive.” And when a journalist questioned the authenticity of the ad, he became the unsuspecting passenger in a cab driven by Gordon for a follow-up ad. It’s fun to watch people get fooled as long as it’s all in good fun.

7. Have fun with ad formats: Ad formats don’t have to be limitations. It’s possible to use them to your advantage. But, think twice before playing with the “skip” button, for example. GEICO created a series of “unskippable” ads that communicate the brand’s message in just five seconds, telling the user, “You can’t skip this GEICO ad … because it’s already over.” Was it effective? In terms of views, the answer is yes. But, in terms of deeper levels of engagement, such as sharing, the answer is probably no.

8. Make your own memes: Memes aren’t just images and block letters – they can be humorous videos and video themes that spread quickly. Brands stand to benefit from adopting internet memes or inventing their own. Take Pepsi’s version of the “Harlem Shake” or T-Mobile’s “flash mob.” If fueling an existing meme fire isn’t for you, try making your own. Los Angeles-based fashion brand Wren’s “First Kiss” video, for example, has earned thousands of spinoff videos. For brands that dare to be bold, meme ads are great ways of joining the cultural conversation.

9. Give events a before, during, and after: Whether it’s for a sporting event such as the World Cup, or a cultural moment, such as the Academy Awards, brands are extending their air time during major events by uploading their ads early to YouTube. People watched nearly 7 million hours of ads and ad teasers from the Super Bowl in the first six weeks of 2015 – more than in all 52 weeks of 2014. And Adidas proved the value of getting an early start and sticking around long after an event with its 2014 World Cup campaign.

10. Less Jean-Claude Van Damme?: This may or may not be a trend. Millions of people spent a lot of time watching two reversing trucks demonstrate the precision and directional stability of Volvo Dynamic Steering – an innovative technology that makes the new Volvo FM easier to drive. But, according to Google Trends, searches for “Van Damme” spiked far more than searches for “Volvo Trucks” when “Epic Split” debuted. So, think twice before using celeb

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