Q&A: Google creative director Ben Jones on YouTube TV, six-second ads and SXSW

Brands that act like content creators, like GoPro and Lyft, are the ones to watch on the platform, he said.

For Google creative director Ben Jones, the scientific method is the only way to truly understand how ads affect consumers.  

That’s why he founded Google’s "Unskippable Labs" program, where, for the past 18 months, his team has developed hypotheses around content and then tested them out in the real market in order to judge implications for advertisers. "We try to give them some inside guidance and more directional understanding on how people are changing and how they need to change as well," Jones said.

With YouTube entering the cord-cutting wars with live TV and placing more focus on six-second ads, the creative director has a lot of experimention ahead of him.

At SXSW on Sunday night, Jones spoke at an invitation-only panel held at Google’s "YouTube Corner" called "From Six Words to Six Seconds: How the New Age of Storytelling and Innovation Intersect." Jones was joined by Myra Nussbaum, SVP and group creative director at DDB, Sebastian Tomich, SVP of advertising and innovation at The New York Times’ T Brand Studio, and Jess Greenwood, vp of content and partnerships at R/GA to discuss the art of data-infused storytelling in the digital age.

Campaign US spoke with the creative director about which brands are succeeding in storytelling and trends at SXSW.

You say brands need to be storytellers. What are some things brands struggle with on the platform?
Advertisers all have the same problem—how to connect with people that spend all their time on mobile devices. A lot of questions revolve around what to do with a three-inch screen and what do you do with the attention span of a 17-year-old, a 20-year-old, a 50-year-old.

Brands that are traditional, like Mars, they are very ad-driven, very sales driven. So, What happens to a brand like that? Are they going to inject culture in 30-second bursts, in six-second bursts? Are they going to change their storytelling in some new way?

Which brands are most effective at storytelling on the platfrom?
Brands that function as content creators like GoPro. Lyft has been exciting to watch, especially in the last 12 months. Those guys have come on like a house on fire. As Uber has struggled, Lyft has risen, and a lot of it on the back of some super interesting storytelling. They released this short film in December called "June," which I think is beautiful and lovely. It doesn’t look like an ad, but it brings the brand to life in a really cool way.

We’ve also been doing a lot of very interesting experiments with movies and TV studios. They are essentially content-driven startups and, because they have movies launching every weekend, they have a lot of content. They’ve been great partners with us when it comes to determining how storytelling is different on mobile.

Speaking about TV, what will draw users to YouTube TV?
It’s a huge launch. For me, that’s all about the human behavior, which is giving users the things they want, the way they want them and where they want them. From a user perspective, it’s a very strategic, fortunate offering for our platform. 

What will ads look like on YouTube TV?
My understanding is that the broadcast model isn’t going to change. We are focusing on access at this point, and then the ad model will evolve in the future.

Do you see YouTube ads longer than six-seconds petering out?
We see the option of a skippable, longer format still tremendously powerful. So, I don’t think any brand in the future is going to be solely built on six-second ads. The fact that forced six-second ads are becoming more effective and welcome, I think that’s an indication to brands to figure out how they are inviting users into their stories and what stories they have to tell.

What are the trends emerging from SXSW this year?
Journalism, access to information and understanding, what is meaningful and real is a huge topic. I think the recent election and political climate has turned our whole world on its ear. The New York Times, for instance, has the combination of data and the power of journalists to make stories on behalf of brands. I’m curious about how they are going to look at the future of that.

As for tech, I think everyone is waiting to see what scale for VR and AR will look like. Nobody knew that they wanted augmented reality and then came Pokemon Go, and suddenly the Norwegian parliament can’t get their bills passed because the Prime Minister has to "catch them all" while they are in session. With VR, there’s some scale with Google Carboard and YouTube 360 video, but true VR is still a ways out. Right now we have our small experiences, but who is going to be the "Star Wars" of VR? 

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