Six tips for creating winning YouTube campaigns

Essence's EVP of strategy for North America lays out the golden rules.

What makes a great YouTube ad campaign? It sounds like a simple question but it's more complicated than you might think as YouTube is unlike any other platform.

Sure, it’s easy to use tailor-made short-form video or your TV ad cutdowns on YouTube but you'll also be missing out on a plethora of opportunities to customize your message for specific audiences.

Not long ago, I gained a much richer understanding of what makes a winning campaign when I participated as a judge in the YouTube Works Awards, designed to honor the most innovative and effective campaigns of 2018. It was a great experience, so I wrote up my notes and sent a message to my team outlining what I learned (without revealing the winners of course).  Here’s an edited version of that message.

1. Creative thinking and ideas win

Get out some flip boards and sharpies and put your right brain to work because the best ideas and the most creative thinking wins. It's an often quoted stat that creative or the creative idea can contribute up to 75 percent of the total advertising effect. And this is as true of YouTube as it is of TV, Podcasting or Outdoor.  

On the other hand, smart targeting, contextual relevance and customization are now merely table stakes. They are expected and whilst crucial to get to the final, they are unlikely to be the winning ingredient.

2. Ideas that truly embrace YouTube’s unique capabilities and user behaviors win more

Harness the culture and community of YouTube to enhance your story. Think about the idiosyncrasies of the platform and ask what people do on YouTube that they don’t do anywhere else.

The options are endless: from simple behaviors that are endemic to the platform (tutorials or unboxing for example) to creators who are popular with distinctive and sometimes downright weird subcultures (reaction videos or AMSR).  Work that leverages a specific YouTube behavior (or even multiple behaviors) wins the most.

3. Start with YouTube, don’t finish with it

Advertisers frequently just take a TV campaign and try to amplify it on YouTube. It shouldn't be a surprise but it doesn’t work as well as video that is created for YouTube and then finds its way to other channels. TV used to be the anchor for a creative idea that gets adapted and integrated across an entire media system.  

You Tube can play that role now too. Also, whilst we're at it... that long shot of two people walking on the beach may look stunning on a large-screen HDTV but think carefully about how it will appear on a mobile device where the people will probably appear as small dots.

4. Execute flawlessly

Amazing execution will forgive many sins, especially not-so-original ideas. Truly unique ideas are hard to come by, so whether consciously or not, old ideas tend to come back in new guises. That's not necessarily a bad thing.  After all, Mad Max; Fury Road was pretty damn good. But if you do take this path, please try to surprise the viewer (and the judge!) by putting a fresh new spin on it and by executing it utterly flawlessly.

5. YouTube is so much more than video reach

Great campaigns are stories, not just reach, impressions and responses. If you are thinking of YouTube as an extension of your reach, then you’re leaving a load of opportunity on the table. YouTube is a platform that can carry a rich and layered narrative through a sophisticated deployment strategy. Where does your campaign start on YouTube, what turns can it take, where does it finish? Put in the time to think it through.

6. Thoughtful use of data really makes a difference

Campaigns that use data to drive the storytelling as well as drive the reach of specific audiences are extremely effective. Think about how you can apply YouTube data and other brand or category data in a creative way that makes your idea significantly more distinctive and meaningful than your competitors.

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