I’ve had a keen eye for marketing as long as I can remember. As a child, I reached for the Want Ads before the comics and always paid far more attention to commercials than the programming they were embedded in. After three and a half decades of watching, it drives me crazy when I see big name advertisers consistently misusing a marketing form. I’ve found that to be especially true in video content.
Everybody, large and small, has seen the little commercials that YouTube forces you to watch before you can click through to get to your video of dancing cats. They’re the little annoyances that we all wait impatiently through, until the “Skip Ad” button pops up. According to a TubeMogul report in 2013, up to 85 percent of all those ads are skipped with glee.
So, where does that leave us? You might as well play the lottery as invest in YouTube ads, it would seem — but I think there’s a lot more to these figures. I think the blame lies with the marketers and not the click happy consumers who are already proving their potential by seeking novelty in the ‘Tubes.
YouTube Commercials Versus Television Spots
A YouTube Commercial is not the same as a television or radio spot. You’ve not got a captive audience, so stop thinking you do. Even though your TV ads might mean a bathroom break for viewers, eventually they’ll be forced to see whatever it is you’ve got to say. They’ll be forced — even if it’s not meaningful, even if it doesn’t hook all that well, even if the message is buried deep in artsy-fartsy bullshit.
Your average YouTube user could take or leave the video they’re watching. Have you been to the ‘Tubes? It’s a useful library, but very little of the content ranks among what’s legit or essential to life as we know it. Many videos are too short to even function as very serious distractions. And yet, users are drawn there every single day to learn about whatever they need to know — and they keep coming for those clips. But if you believe they’re captive, you’re wrong.
Five Seconds to Hook
I’ve watched my share of videos of talking parrots and piano-playing housepets to notice a few things about YouTube Commercials. The biggest thing — the thing everybody should be noticing — is that you’ve got five seconds to hook. That’s it. You can’t simply take your old TV spot and repurpose it — it’s gotta be meat all the way or you’re just another skipped ad.
YouTube Commercials have to be designed differently, with a different way of thinking, in order to succeed. These are the components that I believe are necessary for success:
Fast hooks. I already wrote this, but it bears repeating. You have no time, as in zero seconds, to start setting your hook. Set it within the first two or three seconds or you’re sunk. At Second Five, your potential audience is saying good-bye.
Short, targeted messages. Just because you CAN make a YouTube Commercial that’s 20 or 30 seconds long doesn’t mean that you should. Keep them short, keep them on-target and you’ll have fewer misses. That means cutting the fat, mixing your message and your hook and combining elements you might otherwise feel weird about combining. If you can do it all in five to 10 seconds, you deserve a medal.
Clear calls to action. OMG. If there’s one thing I see in YouTube Commercials that bugs the crap outta me, it’s that so many are missing clear calls to action. It’s a commercial, people — commerce! If you want someone to click a link to learn more, provide it, if you want them to try your product in stores, say so. No one is going to bother to Google you, you have to put your message out there.
Make it interesting. Although I’d much rather watch a short, on-target ad that was dull as dishwater, you’re going to win a lot more flies with witty, clever marketing than the boring stuff. Think one-liners, think short sight gags, think funny, but simple. Simple makes the world go round and simple will be what your viewers are willing to tolerate and maybe even absorb.
It’s not rocket science, guys. It’s a paddling pool that no one seems to have figured out isn’t all that deep, after all. This is simple stuff if you think about it from the perspective of the average YouTube viewer. They’re there to look at short instructionals or clips of funny videos. They’re simple folk with simple tastes – don’t over think this.