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What is the secret to increasing engagement with video ads on YouTube? Follow the ABCs laid out here

YouTube has tips for video ad engagement.

YouTube says it has over one billion users and these consumers watch hundreds of millions of hours of content each day. But they also have plenty of options to avoid the content they don’t want to see.

That’s in part why Mark McMaster, video product strategy lead at YouTube, said the first few moments of a YouTube video are “really, really important” at the recent C3 event in New York.

He also said it’s worth noting people consume video differently on YouTube versus TV. The latter is more of a lean-back experience, but users want immediacy on YouTube. The difference is easy to see in movie trailers created specifically for YouTube, like 10 Cloverfield Lane, which had a faster, more intense version, McMaster said.

In addition, he said the devices on which viewers consume content has impact on behavior, pointing to research with eye-tracking technology that showed consumers are more focused on larger screens, but their eyes dart all over the place on mobile.

So other than creating fast-paced content with a killer opening, how can marketers capture and hold the attention of consumers on YouTube?

According to McMaster, it’s with guidelines he called the ABCDs of YouTube:

A: Attract

Advertisers have about three to five seconds to hook viewers, McMaster said. And there are a few ways to do that.

First, there’s the unexpected opening.

“Something funny or surprising tends to have a good amount of stickiness,” he said.

In addition, celebrities – or simply people – are the best thing to put in opening frames. More specifically, women and children tend to have the highest view-through rates, McMaster said.

A good example includes something like Oprah talking about her favorite breakfast for Weight Watchers.

Cropped shots also work well.

“Medium/close shots of people early on helps attract viewers and plays better on smaller screens,” McMaster said.

Look at this humorous spot from Chatbooks. Because consumers may not know about this photo printing and album creation service, the company has to weave an explanation into its story. However, it first hooks viewers with a close-up shot of a mom in a bathtub and then unfolds with humor, McMaster said.

In addition, McMaster said there are “three organic levers worth knowing if you want more exposure.”

The levers? Thumbnails, metadata and playlists.

Per McMaster, YouTube has learned clear and in-focus images are important in thumbnails. They should be high resolution, close up and “visually interesting.” However, the addition of text “very significantly decreased the clicks” on thumbnails, which McMaster surmised was perhaps because it connotes marketing and branding in the thumbnail tends to decrease click-through rate in organic exposure on YouTube.

In metadata, McMaster said any description is more important on video than another type of content because it has a huge impact on how the video appears in search results and organically on YouTube, he said.

In addition, video titles should tell stories, like How much does a shadow weigh, which may inspire viewers to click more than the thumbnail.

McMaster’s third and final organic lever is playlists, which he said are an underutilized tool to make content discoverable.

“Loop [videos] together and you’re much more likely to get follow-on views,” he added.

QSR brands like Wendy’s and Taco Bell are masters at this, McMaster said – with the latter integrating user-generated content into its own branded content on playlists.

B: Brand

Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer when it comes to how brands should integrate assets in YouTube videos – rather, it depends on your objectives, McMaster said.

“If you’re trying to tell the whole story, be a little more sparing,” he said. “We find the full view-through rate declines with the level of branded content you find.”

Marketers should strive for seamless integration in which their products feel natural, like this ad from Tic Tac that puts the brand’s iconic packaging to good use.

“It was packaged as an ad, but it has the feel of a YouTube video,” he said.

What’s more, product integration in place of a logo can yield the same benefits in increasing ad recall because it feels less salesy, such as this ad from Canon about its Pixma printer.

McMaster also recommended thinking about using audio and video together to drive brand recall and awareness.

C: Connect

Advertisers should also take advantage of YouTube Analytics to see where the view-through rate is dropping and perhaps edit the video differently and/or tell the story differently to fix the problem causing viewers to drop off.

“From the beginning, shoot multiple pieces of content and think about your editing strategy,” McMaster said.

But, once they’re hooked, how do you get viewers to keep watching?

Not surprisingly, humor is the #1 reason people stay, McMaster said. A good example from the B2B space is this #Because Weekend Warrior spot from GoTo Meeting.

But McMaster said a close second to humor is emotion – but brands have to actually make an emotional connection with viewers that is not contrived like the Ad Council’s Fans of Love spot.

“You’re typically not talking about a brand itself – you’re talking about brand values – but you need to create a story above and beyond the brand,” he added.

Pacing is also “super important” when connecting with users and McMaster said the “master of this” is Nike, such as in its Nike Presents Da Da Ding.

“They do such a superb job in editing – I’m sure they’re in Analytics at every moment,” he added.

D: Direct

But marketers must also consider how to direct consumer attention once the video is over.

“The goal isn’t just to watch, but to take action,” McMaster said.

That means including a call to engage in the video, particularly if the objective is to drive sales or action. In addition, overlays and end screens allow brands to have what McMaster called a two-way-ish conversation with consumers and drive actions like clicks and downloads.

Finally, McMaster said to think about remarketing and sequential storytelling, such as Canon did with its Bring It and Leave It spots.

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