Upfront and personal: Why brands should make the most of online video

Google's David Black

'Choice', 'engagement', 'authenticity'. These are the terms that stood out at this year’s inaugural UK Digital Upfronts. We are in the midst of a new age of creativity, for content creators and for brands.

And the Digital Upfronts showed that the UK continues to be at the forefront of innovation. The week built on the tradition of TV Upfronts which provide advertisers with an advance view of the season’s programming. Here in the UK, the Digital Upfronts, organised by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), provided a platform for media owners, technology companies and content creators to showcase their creativity and innovations. The events highlighted the importance of digital advertising and its impact on brand awareness and on purchasing decisions.

The power of video advertising and the possibilities of the medium came across loud and clear through the week. Video advertising spend on the internet and mobile phones increased almost 60 per cent year-on-year, reminding us again that advertisers are looking to reach consumers in new ways. On YouTube, viewership is growing at 50 per cent year-on-year and over one billion fans now visit the platform every month.

The growth in digital is driven by changing consumer behaviour, creating new ways for brands to connect with their target audiences. In the past four years, TV viewership among Britain’s 16-to-34 demographic has fallen 15 per cent. It’s fallen 10 per cent among the 35-to-54 demographic. Meanwhile, mobile usage has grown 700 percent in just two years. Just shy of one in every two videos – 45 per cent of all YouTube content consumed in the UK – is watched on a mobile phone or tablet.

People are consuming so much video online for two main reasons. First, we live in a world blessed with choice. We actively choose the content we want, and watch it when we want, on whatever device is most convenient. So now, prime time is all the time. During the Digital Upfronts, we heard from Jamie Oliver at YouTube's Brandcast event on how he's creating bespoke content, specifically for YouTube, to reach fans when they choose to tune in, and in a way that’s authentic.

Second, online video is engaging. It’s become an active, participatory adventure where fans connect with creators, where they comment and share, where they build passionate communities – around content they love. They make fan videos; they pour iced water on their heads; they watch, share and embed ads. That's the power of engagement.

Online is growing fast for all demographics, but younger consumers continue to spearhead changing behaviours. The 'now generation' are demanding a new approach to consuming content and a more engaging, interactive experience. The new approach to content creation was articulated most clearly by Shane Smith, CEO and founder of Vice Media. Vice has built its strategy around what young people want; a more authentic picture of the world which reflects and responds to their interests and concerns. While Vice has been described as 'the next CNN', it has a bigger ambition – to become 10 times the next CNN.

Crucially, young people aren’t just engaging with these channels, they’re also creating them. You only have to look to the new generation of YouTube stars such as Zoella and SloMo Guys to see the power and creativity of these new celebrities. With subscriber numbers in the millions and a constant level of interaction with their fans, YouTube stars have shown us that authenticity is the way to build a loyal fan base.

All this choice and engagement gives marketers a better way to reach consumers. And because when viewers choose what they watch, and when they’re engaged, they pay closer attention to ads. During the Digital Upfronts, we heard how more and more brands are tapping into engaged digital audiences. For example, at YouTube’s Brandcast event, Pepsico’s UK chief marketing officer, Sebastian Micozzi, explained that it is seeing a 43 per cent increase in media ROI by significantly increasing its investment in YouTube.

More and more brands are wanting to reach engaged consumers. At Brandcast, we announced Google Preferred, a new way for brands to buy “the audiences you value, watching the content they love”. Google Preferred lets advertisers reserve the top 5 per cent of YouTube’s most engaging content, giving brands certainty about where – and when – their ads will run.

The UK Digital Upfronts were proof that the UK is one of the most advanced online advertising markets in the world. UK consumers are spending more and more time on digital platforms. And the UK is home to some of the most inventive and successful content creators. That’s a great opportunity for brands to connect with consumers in new ways and write the new rules for branding and engagement.

David Black is director of branding for Google UK

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