Video Marketing Youtube Marketing

How to capture and keep user attention with high-performance YouTube ads

By Callum Coard, PPC specialist

Vertical Leap


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

June 22, 2022 | 6 min read

Capturing viewers’ attention within five seconds is crucial for effective YouTube ads, but this only gets you off to a good start. To convert viewers into genuine leads you have to hold their attention throughout your ad – and then convince them to take action. Vertical Leap’s PPC specialist Callum Coard considers how marketers can better captivate audiences on YouTube.

Vertical Leap considers how brands can make better use of YouTube.

Vertical Leap considers how brands can make better use of YouTube

The classic techniques of TV advertising aren’t as effective in the fast-paced world of digital content, so you will have to take a different approach with YouTube ads.

Grab viewer attention from the start – and don’t let go

To help advertisers create more effective ads, Google partnered with Ipsos to research YouTube ad performance and developed a framework around their findings, which has been peer-reviewed by Nielson Neuro and Kantar.

Google calls this framework ABCD; Attract, Brand, Connect and Direct.

You can find out more in this Think With Google resource: ABCD – A playbook for building effective creative on YouTube (PDF).

To attract user interest in the first five seconds of your ads, Google suggests an alternative story structure from traditional TV advertising, known as the heartbeat narrative. While most TV ads use a conventional story arc built around a single peak (climax and big reveal), the heartbeat narrative makes an instant impact and uses several peaks to keep viewers’ attention.

Speaking as a guest in a recent Think With Google video tutorial, global creative effectiveness lead at Google Ariane Le Port explains that the top driver of high-performing YouTube ads is capturing and holding viewers’ attention – and the first five seconds are crucial.

“One way to do this is by using a heartbeat narrative structure, which starts with a dramatic moment and then continues to deliver multiple peaks, such as shifts in camera perspective, for surprises or interesting brand cues. Populating your story with a variety of twists keeps your audience on their toes and engaged.”

Google has identified four key components to capturing user attention in the opening seconds of your ad:

  1. Framing: Use tight framing on the subject, whether it’s a product or a person: clearly showing the person or product and using non-obscure angles makes it easier for the brain to process and sustain engagement

  2. Pacing: Aim for two or more shots in the first five seconds: having multiple shots in the first five seconds is a positive factor for ad recall and consideration

  3. Humanize: If people appear in your video, open with them on screen: faces attract immediate attention, heighten emotional motivation and increase engagement

  4. Surprise: Use stunning, delightful, unexpected, or otherwise memorable imagery: visual imagery that makes consumers think or feel in the first five seconds links to longer view times on YouTube and is a positive factor across the marketing funnel

Master these four techniques in your YouTube Ads and you should have a solid framework for capturing user attention quickly – but how can you hold on to it?

Three keys to holding attention in YouTube ads

Earlier, we referenced a tutorial featuring Le Port discussing the heartbeat narrative for grabbing viewers’ attention. In the same video, she expands upon this technique to explain the three keys to holding attention throughout your ad.

#1: Jump right in

With the fast-paced nature of online content, you have to jump right into the story. Use the heartbeat narrative as a guide to make an instant impact and use the techniques above to get a solid hold of viewers’ attention from the start: subject focus, tight framing and fast pacing.

#2: Hold interest with audio and text

Use audio, on-screen text elements and transition animations to hold viewers’ interest throughout your ad. Unlike many networks, 95% of videos watched on YouTube are played with the sound on – so don’t be afraid to enhance your ads with audio elements.

Reinforce your message with audio-visual elements – choose music that strikes the right emotions and reinforces key points with on-screen text.

#3: Prioritize mobile viewers

Over 70% of YouTube content is watched on mobile, so make sure you optimize for the mobile viewing experience. Again, use tighter framing and fast pacing for smaller displays, and also use larger text to make sure everything is readable on mobile. Use high-contrast elements and colors to enhance visibility on mobile screens, especially for viewers who are on the move or outside.

To hear everything Le Port has to say about holding viewers’ attention in the tutorial, you can watch the full video here.

Need help with your YouTube advertising? Our YouTube specialists can create engaging videos and manage your YouTube campaigns from start to finish. Contact us here.

Video Marketing Youtube Marketing

Content by The Drum Network member:

Vertical Leap

We are an evidence-led search marketing agency that helps brands get found online, drive qualified traffic to their websites and increase conversions/sales.


Find out more

More from Video Marketing

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +