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YouTube Effort Boosts Awareness, But What About Ad Sales?

Ads Have Attracted Some Marketers, Though Not Necessarily New Ones

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Comedians Key and Peele go to war on Maker Studios' Epic Rap Battles of History
Comedians Key and Peele go to war on Maker Studios' Epic Rap Battles of History

Four months ago YouTube launched a marketing blitz to make audiences and advertisers more aware of its homegrown talent. So how has the campaign worked so far?

It depends on how you're measuring. The campaign's first phase --which debuted in April and promoted YouTube creators Michelle Phan, Bethany Mota and Rosanna Pansino -- increased people's awareness of the trio fourfold, a YouTube spokeswoman said. The brand awareness lift was measured based on an online panel of 18-to-34-year-olds surveyed by researcher Ipsos. The spokeswoman declined to comment further, other than to say that YouTube plans to roll out a third phase later this year.

Awareness is fine, but audience is a more important measure from a business perspective. Advertisers and their wallets tend to follow people's eyeballs. And considering that YouTube timed the campaign's first two phases to major advertising events (the Digital NewFronts and Cannes Lions festival), advertisers appear to be as much the target audience as viewers.

"If these channels don't get mainstream viewership, then they'll never be as attractive to us as Google would like them to be. It's always smart when people try to build up their audience," said Catherine Davis, president of Vizeum Americas.

Here is a look at how the viewerships of Mss. Mota's, Phan's and Pansino's channels have fared heading into and since the campaign's April 7 launch, according to data provided by online video analytics firm Tubular Labs.

As the charts show, the three channels saw somewhat gradual accelerations in views after the campaign's initial roll-out. Ms. Phan's channel saw a large spike in late May, though it's hard to say whether that's thanks to the campaign or a particularly popular video she uploaded at the time. The same can be said of any spike any of the advertised channels experienced.

The campaign's second phase may offer a clearer look at any correlation between the campaign and channels' popularity. That phase promoted Maker Studios' "Epic Rap Battles of History" and Vice News and rolled out in a staggered fashion. TV spots for "Epic Rap Battles" premiered on June 12 during the World Cup's first match, and Vice News ads followed, starting on June 30.

These numbers -- again provided by Tubular Labs -- show how the campaign has coincided with more people checking out the channels' videos and whether they have opted to do so on an ongoing basis as subscribers.

View and subscriber numbers for "Epic Rap Battles" had picked up their pace heading into the campaign phase's launch and then shifted into higher gear after the spots went live. Vice News' view and subscriber stats show a similarly steep climb following the June 30 roll-out of ads for that channel.

YouTube didn't only want to raise channels' awareness among viewers, but also advertisers. That's why the first phase rolled out right before the Digital Content NewFronts presentations and YouTube put up billboards touting the creators in New York. The second phase placed outdoor ads at the advertising industry's biggest annual gathering, the Cannes Lions festival.

"Clearly it was targeting the ad community as well as consumers," said Michael Wayne, CEO of YouTube network Kin Community, which counts Ms. Pansino among its roster of stars. "The campaign certainly helped her brand awareness grow amongst advertisers."

Kin Community's sales team benefited from the timely exposure during NewFronts. "Food brands, retail, CPG have all expressed interesting in learning more about her and working with her," Mr. Wayne said.

Maker Studios Head of Sales Jason Krebs said advertisers have inquired about "Epic Rap Battles" after seeing the YouTube ads but those advertisers were already in talks with the YouTube network. As for the ads bringing new advertisers into the fold, "that hasn't shown its face."

Digitas Senior VP-Social Content Co-Lead John McCarus said he's had clients who became aware of certain YouTube channels as a result of the campaign's ads. In one case, Digitas was working with a client on "a massive content-licensing initiative" and saw the campaign directly tip the scale "in terms of making a commitment to a YouTube licensing deal," he said.

The client "felt like they had a better understanding of the talents being promoted and that awareness gave them a sense of confidence and validation. It's an old-school ad outcome," Mr. McCarus said.

YouTube's broadly targeted campaign didn't hit the mark with every advertiser. Razorfish has a lot of direct-response clients like H&R Block that are more concerned with driving measurable results than brand awareness. "The programming [YouTube has advertised] wouldn't quite appeal to them as some other folks where the base is broader," said Razorfish Chief Media Officer Vik Kathuria. "From our perspective it makes sense to use Google as awareness, but in terms of the programs mentioned, we couldn't quite get any traction."

"We did have clients that were exposed to some of these YouTube stars. But I'll tell you, for advertisers focused on [YouTube's core] demo, they're not a foreign concept. If you're targeting millennials, you know who 'Epic Rap Battles' and Michelle Phan are," said UM Chief Investment Officer David Cohen. "The problem is really going after general mass brands who don't know who they are. They didn't get to that stage."

OMD Chief Digital Officer Ben Winkler said that YouTube's NewFronts sales strategy had more of an impact among savvy clients than the campaign. This year YouTube pitched buyers on a program called Google Preferred that bundled the top 5% of YouTube channels in certain categories like news and gaming.

"Our clients always knew there was tons of great content on YouTube…. There were probably advertisers and consumers who weren't familiar with the quality content on Google and for them the campaign was useful," Mr. Winkler said.

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