Small Marketers Drive YouTube Past 20,000 Advertisers

You Don't Have to Be Old Spice to Make Effective Viral Ads

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YouTube is busy funding content channels in hopes of bringing more brand dollars to video. But it turns out that like search, there is a long tail for video advertising. YouTube said it has 20,000 different advertisers running campaigns, a 100% increase from last year.

"The 20,000 advertisers are all separate companies that are running campaigns with us," said YouTube's senior product manager, Phil Farhi. "Everything from major brands to the smaller, newer types of advertisers."

It turns out video can be a pretty powerful tool for tiny advertisers, ones that you won't find on TV. One example: GoPro, a manufacturer of helmet-mounted cameras that upload directly to YouTube and other platforms. Its ads have garnered millions of views and are shared all over the internet.

"They are not a Super Bowl-sized advertiser, but they work really well with a subset of the YouTube community," Mr. Farhi said. "And they are running most of our ad formats." That's one way to take advantage of the audience that 's available on YouTube -- niche communities waiting for their kind of product.

Mr. Farhi said that as of this year, 98 out of 100 of Ad Age 's top 100 advertisers are now advertising with YouTube. The challenge is increasing those budgets through more "premium" inventory, hence why YouTube's content efforts now under way.

Winning on YouTube means creating ads or branded content that people want to watch or, even better, pass around. Last fall, YouTube introduced TrueView video ads that are viewer-initiated. The advertiser only pays when viewers choose to watch. Mr. Farhi said a quarter of all in-stream YouTube ads can now be skipped.

So, what works on YouTube? Here are five common-sense rules:

Tell a story: The best way to get an audience to pay attention is get them interested. Auto companies Volkswagen and Chrysler used YouTube around the Super Bowl to tell compelling narratives with great characters while selling their products. For Volkswagen, it was the tiny Darth Vader in "The Force" and for Chrysler, Eminem was the protagonist in "Imported From Detroit."

Make it interactive: One of the best things about the web is that often viewers aren't just passively watching the content but can participate in it, combining the best of technology and creativity. A great example of this point is the way Dreamworks promoted the release of "Kung Fu Panda 2" by creating an ad that allowed viewers to "chop up" the spot. This is not a new idea -- it was done by agencies such as Goodby Silverstein back in 2008. Technology to allow this kind of creativity is improving daily.

Start a conversation: Of course, this phrase has become a mantra for conversational marketing experts, and it works as well in video ads as it does in social media -- YouTube is a social-media website, after all. The Nike Foundation gained support for empowering girls growing up in poverty through its campaign "The Girl Effect." The campaign has started all kinds of conversations online and keeps going.

Create original content: Just throwing a TV spot on a brand page won't work. But what does work is creating the type of content that has proven to be successful online -- think humorous music videos, short-form series, kittens. Toyota created fictional parents for a non-fiction lifestyle, providing a cooling salve for Gen X parents struggling to embrace the cul-de-sac through their musical "Swagger Wagon" campaign. Another is Nike 's "Meet the LeBrons" animated series.

Engage the YouTube community: By now, the way Old Spice sparked a meme and millions of response videos through "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" is legendary. But even though it's unlikely that any company can ever duplicate the other-worldly success of Old Spice, the campaign is still an example of how a brand can tap into the community to spread its message. A good way to do it -- if you don't have the amazing amalgam of skills and luck that birthed Old Spice -- is to work with YouTube partners who have millions and sometimes tens of millions of fans in their community. Brands that latch onto the YouTube partners can do very well for themselves, as exemplified by Mystery Guitar Man and Garnier for "Desert Music" or Shay Carl and Footlocker.

As a genre, ads-as-entertainment keep getting better. Here are some of the best viral ads of the past year.

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