How the Top Ad Agencies Win on YouTube: Great Creative, Lots of Ads

Wieden & Kennedy, OMD Headline the List

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Winning YouTube is part art, science, web savvy, luck, and let's be honest: deep pockets to buy advertising. Some agencies, like OMD and Wieden & Kennedy, make it look easy.

The media agency and creative shop headline YouTube's list of the top agencies to have run ads on the Google-owned video service last year (full list below).

Pepsi Max's 'Test Drive' spot went viral for OMD
Pepsi Max's 'Test Drive' spot went viral for OMD

YouTube's agency rankings are determined by how many times an agency's video ads -- only videos that have run as ads on YouTube are counted -- made YouTube's monthly ads leaderboard in 2013. That leaderboard evaluates the ads according to how many paid and non-paid views they received as well as how much of a video people watched.

YouTube may have a science to ranking the agencies, but how the agencies' videos merited their ranking is a squishy mix of art and commerce.

"You cannot make a video viral. Anyone who says they can is lying. The best you can do is improve the odds," said OMD chief digital officer Ben Winkler. In the Omnicom agency's case,

To better its clients' chances of attracting eyeballs, the Omnicom agency usually buys two to three million paid views. "Anything less may not catch fire. More than that, you're paying for views you might be getting otherwise through earned, and it's not worth the extra expense," Mr. Winkler said.

However "no amount of media strategy can make a terrible video go viral," Mr. Winkler said.

On the other hand, a good video may not need that many ad dollars to take hold. In the case of a Pepsi Max spot starring Nascar driver Jeff Gordon, OMD was able to dial back the buy because it caught on quickly. "We ended up spending only half the budget," Mr. Winkler said.

"We don't buy that much paid media for these clients, but we're digging into how stuff is available when people go looking for it," said Mark Fitzloff, global executive creative director at Wieden & Kennedy. The agency has found a significant number of views taking place outside of YouTube through YouTube videos embedded on social networks and other sites.

For all the distribution levers being pulled, the content of the video ads that work online isn't that different from their TV counterparts. Many times they are one and the same. "Most of the stuff on [YouTube's list] was launched on broadcast [television]," said Mr. Fitzloff.

But those spots are held to a higher standard when they're pushed online. Not only can people often opt to skip a YouTube ad after five seconds, but they can also elect to not share it with others, limiting its reach to however many views a brand is willing to buy.

"You can get millions to watch a video, but you can't force them to like it. If the only goal is to get people to see an ad, that's what television is for," Mr. Winkler said.

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