YouTube Users Name Top Five Ads of the Decade

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Time may have declared YouTube’s everyday user the “Person of the Year” in 2006, but advertising and marketing’s adoption of the channel has proven just as powerful. Last year, almost half of the top 10 most-watched videos on YouTube were ads.  Market permeation is clear: it’s rare that an agency won’t leak their Super Bowl video on YouTube days before, becoming a YouTube star is a common millennial aspiration, and video content is the new black when it comes to marketing of all stripes.

So to celebrate YouTube’s ten-year anniversary, in partnership with the Webby awards, they asked users to vote for the best ads of the decade. The top five results are a tour through some of the most inventive ads in recent memory and each has a marketing lesson in it. Let’s go through them here.

#5 – Dove “Real Beauty” Sketches | You’re more beautiful than you think

In 2006, Dove had everyone talking about real beauty with bus ads of “real” women in their underwear. YouTube has only helped Dove zone in on this “real women” vision, and this mini-documentary/social experiment is one of the best examples of what the platform can do. Longer than the usual one-minute ads that flash before you on broadcast television, Dove takes its time in this video, wrenching all the sentiment it can in three minutes and not shying away from an emotional call that has only gotten clearer the more they’ve delved into the “real beauty” creative.

Marketing takeaway: When creating original video content for your brand, you can do a lot in three minutes, which is probably the longest you can hold the audience’s attention anyway. Think mini-documentary style: what does your brand do for the regular person, and how can you show that in their natural environment? Or, think social experiment: what does your product do that others don’t, and how can you show that with a fun experiment in the real world?

#4 – Volvo Truck’s Epic Split feat. Van Damme

When this debuted in 2013, the ‘90s were very much in (they still are), and, without being too cheesy, this ad capitalized on that. It quietly stars an actor from the ‘90s and a song from the ‘90s, allowing for some serious throwback enjoyment for it’s target age demographic, while also being simply beautiful. And that’s the smartest thing about it: it’s simple and beautiful, just like the cars.

Marketing takeaway: Sometimes the simplest answer is the best. Does your product make things simpler? Is it just plain beautiful in how it works? Secondly, when you think about trendjacking, think about how you might do it in a subtle way. It’ll stand out among everyone else’s loud aping.

#3 Always #LikeAGirl campaign

It looks like Always too a page from the Dove book with this campaign, but made it their own with a hashtag that really caught on. Again, this mini-documentary/social experiment can go longer on YouTube (unless, of course, it’s airing during the Super Bowl) than broadcast to capture the audience’s attention, and it’s physicality and casting are top-notch. An interesting thing to note, however, is that while Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign is very much aligned with Dove’s branding, I haven’t heard much about Always’ branding beyond this. It’s easy to talk about Dove as a beauty brand because it’s products are beauty products. Always makes feminine hygiene products, which is trickier to get people excited about. A lot of people were and are excited about this campaign, but can Always translate that into brand love?

Marketing takeaway: What social zeitgeist does your brand want to stand with? Don’t wait for someone else to claim it and pass the torch–legitimately claim the commentary with a fresh take. Tell a story that has social impact. If it’s hard to talk about your brand or products, don’t shy away: lean into it. People will notice.

#2 Volkswagen “The Force”

There isn’t a lot to say about this ad except it just plain works. It’s very traditional in its execution, and audiences ate it up before it even aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. 8 million people saw it on YouTube before Game Day. 

Marketing takeaway: Cute works. Got kittens? Got little kids? Use ‘em.

#1 Turkish Airline’s “Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout” 

You Tube users have spoken: this is the YouTube ad of the decade, and it’s not that surprising. This ad has it all: competing sports stars, a bunch of selfies, and a dose of camp to round it out. This didn’t garner a lot of critical acclaim, but it did garner a lot of views, to the tune of 25 million in just three days. Perhaps the lesson here is to give the viewers what they want, regardless of innovative storytelling.

Marketing takeaway: Be quick, be campy, and be starry. Use the most famous or best brand ambassadors you can find. Have them do things that Kim Kardashian does. Don’t be afraid to give your viewers what they like, and to do it well. It might not win you any awards, but it will get you some serious brand love. 

Which YouTube ads did you love over the years? What should have won? What common takeaways do you see in these top five ads?

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