Defining YouTube Ad Creative
This story starts, like many do, with a question: Why is my ad not working?
I used to ask this question a lot and, at the time, I only had one simple formula to work with:
ad = bad
me = sad
Simple, yes, but it wasn’t really helping.
And that formula wasn’t just about ads that had already been tested. A lot of new clients would come to us with videos that had performed well on Facebook or that they thought had good potential and our media buyers would tell them it was a waste of time to run these on YouTube.
“But why?” they would ask. So, I had to tweak my formula to show them:
ad = bad
you = sad
Our account managers asked me to stop doing this as they were getting a lot of angry emails.
Why was it so difficult to analyze and explain the pros and cons of a specific video? On the performance side, you almost drown in terminology with CTRs and conversions, keywords, custom intent, and so on. There’s jargon for everything except for the actual content of the ad.
All we really had to talk about for creative was hook and CTA. It wasn’t exactly forensic analysis.
However, since we had VidTao, we had the ability to look at a lot of ads altogether and compare them. If no one else had made these definitions, maybe we would have to do it ourselves. We would go and look at hundreds of direct response ads and see what patterns and structures we could find.
This is what we found.
Play dramatic montage; drone shots of mountains, stock footage of hackers working in a basement, artsy close up of coffee machines, 83 Lamborghinis in a row, etc. Play “Epic cinematic music” from stock music site.
From what we analyzed using VidTao, every direct response ad has six key variables. And only one variable is about the actual product itself. Let’s take a look at each one.
All ads are offering you something and those offers fall into three categories:
- Paid Product
- Free Product
- Free Information
If you want the audience to go to a sales page and buy immediately, you are offering a paid product. You might incentivise this with discounts or bonuses, etc, but the purpose of the ad is to promote a paid product.
A free product is often something like an ebook or a cheat sheet. You’ll give this away as lead gen so that you can get people into your email funnel and eventually make a sale that way. For some SaaS companies, this might be a free trial for the software or a basic plan where you get to login once a year and customer support is just a photo you can shout at.
Free information is a webinar or a live training. Although the content in an ebook and a webinar might be the same, audiences see these differently and the funnel for a free product is typically much slower; you expect them to take time to use the product and get value out of it before moving on to the next step. But with a webinar, most of your conversions will come directly from the webinar itself. You also only need to give your email to get a free product; you have to give your email and your time for free information.
Here’s an example for each type of offer:
Paid Product – Jawsersize – buy a jaw toner
Free Product – Grammarly – the Basic plan is free
Free Information – Tom Wang – it’s a free training video
2. Result Time
Very simple, this one. Is the result fast or is it slow?
If we look at the beauty niche as an example, you can see there are some products that have an extremely similar purpose but the audience will see them completely differently.
Makeup gives you an instant result. You buy it, you open it, you put it on, and then you decide if you like it or not. But moisturiser, which is also used to improve the appearance of your face, can take weeks or months to show any results. The result is very slow, or maybe it’s just that my face is aging faster than any product can compete.
We think this result time is an important difference because you are going to need to create a lot more trust to sell a product with a slow result. That influences the type of ad that is likely to work.
Just like with a movie, it’s not just about the story, it’s about how you are presenting it. You could make Titanic into an action movie or a thriller or even a comedy without changing much of the storyline. Titanic is a comedy already if you’re an iceberg.
So, with ads, we see six standard genres
- Voice Over
- UGC (User Generated Content)
Let’s have a look at each of these:
Most of the ad is the presenter talking to the camera. Of course, it can cut to b-roll and the presenter will become a voiceover but you have someone who is the face of the brand.
Example – VShred
These are very flexible on the visual side so it could be animation, or stock footage, or a b-roll of the product.
Example – ClickUp
This could be led by a presenter or a voiceover but the key difference is that they demonstrate the product and prove that it works.
This could be through looking at scientific data and research like you might see in a supplement ad or a medical product. Or you could just see the product in action like classic TV infomercials where they cut through cans to sell sharp knives.
These ads are typically longer than the standard 1-2 minutes.
Example – 4Patriots
User-generated content or testimonial ads are pieced together from videos created by customers. This is pretty common to run an ad like this to warm traffic when the audience already knows what the offer is – now they are just getting some more credibility. A lot of ads have UGC in them, even when it’s not the main genre of the ad
Example – Manscaped
Ads that are just text are not as common on YouTube because most of the audience will watch with the sound on so it’s a waste. Typically the text only ads are Facebook ads that have been converted to YouTube. It’s important to point out that this normally doesn’t work.
Example – Save Sealer
Funny ads might have presenters or voiceovers but the focus here is on being original and getting people to enjoy the ad, more than focussing on the offer.
If you can get it right, these are often the most successful ads because Google will give you a great ad score, meaning you’ll get cheaper costs. That gives you more wriggle room to scale because you can reach more people for less money. It’s difficult to get right though.
Example – Grammarly
While the genre is mostly about the production of the ad, the frame is about the messaging. This is how we find the best way to get people engaged with the offer.
There are five frames:
The difference between them is not about the information or the pain point you are focussing on but how you are framing this idea.
This is the default ad type. What’s the problem? This is the solution. There are plenty of ways to make this more creative but it’s a fast way to connect with the audience and make it clear if this is something that is relevant to them or not.
Example – Tyson Zahner
From what we’ve seen on VidTao, claim ads seem to be the most common type of frame. They are pretty similar to problem ads but rather than focussing on the problem that can be solved, they focus on what can be achieved or gained when you have this offer.
Example – Smile Direct Club
Your aim with a secret ad is to build curiosity and to make the audience feel like they are not to blame for not having a solution to their problem. If all they needed was some secret information that they didn’t have, it’s not their fault, they can now do something about it.
Example – Kevin David
The focus of these ads is entirely on the deal the viewer is getting, so you’re looking at the cost or the percentage saving as the hook, not as a bonus at the end. This type of ad is very rare on YouTube. It’s more likely to be seen as Facebook remarketing
Example – Austin Auto Insurance
Here we see a traditional storytelling format to make the ad feel like a little documentary. They either start from the beginning or use an opening statement that builds curiosity so you want to sit through the story to find out how they got to that point
Example – The Sales Mentor
5. Pattern Interrupt
This is a phrase that a lot of marketers and advertisers love to throw around but it’s not a well-defined idea. To put it simply, this is just something you can do in the first few seconds to get people’s attention.
Maybe it’s related to the product or niche, or maybe you just shout “Stop”. That’s a thing, by the way, just shouting “Stop”.
We’ve been trying to categorise these but most of them are too random or too unique to the specific ad.
There are some interesting ones we see repeated through so let’s see a few
Tipping a Sacred Cow
If you challenge a commonly held belief and you can back that up, then that will get people’s attention. Maybe because we like to be surprised or maybe because we want the presenter to be wrong. We all love a good argument on the internet after all
Example – VShred
This is where direct response takes a leaf out of traditional advertising’s book. Stunts are anything that is mostly visual and unexpected. Break things, embarrass people, undress people, blow stuff up, scream, dance around. You get the picture, just do what it takes to stop our little goldfish brains from getting instantly bored.
Example – ClickUp
Pretty self-explanatory this one, isn’t it? Should you ask a question at the beginning of your ad? Does it make people more engaged? Is this too many question marks???
Example – Modern Millionaire
Bloopers can make you relatable and make the ad feel less serious. But it can feel very scripted because most of them are scripted so it’s a tough one to pull off.
Example – Fit Life TV
6. The Angle
This is the part of the ad that gets specific to the product; it’s where you need to find out what your audience cares about and what will convert them. This is where you think about pain points, your customer avatars, and so on.
Even though we can’t turn this into specific categories (there are just too many products around) that doesn’t mean you can’t find out for yourself using VidTao.
By searching for keywords that fit your product, or simply by searching your competitor’s names, you will see what angles are working in your niche. Just sort by view count in “Last 30 Days” to see the current biggest spenders.
YouTube Ad Creative Defined
All these creative terms are now becoming a part of our process. Not only do we use them within the creative team to define the ads we are going to make but it’s also a way for media buyers to tell us what they think the account needs, and to tell clients why we believe a certain type of ad will or won’t work.
What’s really exciting is that we’re only just scratching the surface here.
The first step was to define the creative variables, but now that we can do that, creativity can start to become data and we can begin to look for patterns.
We’ve already noticed that certain niches heavily favour a particular genre or a specific frame so, when we launch a client in one of those spaces, we know that we aren’t going in blind. Our creative process is already a few steps ahead so we are giving ourselves the best chance to find a winning ad quickly and speed up profitability.
Plus, we’ve got our own special jargon now, which makes us feel very, very clever.