It’s time to create video ads with the 'skip' button in mind

If you’re a marketer, you’re living in a time of innovation and paradox.

On the one hand, online video ad formats such as YouTube TrueView ads have removed traditional 30-second time constraints, giving brands more time to tell their stories; on the other hand, a "skip" button after five short seconds also means that advertisers have to create more engaging stories that not only grab their audience's attention, but hold it, too. Pair that with short attention spans and unlimited choice, and it’s no wonder that we’re living in a skippable world.

So we asked ourselves, what keeps people watching after the first five seconds? What can science tell us about the art of video advertising? We took a peek behind the data curtain and discovered that some very specific creative choices make a difference when it comes to how long viewers watch, or how well they remember ads on YouTube.

Brand presence matters

If you want viewers NOT to press the “skip” button, go for a lighter brand touch. What do we mean?

There's an inverse relationship between recall and engagement. While ads with the brand logo in the first five seconds have higher ad recall and brand awareness lift, people are also more likely to skip them.

If you’re going to show your logo in the first five seconds, you should make sure it's tied to your product and not appearing elsewhere on the screen. Viewers are less likely to watch and remember brands and ads when they feature floating brand logos that aren't actually on products. As always, presenting your product in a memorable and engaging manner also helps.

A great example of this is 李光洙 X 魯芬【新年能得利】賀年歌 (Lee Kwang Soo FRUTIPS MV) by FRUTIPS - NESTLÉ Hong Kong, which had over two million views in 2015. While it does have a brand logo floating in the corner, viewers’ eyes are drawn to the product name FRUTIPS in Chinese “能得利” on the Fai Chuns (lucky banners). All these elements - the song, which loops the product name, the Fai Chuns and the FRUTIPS candies in the Chinese New Year candy box - maximise exposure of the brand in a fun way and most probably have viewers singing along with the Korean star.

Conclusion: Show your logo on your product, not on the video itself.

It’s also all about tone

Tone can also affect whether people tune in or tune out. If you can’t capture the viewer’s attention in the first five seconds, they will undoubtedly reach for the “skip” button.

What’s the right tone to strike? We found that almost always, humorous was the most appealing.

People are more likely to watch humorous ads, and those ads also see a greater lift in ad recall and brand awareness. Even if you’re a more traditional brand, humour can help you make a deeper and more effective impression. If you really can’t do humour, a suspenseful or emotional tone in the first five seconds also works well.

Take Extra’s 我的午餐煩腳 (“My lunch mate”) or Ming仔劇場|猛鬼辦公室 (“Haunted office”) by Nescafé. Gum or coffee aren’t “funny” on their own; but by presenting different types of ‘lunch mates’, the best being Extra gum, or how Nescafé gives you the ability to catch the “Monday Blues” ghost in a suspenseful micro movie, audiences are immersed in light-hearted ads which make them smile and laugh.

Conclusion: Have some fun or be creative in your execution.

Keep people watching, with people

Many YouTube creators are so very successful because of their authenticity – they build fandoms based on who they really are. And they are even more successful when they invite other YouTubers who share this thinking on their channels.

So what can brands learn for their ads?

Having a recognisable face, whether it’s YouTube creators or other celebrities, in the first five seconds of your ad tends to result in higher viewership and better brand lift. What’s more, brand metrics jump when ads feature ‘smiling characters’ in the first five seconds.

Ads that did this well in 2015 included Airwaves’ [薑檸樂] 廢青的抉擇 (“Choices by ‘lazy’ youngsters”) which features local YouTubers gingerlemoncola, Siu Wai and Soko Izumi who are well-known among the city’s youth. Another great example is 相逢何必曾Big Mac (“When you come across a Big Mac”) by McDonald's that spoofs Ram Chiang’s classic pop song, starring the former singer himself, which generated over one million views on YouTube.

Conclusion: Keep it authentic and collaborate with like-minded creators.

There’s no magical formula for creating the perfect video ad, the answer will always be a balance between data and creativity, between art and science.

Contributed by Dominic Allon, managing director of Google Hong Kong