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YouTube vertical ads: What should your approach be?

YouTube has revealed plans to launch a new vertical ads format in a bid to better engage users on its mobile platform. This was revealed by Neal Mohan, chief product officer, YouTube, during a recent DMEXCO presentation, who also talked about plans for ads on YouTube’s home feed.

One brand which has already test piloted the new format is Hyundai, which used the new format to introduce its new SUV. This saw the brand experience a 33% increase in brand awareness and a 12% lift in consideration for its product, Mohan explained.

“With vertical video ads, [brands] can experiment with new creatives designed for vertical video or take existing ads and work them seamlessly into a vertical environment,” he added. Marketing has reached out to Google for additional details.

YouTube’s increased focus on the vertical format signals the increasing importance of creating true video content for the mobile screen, several industry players Marketing spoke to said. This is especially with the increasing interest in vertical Stories format ads on competitors such as Instagram and Facebook, which have also implemented the vertical format.

Why the approach may differ

For Rika Sharma, managing director of Digitas, it was “only a matter of time” that YouTube adopted the same vertical ads format on its platform. This comes as Facebook and Instagram lead the way, seeing higher engagement on vertical over horizontal formats

“This move by YouTube, is a testament to how mobile is pervasive in the lives of consumers and importantly, how vertical video within mobile allows for a more immersive experience,” Sharma added.

Agreeing with her is Preetham Venkky, director at KRDS, who added that on mobile, vertical is the way to go.

“Once brands get their vertical video content act together, they can then look at leveraging all mobile digital channels (including YouTube, Instagram and Facebook) more effectively,” Venkky said.

Since the rollout is for YouTube’s TrueView Ads, brands can also now indulge in creating longer video content and not be restricted to just three to 10 seconds. As such, this will allow for more in-depth storytelling.

“The longer duration is also truly befitting YouTube as a platform, where the average video consumption time is over 20-seconds,” Venkky said.

He explained that on YouTube, duration of video consumption is typically longer which ensures deeper engagement with the content created. Meanwhile, videos on Instagram and Snapchat tend to be great for entertaining and inspirational content, while YouTube is ideal for entertaining, informational and educational content. Venkky added:

The move also signals an increasing need for brands and agencies to start telling stories from the lens of the mobile camera.

Jessica Beaton, head of business, dentsu X Singapore, said that for many marketers, vertical video is still a space they’re getting their heads around. However, consumers are already there and hungry to continue to consume content on their terms – which is dominantly mobile first.

“YouTube is a brilliant channel for content discoverability through personalisation and copy optimisation, but the horizontal ad format had previously limited its role in the consumer consumption journey. It was a ‘lean in’ video platform taking ad options with them,” Beaton explained.

That being said, marketer expectations will be different when it comes to YouTube versus Facebook, Anwesh Bose, CEO of Havas Media Indonesia, said. This is because Instagram and Facebook is about social, whereas YouTube is more about search.

“The consumer attention span is the key advantage that YouTube will have over Facebook or Instagram, with it currently being at six seconds versus two seconds. The four extra seconds would certainly sound like music to marketers’ ears if the similar dynamic of vertical ads on Facebook and Instagram could be adapted to YouTube,” Bose explained.

How brands can leverage the new format

Instead of just slicing and re-formatting their existing 16:9 TVCs, Venkky explained that brands need to look at creating native 9:16 video content. This comes as the fundamentals of video creation for “mobile first” having changed.

Hence, instead of crafting video in the standard three-part story format, brands need to create videos in the new three-part action format.

Sharma added that some tips advertisers should also take note of include creating content that is still idea first but is fit for platform. Another is looking at consumer behaviour first when selecting a platform, and then deciding how the content needs to be developed.  She added:

Don’t be under the illusion that shorter is better, there is still place for good storytelling but paying homage to the device and format it’s consumed in.

“Create content and experiences on mobile and for mobile first, instead of a desktop view applied to mobile,” Sharma said.

For Steven Yap, head of digital at Kingdom Digital, explained that even though these ad formats are all in the same vertical format, the user experience is entirely different.

For Instagram or Snapchat, users are able to pause, go forward or go back between stories that they like to see more of.  The first five seconds of a YouTube ad however is crucial before the skip button is enabled. But for YouTube, the first five seconds of the ad is key because after which the skip button is enabled. As such, marketers need to take advantage of these five seconds to grab viewer’s attention and convey the key message or create brand recall.

“Once they skip or missed the ad, there’s no return or back button for them to recall what they have or have not watch. As a result, marketers need to ensure YouTube vertical ads are straight to the point,” Yap said.

Mobile user behaviour takes centre stage

In addition, just like any other ad formats, marketers also need to take into consideration the mobile user behaviour and their viewing experience in order to make full use of this new vertical ad format. For example, during working hours and daytime, most mobile users are on the go therefore time spend on YouTube and their attention span will be much shorter. As such, the ad content needs to be short and sweet as well as targeted.

“One way to do that will be to incorporating tools into vertical ads which allows marketers to create multiple personalised videos of the same ad to advertise to its target audiences with relevant messaging,” Yap added.

Also weighing in was Tobias Wilson, CEO of APD Singapore, who added that its also important to view the content the same as any other, just shot differently. Other important measures to note is also making the content feel native to the screen, seamless as well as natural as it is not about cropping an old bit of content to fit a new one.

“Stop trying to force feed content to people, give them something they actually want to engage with. Make their day better or get out of the way,” Wilson added.

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