Best YouTube Campaigns Caught in the Wild (9 Examples to Aspire to)14 min read

No one likes a commercial that feels like a commercial, but ads that are so captivating or funny that we forget we are being sold a product deserve credit. We’ve picked nine of the most successful YouTube ads. They’re effective, with some of the highest number of views (awareness), or video interaction (engagement) to date, and they’re memorable.

So what tactics do they use and how can you replicate them for similar success? Let’s dive in.

Lean & Mean vs. Long & Strong (Chipotle / Arm & Hammer / Knorr v. UnitedHealthCare)

In the world of television, the length of a commercial has dramatically changed over the last few decades. Because of the relative success and cost of a shorter ad versus a longer ad, shorter advertisements have become increasingly popular. But YouTube flips that on its head. Google research shows that the average length of the top YouTube Ads Leaderboard hovers around three minutes, and none of the top ads are under a minute.

Shorter videos do have the benefit of being less skipped, but if the viewer isn’t actually paying attention, does it matter? Research tends to support that the most effective ad length is around 30-seconds. What makes it effective? On average, it has the highest view-through rate, is the least skipped, and achieves brand lift.

A few of the top advertisements use both short and long lengths to their advantage. Take “The Scarecrow” from Chipotle.

The Scarecrow - Chipotle - Best YouTube Campaign

Despite being over three minutes long, and never mentioning the brand’s name once, Chipotle keeps the viewer engaged. Still, they had 17.6 million viewers and nearly 130k social interactions with the video. The length plays to their advantage, allowing them time to transport the customer through a variety of emotions and showcase their app-based game.

UnitedHealthCare’s 30-second ad “Lunch vs. Chuck Norris” does a perfect job of using humor without sacrificing their message. They seamlessly tie the story, the use of a celebrity, and their product together in a way that makes you feel like you’ve heard a joke, not been pitched a product or it’s feature. In four months, the ad has been viewed more than 12 million times. Not bad for only 30 seconds.

UnitedHealthcare Lunch vs Chuck Norris - Best YouTube Campaign

Arm & Hammer and Knorr also produced longer ads, both around the three minute mark. Like Chipotle, neither one of their commercials focus too much on the product, but rather the story that is being told or explored, but we’ll talk about that later.

Authenticity or Highly Produced (DSC, Turkish Airlines, Knorr)

There are two ways to really keep a customer captivated. Either with an ad so authentic that the viewer believes what they are being shown, or to make video so beautiful that it’s essentially a miniature film. It’s hard to achieve these at the same time, though, which is fine because they work towards different demographics. Younger audiences (18-24) tend to prefer the rougher, more authentic approach, while older audiences (30-45) favor higher quality and more serious tones.

Authenticity is also a driving force of higher CTR. A customer watching an ad on television can’t take immediate action, but it turns out that when they like an commercial they see online, they are more likely to start clicking and finding out more. An incredible example of authenticy winning in an ad is DollarShaveClub.com’s “Our Blades Are F***ing Great.” Their ad got over 24 million views, 116k likes, and is just funny. They use a straight “talk to the audience” style to engineer authenticity. They don’t care about their commercial coming off as “cheap” because their goal is to sell razor blades for a dollar – they are cheap.

DollarShaveClub Our Blades Are F***ing Great - Best YouTube Campaign

If DollarShaveClub had what looked like a high budget ad, they probably wouldn’t come off as genuine, as their whole brand is built around being affordable on a budget.

Turkish Airlines, on the other hand, created an ad that might as well have been made for the big screen. First, they use two huge celebrities, Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi. That alone would be out of the budget of almost any company. Then, the entire premise is that they fly to different parts of the world to get the most incredible selfie.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, the visuals are striking and the cinematography is beautiful. While watching, you’ll find yourself asking “where are they off to next?” which is the exact question the commercial answers: With Turkish Airlines, you can go just about anywhere, as they are the carrier that flies to more countries than any other.

The advertisement was definitely highly produced, and for good reason: the end result got them 145 million views and nearly 250k social likes.

Kobe vs Messi - Turkish Airlines - Best YouTube Campaign

Experiment (Arm & Hammer, T-Mobile, Knorr)

What is effective or possible for one company may not be so for another.  Experimenting with ad styles can be especially effective if a brand is needing to hit a different demographic, or doesn’t have the budget to keep up with the advertising Jones’.

One of the most notable commercials that spurred a new trend was T-Mobile’s “The T-Mobile Dance” featuring a flash mob and addressing the use of cell phones for sharing social experiences. The ad was aired in 2009, and considering how huge social media is now, T-Mobile’s risk paid off to the tune of 40.8 million views.

Life's for Sharing - T-Mobile - Best YouTube Campaign

Another risk for a company is to share their ad space with another brand. Arm & Hammer teamed up with BuzzFeed to create “Adults Retry Foods They Hated As Kids // Presented By BuzzFeed & Truly Radiant.” As the title suggests, the video, over three minutes long, shows pairs of people eating things they hated as kids, and if they need to, they can use a toothbrush and Arm & Hammer’s Truly Radiant to get rid of the taste.  Only 2 of the 12 participants used the toothpaste, but nothing was even said about it other than the implied understanding that brushing teeth puts a better taste in your mouth.

Adults Retry Foods they Hated as Kids - Buzzfeed - Best YouTube Campaign

The video is candid, making it feel authentic. The partnership with Buzzfeed definitely helped with visibility, getting 3.5 million brand awareness views to Arm & Hammer from a demographic that likely is harder for them to reach.

Lastly, Knorr created “#LoveAtFirstTaste” which put complete strangers in a strange blind date scenario where they had to feed each other the food that matched them together. This play on emotion and the desire love is completely at the forefront, where as the food isn’t even described. The theme that taste is what can bring people together is executed successfully.

Whether or not it helped Knorr’s brand lift is one thing, but it got them 60.5 million views and countless comments, like “This ad played and I watched it.  The whole thing.  I smiled”, “I have never watched a full advert before… this was so beautiful, intimate, this was everything, my heart smiled & it wasn’t what I expected”, and “this is the very first ad since i started watching on YT that i’d never skipped.”

Knorr Love At First Taste - Best YouTube Campaign


Tons of research
has pointed to the effectiveness of nostalgia with millennial aged adults. That tugging on their heartstrings turns to engagement and clicks for the brand. P&G, the parent company for Tide, Gillette, Max Factor, Clairol released “Thank You, Mom.” The ad, pulling in Olympic athletes, their past and present, along with the theme of maternal reassurance, not only makes for an emotionally effective ad, but one that gets replayed and shared.

Like the other top ads we’ve mentioned, they don’t mention the company name until the very end. Instead of acting as an ad for products, the two minutes are simply a tribute to mothers. In less than one year, the video received more than 22 million views. Like the Knorr ad, the channel is flooded with comments, like “Who else didn’t skip this ad?” and “Who else got chills watching this, then had an urge to hug their mom, or tell them “I love you.”

If using clips from the past doesn’t give you feelings of nostalgia, Christmas themes do. In “Buster the Boxer” from John Lewis, the classic visuals of snow, children sleeping, and parents trying to make things perfect, while they inevitably don’t play out the way they are expected to, make for an entertaining and effective ad.

BusterTheBoxer - John Lewis - Best YouTube Campaign

The ad either makes you laugh, think about your past Christmases, or check the John Lewis website to see what they have. With John Lewis being a department store chain in the United Kingdom, it’s impressive that it’s been viewed over 25 million times – something that Macy’s, JC Penny, Target – most major US brands haven’t done.

Summary

  • Video length can be effective. If your video ad is long, it needs to be engaging. Don’t worry about length if the video gets the message across, but don’t take advantage of your viewer.
  • Video is a great medium to visually explain your brand’s values, mission, and tell your story in the most authentic way. Whether the need is to exude luxury or thriftiness, using video to genuinely identify yourself to customer is the most efficient, and the most effective.
  • Don’t be afraid to be different! Experimenting with video can bring extreme success, or even go viral. Your ad can (and should) do whatever it takes to get the message across most effectively.
  • There are a reason why nostalgia works – the age old advertising method of appealing to emotion works.

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