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The 2018 NBA Finals have come and gone. In the end, the Warriors were victorious after meeting the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, and YouTube TV elevated the experience with a real-time cool factor that we thought was worth highlighting. Their “Presented by YouTube TV” advertising campaign effectively blurred the lines between content and advertising in a truly contextually relevant way.

If you didn’t see the ad, here’s a quick run down. The 60-second spot highlighted the service’s key features, but what’s unique in this specific case is that the ad seemed to organically pull sports-related content into the ad to make those features even more relevant to an audience watching the NBA Finals. This is contextual targeting at its best.

Now, what made this spot truly unique is that, at the end, Warriors star, Kevin Durant gets comfy on the sofa in front of his TV, gives the announcer on the TV, Doris Burke a quick shoutout, and then presses play to watch the game – the irony here is that the game he’s watching on TV is the game in which he’s actually playing at that moment. (Timely, eh?) Then, in wrapping up the spot, Burke acknowledges the shout out and then the live game seamlessly resumes.

YouTube Love on Twitter – 

Beyond Cool: Why does this matter?

So, you may be asking yourself: why do we think an ad like this is so important to call out? The answer is simple. Given changing consumer behaviors, the recent introduction of GDPR, and the continuing evolution of the technologies that impact virtually every part of the day-to-day, the fact that YouTube TV’s ad is not only contextually personalized – based on whatever show the consumer is watching – but that it also blurs the lines between (advertising) content and the real world means the very notion of “advertising” today is rapidly changing. In fact, it’s already changed – and in a pretty big way. This is a good thing for consumers (and brands).

In fact, in a recent study that we conducted with IPG and Magna, we found that content targeting is a much less disruptive – and therefore, much more effective – video advertising solution (vs. demographic/audience targeting and channel targeting). In content targeting, for example, advertising complements the content and sometimes actually feels as though it’s a part of the content itself.

When there is such a strong contextually relevant link between content and advertising, it’s been shown that the perception of the ads associated with that video content receive a lift. Why? Because consumers like unified, consistent, and non-intrusive content experiences. When ads are mismatched with content, they feel like ads. When they complement content, they feel like content.

This is a major win for brands and explains in large part why we’re now seeing a massive shift towards content targeting across all brands and categories, especially in the face of GDPR. It’s simply a more effective strategy for video advertising. Data proves it to be true. Consumer sentiment proves it to be true. Most importantly, it creates a more pleasant – and potentially more trusted – overall viewing experience for consumers.

Learn more about how Zefr can help you master video content targeting on YouTube. 





Moms are a core audience on YouTube. The platform solves almost all of their digital needs – from entertainment to crafts for the kids to problem-solving and advice. In fact, a recent Google study found that 83% of mothers search for answers to their questions online – and 60% of them turn to online videos in particular.

YouTube plays an important role in Mom’s life, and to better understand her interests ahead of Mother’s Day, we looked into what she’s watching on YouTube.

356 Million Total Views of Mother’s Day Content on YouTube

Much of the Mother’s Day content on YouTube is about love, heartfelt messages, and praise for Moms. People share Mother’s Day moments, gift ideas, and surprises that can help others think of ways to make their moms feel special. We found 365 million views on Mother’s Day content on YouTube, presenting an opportunity for brands to reach moms around the day that’s all about them.

Mother’s Day Topics and Trends

Inspirational / Happy Moments

Moms do so much for their families, but Mother’s Day is the day to give back to them. Kids young and old turn to YouTube to share their love for Mom, whether they’re reading a poem, giving mom praise, or simply saying, “I love you.” For example, “Moms Are Magic” is a heartwarming video featuring young children sharing their favorite things about their moms.


Not all Mother’s Day content is sentimental. Entertaining videos, like music and kids content, makes up a large portion of what’s being viewed around Mother’s Day. Many musicians have created songs especially for their moms and children’s programs, like this clip from Angry Birds, educate kids about the meaning of Mother’s Day.


Of moms who watch videos on YouTube, 81% watch how-to content. In fact, moms are significantly more likely to watch how-to content than the average viewer. How-to and DIY videos that feature Mother’s Day are also popular on YouTube – from DIY Mother’s Day gift ideas to how to put together the best surprise party for mom.


Although practical, informational videos are popular amongst moms, that’s not all they’re watching. Moms also go to YouTube to watch funny content and have a good laugh!


Influencer Moms on YouTube

When families are searching for the perfect gift for mom on Mother’s Day, they turn to mom influencers on YouTube for ideas. 68% of consumers say recommendations influence their Mother’s Day gift purchases. Working with the right influencers can help a brand amplify its message to an audience that is seeking advice.

We used our technology to identify influencers creating content that resonates with moms on YouTube:

Five Fun Mom Influencers To Follow On YouTube

1. What’s Up Moms

2. Daily Bumps

3. Ellie and Jared

4. Rachel Talbott

5. Brittani Louise Taylor

Align with the Best Mother’s Day Content on YouTube

Mother’s Day videos on YouTube provide an opportunity for contextual alignment, allowing brands to reach consumers at a moment when their message is an extension of the content moms are watching.

Zefr provides brands with the opportunity to target the most relevant Mother’s Day topics and trends and amplify that messaging with custom influencer activations.

Sign up for a demo to find out how our technology can help you align your message where and when it matters most.

Register for a demo now!

Thought Leadership

Brands are increasing their investment in YouTube advertising, as the largest video platform in the world continues its rapid growth. Marketers know they need to advertise on YouTube to reach their audience, an insight that is well supported by audience viewership data. But today, most brands lack the control or visibility into the specific inventory they are buying, which raises critical issues regarding the brand safety of the content they are running against.

Recent news has thrown into focus the issue of brand safety as marketers are running ads against content that can be created by anyone. PewDiePie, arguably the world’s most successful influencer, lost his standing with Disney’s Maker Studios and with YouTube due to anti-Semetic stunts. Super Bowl ads have been seen running in front of terrorist recruitment videos. These stories are trending, but the issue isn’t new – and it’s only going to grow as more content is created and brands continue to increase their investment on the platform.

How does it happen?

Most advertisers target their intended consumers  on YouTube based on keywords, audience (demographic) and channel (typically via Google Preferred, the most popular influencer and creator channels). But each of these approaches assume that all of the content isolated by one of these targeting options is similar and therefore safe. ZEFR has found that this isn’t the case.

Let’s take Michelle Phan’s channel for example. She’s known as a beauty influencer, but only 52% of her content is related to beauty. The other 48% is better categorized as lifestyle content, including career advice and current events. A beauty brand may only want to align with that  52% of videos, but if they’re buying her channel in Google Preferred, they don’t know which videos within the channel they’re aligning with.

Michelle Phan channel audit conducted Summer 2016
Michelle Phan channel audit conducted Summer 2016

The same theory applies to brand safety. Not all content within a creator’s channel will be considered safe or on target for every brand.

There is another way

ZEFR’s technology delivers TV-like contextual relevance and brand safety on YouTube, allowing brands to leverage the incredible potential of the platform at the individual video-level. There’s a tremendous amount of great content on YouTube for brands, and video-level targeting allows for marketers to exclude specific videos from their YouTube buys, ensuring that they’re never running ads against content that is not relevant. It requires an understanding of each discrete video that only ZEFR is able to provide.

ZEFR’s solution

Here’s how it works. A video is uploaded to YouTube. ZEFR analyzes the video for:

  • Relevance – Is the video content aligned with the brand’s media strategy? What is this video actually about? If a video is of a father and son tossing a football and it’s called, “My Son is the next Tom Brady,” the video isn’t about Tom Brady. It’s about a father and son moment.
  • Brand safety – Is this video appropriate for a brand to align with? Does it have profanity, negative imagery, violence, or controversial opinions? Is it promoting negative activity, or hate speech?
  • Forecasting – Is this a video that’s generating views, or trending upwards? Will it deliver enough impressions so that an ad is seen by a real human audience at scale?
  • Performance – Is this a video that can carry an ad? Is it meaningful enough content to justify placing an ad before it? Will it help you reach your key performance KPIs?

If each of these indicators are met, the video is organized into a content segment with thousands of other videos that are all contextually related. Every day, ZEFR evaluates over 8 million videos, while only qualifying 250,000 of those videos for inclusion in premium, brand safe campaigns that deliver performance.

Video-level targeting is the future

So, should brands be afraid to align with influencer content on YouTube? The answer is no. Brand safety is an easily mitigated risk when video-level targeting is employed. “It’s so important to target ads at individual videos on YouTube, so brands can ensure that they’re aligned with the most relevant content at any given time,” said Rich Raddon, co-CEO, ZEFR. “The content within channels varies, and not every video is right for every brand. ZEFR’s technology and review process ensures that an ad will never run against a video that is not considered safe.”

For more on ZEFR’s video-targeting solutions, contact us at

Oded Noy is the Chief Technology Officer at ZEFR


Among the many celebratory events planned for (and by) YouTube on the occasion of its 10th birthday, the platform just announced the favorite YouTube ads of the past decade according to “the ad makers and fans.” The voters have spoken and the winner is Turkish Airlines (and their teams at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, and Starcom) with their 2013 spot, Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout.

While most of the nominees were driven to the top of the leaderboard by views on official content, ZEFR dug deeper into the data to unveil our own Top Five. Instead of focusing solely on views of the official ads, we have included fan-uploaded content related to (or inspired by) these beloved clips, revealing surprising insights related to engagement and other metrics.

For example, Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout has the highest number of views, but it has the lowest engagement out of the top five picks. We saw an average ratio of 206:1 views to engagements across all the ads, while the Turkish Airlines commercial had 555:1. In other words, view metrics do not tell the entire story. Here, ZEFR provides an alternative Top Five to the official YouTube Ad Awards.

youtube ad awards


Overall Winner

Nike: “Winner Stays”

This clip features no less than Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Gerard Piqué, Gonzalo Higuaín, Mario Götze, Eden Hazard, Thiago Silva, Andrea Pirlo, David Luiz, Andrés Iniesta, Thibaut Courtois, and Tim Howard—some of the world’s biggest soccer stars, all in one place. So, it’s no wonder “Winner Stays” boasts the highest video uploads, views, and engagements overall. With 648 fan and official videos, 128 million views, and 690,000 engagements, this Nike spot comes out on top in all categories.

Highest Average Views Per Video

Dove: “Beauty Sketches”

This ad places first in views-per-video, with an average of 442,000 views of both fan and official uploads. The month of the commercial’s official release (back in April of 2013) saw an average of 1.2 million views per video across the board.

Best Parody

Old Spice: “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”

Parodies of this spot from Old Spice became nearly as viral as the original, accounting for more views than any other other brand in this category with 3.2 million total views of user-generated spoofs. Fan-uploaded videos drew 50 percent of total engagement for this commercial.

Most Engaging

Volvo: “The Epic Split”

This viral Volvo ad, featuring martial arts superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme, inspired the highest level of engagement among the nominees, garnering a (dis)like or comment for every 148 views; 33% above the set average.

Highest Engagement on Fan-Uploaded Video

Budweiser: “Puppy Love”

This Budweiser spot that aired during Super Bowl XLVIII saw the highest jump in views and engagement on fan-uploaded videos after the game. For the month of February 2014, there were 480 percent more engagements on fan-uploaded versions than on the official video.


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Thought Leadership

For advertisers looking for more than just reach on YouTube, using “TrueView” ads is a must for any paid media strategy. So called “TrueView instream ads” give you the option to skip the ad 5 seconds into it. The benefits and strategy of using TrueView become clear once you understand how they operate behind the scenes.

The Relationship Between Viral Videos and TrueView

A TrueView ad is hosted as a video on YouTube. This means that it is eligible for a public view count on YouTube and can be as long or as short as you want. Any uploaded video, as long as it meets YouTube’s guidelines, can be run as TrueView. Often times, ads designed to go viral are run as TrueView because any user that chooses to watch more than 30 seconds of it counts as a view, and quickly gaining attention in the first week of a video’s release is paramount towards it earning views and going viral.

A formula for when branded videos go viral on YouTube is when those views are a combination of paid views and social sharing. Brands take advantage of the ability to build up views and exposure quickly through TrueView, and then media outlets and social sharing takes over.

In December 2013, Google looked at over 6,000 campaigns and noticed that this group generated “at least one earned view as a result of every two paid views.” While this buy 2 get 1 free model is great for building momentum, it should be noted that results may vary based on quality of the content and audience.

Moreover, TrueView performance can be surprising, as we’ve found that often times a 10+ minute video can see significantly higher time-adjusted engagement rates than a 30 second spot. Ultimately, the market adjusts to support the content that works best.

TrueView and Engagement

TrueView in-stream is YouTube’s ad format that lends itself to higher engagement because viewers have a choice after five seconds to watch or to “skip ad.” To that regard, it means that the first five seconds are crucial to determining if a viewer is going to engage or disengage with the ad.

You only pay for the views from users that choose to watch 30 seconds or more of your ad. In essence, with TrueView, advertisers only pay for their engaged viewers, not for impressions. TrueView also comes with a dashboard like those for YouTube videos, where advertisers can track engagement across what they are running as TrueView.

This means that you can easily find out which ads are performing better than others, and what parts of the ads lose audience interest. Saatchi & Saatchi writes about using TrueView for earned engagement, noting that recall on TrueView in-stream ads are effective because “a conscious decision is made to skip a YouTube ad and therefore the ad-recall is said to be 34% higher than TV.” If a viewer chooses not to skip the ad, the recall for the content of the ad is higher because simply presenting viewers with a choice forces more engagement.

With that in mind, they recommend a TrueView strategy, writing, “If this is the case, one would think the first 5 seconds should definitely include branding, however curiosity drives the majority of viewers to continue watching, so test your video strategies, build granular targets, segment ad types, remember YouTube remarketinguse impression capping on In-Stream ads and apply unique bidding strategies to get the best results.”

Some brands go so far as to call out the format of the ad itself, telling audiences to skip the ad, and pointing out the button on the screen. This humor of acknowledgement gets audiences to stick around, even though they are being asked not to. Here’s an example of the opposite situation – openly begging people not to skip:

As you’ll notice with the video above, TrueView is an optimal ad format for marketers who love analytics and engagement because the ads themselves are YouTube videos, giving you the same types of dashboards that YouTube creators get.

TrueView and Earned Actions

A big part of the draw of TrueView is the potential for earned actions. An earned action is any further brand interaction beyond either waiting for the ad to end, or clicking the skip button. Google notes,

“So if you’re an advertiser, you can see how many people stayed on your channel to watch more videos, subscribed to your channel, added your video to a playlist, or shared your video with a friend after watching a TrueView ad.”

These are all earned actions. You made an ad that captured the attention of viewers, ran it in front of the right audience, and put it on a social platform ideal for sharing, curating and engaging with video.

Why do you care about earned actions?

Earned actions expand the reach of your ad spend. They also provide insights about the relationship viewers have with your brand. Those that take earned actions are further along in becoming a brand loyalist which is only a couple of steps away from brand evangelist. YouTube as a platform, and influencers on it, serve as an extension of word-of-mouth marketing for many brands.

TrueView, in addition to helping ads go viral, is also a more memorable and engaging ad format, and if it’s done right, can lead to more interaction with your brand on and off YouTube.


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Thought Leadership

Why many brands aren’t getting the full picture of their YouTube viewership

Guest post by Dane Golden

beyond view obsession
Stats from YouTube’s highest viewed video, Gangnam Style

You have a problem, but you don’t know about it yet. You are your company’s Chief Marketing Officer, and you’ve been rating your YouTube success by looking at a single number. And it’s the wrong number – or, at least, one that can be very misleading. Unfortunately, you have been praying to a false god, and its name, simply put, is “Views.” Yes, many CMOs still gauge campaign success with this single metric in mind. But when is a view not a view? Are some views worth more than others? And what other numbers should you be looking for?

Subscribers, not Views, are the Holy Grail for Marketers

The most important number for a YouTube channel is not views. It’s subscribers. While views are one of several important factors, it is the YouTube subscriber count, not an individual video’s views, that is the indicator most analogous to the Facebook page Like or the Twitter Follower. Because like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, YouTube is a social media platform – the second most popular social media network, in fact, after Facebook. The brands making best use of YouTube today understand this, and act accordingly. The others, unfortunately, see YouTube as just another broadcast distribution network. Each social media platform has its own advantages and idiosyncrasies, and there’s never a one-to one relationship between community size and community engagement. On YouTube, it’s clear that Viewcount is the best indicator of past views. But subscriber count is the best indicator of future views. And subscriber growth is absolutely essential for a brand that wants repeat organic viewership. So, how do you get more subscribers for your channel? The answer is simple – have an engaging channel. Easier said than done, perhaps, but there are a number of key factors in engagement, and we’ll emphasize three of them: audience retention, comments, and engaging with your superfans, or as YouTube calls them, “Top Fans.”

1) Audience Retention Reality

YouTube video views are an interesting and important number, but they don’t come close to telling the full story about a video’s effectiveness in marketing your brand. Audience retention, for one, is a great way to bring this point home. Many brands run targeted YouTube TrueView campaigns. TrueView is a version of Google AdWords that serves YouTube videos as various types of ads on the YouTube platform (and the primary way most YouTube entertainment channels – aka YouTubers – make revenue). But in many cases, the video content itself is not engaging to the viewers. It doesn’t resonate with viewers, and it’s not prompting them to have a conversation about the topic. So viewers are not watching the video all the way through. It isn’t surprising, or shouldn’t be, that all viewers are not watching every YouTube ad to the end. If we DVR a video at home, we skip through the ads if they don’t interest us. That same behavior applies to YouTube as well. But the surprise is that we, as marketers, often confuse a “view” with a “completed view.” Far from it. While YouTube doesn’t publicize how much of a video someone has to watch for it to count as a view, experts agree that it’s just a few seconds.

Try this: When logged in to your YouTube account, click on this link, which takes you to your channel’s audience retention numbers. Then, go to the search box and search for the title of your latest video. What comes up may surprise you. Below is a graph of a YouTube Analytics audience retention report for a video that ran some paid views through YouTube’s TrueView. Even if you have seen these audience retention reports before, you may not have seen this newer version, released in the past few weeks, which breaks out paid and organic views for videos viewed after Sept. 25, 2013. (Find out more about the new features here).

Audience retention Disregarding the “Average view duration” numbers at the top, which can be deceptive if you’ve run paid promotion, what we’re seeing above is a video that had good organic audience retention. But, this may have been a much smaller number of viewers who were searching on the specific topic, or had subscribed to the channel. And we see, importantly, that most of the viewers who saw the video as a pre-roll (aka in-stream) video ad only viewed up to about six seconds. Why six seconds? Because after five seconds they have an option to click off of the ad, and it takes an extra second to press the “Skip Ad” link. And while advertisers don’t pay for people who click off early, the evidence is clear: Your high viewcount may be lulling you into a false sense of security about your YouTube channel.

And if you see an audience retention level that sinks like this after just a few seconds, either your video doesn’t resonate with the YouTube audience or you aren’t targeting the right audience within YouTube. But assuming targeting is done correctly on a campaign like this, your video itself is just not working for one reason or another. This analysis in no way denigrates the value of YouTube TrueView. TrueView is a valuable way of bringing your message to viewers who may want to know about you, but don’t yet. And of course in all promotion, however targeted, there will be some that is ineffective or reaches someone who isn’t interested. The challenge is that it’s very easy for a marketing department to just see a high viewcount standing by itself and say: “Boom, we made our numbers!” However, they don’t realize that those viewcounts, driven in campaigns via YouTube TrueView or other means, may have very little audience retention. The majority of paid views only get a fraction of viewers watching all the way to the very end of the videos.

And while there is a strong case to be made for campaigns which cast a wide net in hopes of finding an audience that connects with their videos, these campaigns are most effective using a wide-eyed approach with an understanding of the deeper analytics. Since TrueView only charges the advertiser for videos after the viewer watches more than 29 seconds, an effective marketer, if the data were available, should really break out a third category of views (in addition to paid views and organic views) called “Campaign-Driven Free Views.” This category is for anything less than 30 seconds, where the campaign didn’t have to pay for the view, but viewers only watched partial videos. Ideally, the TrueView analytics shouldn’t break out viewership by 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of the video viewed, but rather break it out by 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, and 100%. Depending on your budget, you may want to test your next promotional video with focus groups before the next release.

Alternately, you can produce a number of videos and just see which one works best. And there are a number of lessons to be learned from the content programming strategies of content creators, aka YouTubers, and from brands like GoPro, RedBull, Zagg, and Orabrush. Given a large enough budget, you can always equal the view count of a previous TrueView campaign. Which is fine – it’s your job to get attention to your brand, and TrueView is an incredible tool for jumpstarting a campaign. But rather than using YouTube simply to distribute videos many people don’t want to see, why not instead use TrueView to prime the pump of engaging videos that will have greater shareability, and build upon that success further by engaging the viewers through all social media means necessary? On YouTube, engagement means having a conversation. And to have a conversation, you need to make good use of the YouTube comments section.

2) Comments Are The New Likes

One need only look at the uproar about the recent Google+ integration to understand how important comments are to top YouTube channels. There’s been such an outcry that, in the end, the needs of YouTube channels may very well soon be driving Google+ features, instead of the other way around. So comments on YouTube are extremely important, and often overlooked in the marketer’s YouTube strategy. Since subscriber numbers are the best indicator of future views, and viewer engagement is the No. 1 way to build that subscriber base, then the YouTube comment field is the best place to build that engagement. Congratulations – you, the marketer, are no longer just distributing videos, but you are now moderating conversations about your videos, and about your brand. Because while television is about communication of one to many, YouTube is about two-way conversation.

This means both conversations with your brand and conversations about your brand. And while you, the moderator, are a large voice, in the end you are just one of many. You can only moderate the conversation, not control it. And that’s frightening to those who’ve cut their teeth on TV commercials and more traditional branding. But, of course, these conversations about your brand are happening already, on your Facebook and Twitter and Instagram accounts. And while these platforms are each important in their way, only conversations on the YouTube platform will help build your YouTube engagement and subscriber base. So YouTube comments are the best way to continue discussions about your videos when seeking to build YouTube channel engagement. Basically, if you’re not having a conversation with your YouTube viewers, your video is just having a conversation with itself. YouTube Likes (aka “Thumbs Ups”), while a key metric, pale in comparison to the value of comments from an engaged user. This goes for positive or negative feedback. That’s why moderating, and encouraging dialog, on your YouTube channel is equally as important as moderating on your Twitter and Facebook channels. YouTube moderation will only increase in value as the integration with Google+ continues. Because, the current outrage of YouTubers aside, Google+ commenting integration is surely here to stay.  

3) Top Fans

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find out who the top 500 fans were of your brand’s TV commercials? Well with YouTube, you can. This past summer, Google introduced a feature called “Top Fans,” which, not surprisingly, also heavily integrates Google+. Initially rolled out only for channels with more than 5,000 subscribers, the Top Fans feature has been gradually opening up to members with over 2,000 subscribers. To find out if you currently have access to Top Fans, visit The Top Fans feature enables you to rank your channel’s most engaged and influential viewers. You can sort the table by the viewer’s engagement level or number of subscribers. After connecting your channel to Google+, you can group top fans into circles, which could be helpful when targeting a particular message to them, as you can by sending them a Google+ message. Additionally, you may chose to invite your fans to a Google Hangout or sign up for your newsletter. Or you may want to reward top fans with a gift certificate. Whatever your chosen engagement strategy, the Top Fans feature opens up a variety of opportunities for engaging your fans via both YouTube and the now-mind-melded Google+. Again, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the painful Google+/YouTube integration, but it’s going to happen one way or another, so best to get on board with Google+ earlier than the competition so you have it figured out before they do.

* * *

Dane Golden is an independent YouTube brand strategist and audience growth consultant, and the founder of He co-hosts the weekly YouTube marketing podcast TubeTalk.

Want to guest write for the ZEFR Blog? Details here.


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