TrueView 101: The Value of Skippable Ads on YouTube

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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