Early in June 2015, YouTube and the Webby Awards announced the winners of their Top Ads of the Decade poll. This unscientific survey was the final part of YouTube’s 10th Birthday celebration, and video marketers can spot some strategic trends and pick up 8 best and 2 worst practices by analyzing the YouTube video ads that knocked voters’ socks off.

The Top Five Favorite YouTube Video Ads Ever

According to the ad makers, brand shapers, copywriters, and coders who responded to the AdWords Agency Blog’s invitation to cast their ballots, the favorite YouTube video ad of the past 10 years was Turkish Airlines’ “Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout.” The ad currently has almost 141.3 million views, 241,000 YouTube engagements, 237,000 Facebook shares, and 32,000 Twitter tweets, according to data from Tubular Labs.

The ad was a follow-up to the 2012 “Legends on Board” video ad, and was an instant smash. The video, which features two of the world's biggest and most recognisable sporting superstars, rocketed to an incredible 25 million views in the first 3 days of release! Combining the craze of the “selfie” mega-famous basketball star and football (soccer) icon, the ad charted on top of the YouTube Ads Leaderboards twice – December 2013 and again in the Cannes Special Edition.

Volkswagen's Super Bowl 2011 commercial, “The Force,” ended up in second place. The video ad of a little boy dressed as an adorable little Darth Vader attracted over 8 million views before anyone even saw it on their TV. It currently has 62.2 million views, 262,000 YouTube engagements, 1.4 million Facebook shares, and 107,000 Twitter tweets.

https://youtu.be/R55e-uHQna0

The ground-breaking “Always #LikeAGirl" ended up in third place. The video ad challenged and shattered negative perceptions of what it means to do something "like a girl.” It currently has 57.8 million views, 236,000 YouTube engagements, 357,000 Facebook shares, and 104,000 Twitter tweets.

Volvo Trucks’ “The Epic Split feat. Van Damme” ended up in fourth place. The video ad, the subject of a huge number of parodies, currently has 79.4 million views, 520,000 YouTube engagements, 1 million Facebook shares, and 94,000 Twitter tweets.

“Dove Real Beauty Sketches | You're more beautiful than you think” made the list in fifth place. The video ad is a social experiment which shows women that often, they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to their self-image. It currently has 65.8 million views, 173,000 YouTube engagements, 736,000 Facebook shares, and 85,000 Twitter tweets.

Combined, these top five iconic video ads have been watched for over 7.7 million hours on YouTube alone. Do the math and this means viewers have actively chosen to spend over 875 years watching these YouTube video ads!

Top YouTube Ads: 8 Trends to Follow

Top YouTube ads of the decadeAlthough it was the industry in the form of advertisers, and marketers who took part in the vote for the best video ad of the past 10 years, consumers played a big part too, in the form of views, likes, shares, re-posts, and tweets. Since YouTube introduced TrueView video ads in 2010, consumers have also been leaning-in and watching these ads alongside organic content. In 2014, YouTube analyzed consumer “votes” (i.e. views) and confirmed that 4 of the top 10 trending videos on YouTube for that year were created by advertising teams.

So, whether ad makers, brand shapers, copywriters, and coders are voting or viewers and discovering, watching, and sharing YouTube video ads, there's much that video marketers can learn from 80% of the top ads and the trends that define them. But there two caveats that you should always keep in mind.

  • First, since you can promote YouTube video content with paid media, all views are not created equal. On YouTube, organic views generally generate higher rates of engagement, sharing, or tweeting.
  • Second, as David Ogilvy warned TV advertisers a generation ago, “Celebrity commercials, for example, usually score above average on recall and below average on changing brand preference.”

Nevertheless, here are 8 best practices that Think with Google identified after analyzing the ads that generated the most views on YouTube:

  1. Be Authentic: Ever since “lonelygirl15” was outed as fictional in September 2006, authenticity has key on YouTube. Dollar Shave Club managed to pull this off and then some with its 2012 video ad, that gave viewers a genuine taste of the brand’s persona to its value proposition and unique-selling point.
  1. Make Video Ads Interactive: These days, more than ever, YouTube viewers are capable of, and want to, engage with content in ways they never could with television. Brands can have a lot of fun with this, like the Old Spice Man did way back in 2010 when the brand responded to viewer comments. If you make your videos interactive, that gives the YouTube audience the chance to engage and to do something, not just sit back and watch something.
  1. Collaborate with Experts: Brands should consider collaborating with independent YouTubers to reach a wider, and potentially more engaged audience. Pet food brand Friskies famously did with BuzzFeed on “Dear Kitten,” and generated millions more views across. The most successful YouTube creators are experts in their field, and are genuine Influencers when it comes to their fans.  They know exactly the right tone to take and the right kind of content to cover because they get constant feedback via their own YouTube channels.
  1. Take Time to Tell a Story: It’s time to retired the re-purposed TV commercial. Nike’s “Winner Stays,” which generated 115.3 million views, is 4:12 minutes long. Your story doesn’t have to fit into a 30 or 60 second time-frame, it just has to be a story viewers will want to watch. 
  1. Think Like a Filmmaker: These days, ads can be just as epic as movies, so, consider creating videos with a  cinematic feel. Chipotle’s award-winning animated short “The Scarecrow”, and “Sainsbury’s Official Christmas 2014 ad” are two amazing examples of epic story-telling that really resonated with viewers.  
  1. Play a Prank: Viewers love to watch pranks, if they are positive and harmless. They are fun to watch, and people don't always mind being fooled if it's done in good nature. Take Pepsi Max, who put a completely unsuspecting car salesman in a Mustang with Jeff Gordon in “Test Drive.”
  1. Make a Memes: Memes aren’t just images, they can also be amusing video themes that catch on and spread like wildfire. Brands can benefit from utilizing internet memes, like T-Mobile’s flash mob for instance. Or, try making one of your own. For example, the iconic “First Kiss" video has now generated thousands of spin off videos.  
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  1. Take Advantage of Tent-pole Events: More and more brands are taking advantage of big events like the World Cup, or the Oscars, by uploading ads based round them early to YouTube. Did you know that viewers watched nearly 7 million hours of ads and ad teasers from the Super Bowl in the first six weeks of 2015?

Top YouTube Ads: 2 Trends to Ignore

Although I agree with the 8 best practices listed above, Google confirmed 10 of them after analyzing the ads that generated the most views on YouTube. And, since YouTube sells and advertisers buy TrueView ads on a cost-per-view (CPV) basis, it’s not surprising that no one questioned the remaining 2 practices, which did generate views. But, if we dig deeper into the data – and remember the two caveats that I mentioned above – then a case can be made that the next 2 practices are actually worst practices. But, I’ll let you be the judge.

Fun with Ad Formats: According to Think with Google, ad formats don’t have to be limitations. It’s possible to use them to your advantage. But, I’d argue that you should think twice before monkeying around with the “skip” button.

For example, GEICO Insurance created a series of “unskippable” ads three months ago that communicated the brand’s message in just five seconds, telling the user, “You can’t skip this GEICO ad … because it’s already over.” Were these YouTube video ads effective? Well, according to data from Tubular Labs, “Family: Unskippable – GEICO (Extended Cut)” currently has 7.2 million views, 21,000 YouTube engagements, 9,980 Facebook shares, and 6,298 Twitter tweets.

https://youtu.be/pvcj9xptNOQ

Although “Elevator: Unskippable - GEICO (Extended Cut)” has 641,000 views, it only has 1,945 YouTube engagements, 165 Facebook shares, and 146 Twitter tweets. And, although “Cleaning Crew: Unskippable - GEICO (Extended Cut)” has 594,000 views, it only has 1,530 YouTube engagements, 69 Facebook shares, and 73 Twitter tweets.

By comparison, “GEICO Hump Day Camel Commercial' generated 22.8 million views, 111,000 YouTube engagements, 2,547 Facebook shares, and 83,000 Twitter tweets before the video was reset to private.

So, a higher percentage of viewers engaged with, shared, and tweeted about the “unstoppable” ad featuring a family and their dog, than the “unstoppable” ads featuring 3 people in an elevator or a cleaning crew with a runaway vacuum cleaner. But an even higher percentage of viewers engaged with and tweeted about a camel on hump day. So, don’t you agree that GEICO should stop trying to “have fun with ad formats” and continue trying to create more funny video content featuring animals?

More Jean-Claude Van Damme: According to the data mention above, a lot of people watched, engaged with, shared, and tweeted about Volvo Trucks’ “The Epic Split feat. Van Damme.” But, remember Ogilvy’s warning about celebrity commercials giving us false positives. So, let’s use Google Trends to look at search interest in “Van Damme” and “Volvo Trucks” before, during, and after “The Epic Slit” was published on Nov. 13, 2013.

Van Damme vs Volvo Trucks all time

If you look at web search interest, you’ll see a small blip in November 2013 for “Volvo Trucks”, but it’s dwarfed by the huge spike that month for “Van Damme”.

Van Damme vs Volvo Trucks on YouTube

And if you look at YouTube search interest, you’ll see a bigger blip in November 2013 for “Volvo Trucks”, but it’s still dwarfed by the huge spike that month for “Van Damme”. So, think twice before using celebrities in your YouTube video ads. As Ogilvy wrote 30 years ago, “Viewers have a way of remembering the celebrity while forgetting the product.”