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3 Trends Transforming How We Watch Ads

What the year-end YouTube Ads Leaderboard tells us about the future of video advertising

Kate Stanford, head of global advertiser marketing at YouTube

About a year ago, I was stranded in my driveway with a very unhappy newborn in one arm and a very uninstalled car seat in the other. What did I do? I picked up my phone and searched on YouTube for help. I clicked on a promoted video created by my car seat's manufacturer, hit play, followed its step-by-step instructions and installed the seat in three minutes. In my moment of need, an ad saved the day.

While ads have always played a role in our lives—making us laugh, cry, and occasionally buy—we didn't always have a choice about watching them. Now, we can seek out or choose to watch the ads that are most relevant to us, and we do this every day. In fact, we spent roughly 30 million hours—or about 3,500 years—watching the ads featured on all of the monthly YouTube Ads Leaderboards this year.

Today, we're recognizing the best of these ads: the top 10 ads people chose to watch in 2015 on YouTube.

• See: The 10 Most Watched Ads on YouTube in 2015

When we look at the most popular ads of the year, the winners aren't just examples of great creative. They also represent the larger trends we're seeing with brand advertising as a whole.

First and foremost, this year's list embodies the shift toward digital, particularly with younger audiences. We know that millennials are watching less linear TV. But this doesn't mean they're not watching video; they're just consuming it in different ways.

Case in point: Millennials actually made up the majority of the audience for the year-end Ads Leaderboard. And these weren't just made-for-digital ads. Take the four TV ads that made our list: Clash of Clans' "Revenge," adidas' "Unfollow feat. Leo Messi," Budweiser's "Lost Dog," and Boom Beach's "Speech." These four videos earned 205 million views globally—totaling nearly 3 million hours in watch time—and more than two-thirds of their viewership came from millennials.

Second, we're seeing that choice doesn't always involve skipping or fast-forwarding. Choice can also mean clicking to watch more if a message speaks to us. In a study of 89 U.S. brands this year, viewers exposed to TrueView ads were 10 times more likely to visit or subscribe to the brand's channel, watch more of the brand's videos, or share the video. But viewers who completed TrueView ads—in other words, who watched the ad to 30 seconds or completion—were 23 times more likely to take one of those actions.

We saw this phenomenon also play out with our top ads. Brand channels that had ads on our year-end list grew subscribership by more than 80 percent this year alone, and overall views on those channels more than doubled in 2015.

Lastly, we've come to a place where online video now means mobile video. On YouTube, 2015 was the year mobile views surpassed desktop views. Now, more than half of our views are coming from mobile devices, and—sure enough—61 percent of views among the year-end Leaderboard winners came from mobile phones or tablets. In fact, this was the first year that mobile views of our top 10 ads surpassed desktop views.

What does this mean for us as marketers? We continually hear from brands that they want to better understand the role YouTube can play in reaching millennial audiences. So this year we did something new. We studied 3,000 campaigns in the U.S. and looked at how total reach of millennials would be impacted if campaigns had replaced some of their TV advertising with YouTube ads. We found that without spending an extra dollar, 46 percent of campaigns would have benefited from a TV and YouTube combo, with an average increase in millennials reached of 42 percent compared to TV alone.

Our video ad creative will continue to evolve, but how consumers watch and engage with it is evolving even faster. The YouTube Ads Leaderboard is a great reminder of this, recognizing not only the ads that shone brightest this year, but also shedding light on how we can reach the viewers that will watch, share and re-watch ads next year.

—Kate Stanford leads global advertiser marketing for YouTube, helping advertisers and agencies understand how YouTube can help them build their brands. She also oversees technology platforms marketing for Google, working on products like DoubleClick and AdSense. 

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