YouTube is a ‘ref­er­ence engine’ and adver­tis­ers can lever­age it to define their tar­get audi­ence. But like oth­er social media plat­forms, brand suit­abil­i­ty must be con­sid­ered.

Adver­tis­ers are expect­ed to spend just shy of $30 bil­lion on online video this year – an increase of near­ly 28 per­cent year-over-year, accord­ing to recent research. It is a whop­ping num­ber that demon­strates the rapid­ly grow­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty to reach tar­get audi­ences through sight, sound and motion.

Lead­ing the pack when it comes to where brands are spend­ing is YouTube. Twen­ty per­cent of online video adver­tis­ing is spent on YouTube. It’s easy to plug-and-play YouTube into your online video plan, but how do you tru­ly max­i­mize your adver­tis­ing on the plat­form?

Understand YouTube itself

YouTube is the most vis­it­ed enter­tain­ment web­site in the world. The aver­age vis­it is more than 22 min­utes long. Peo­ple watch with pur­pose. They’re lean­ing for­ward and high­ly engaged in what they’re watch­ing.

What’s often over­looked is that YouTube is also a search engine – the sec­ond largest – and peo­ple use it as a util­i­ty to research some­thing, to learn about a par­tic­u­lar top­ic, to find a solu­tion for some­thing, or to watch a “how-to” video.

Mar­keters should think of YouTube not only as enter­tain­ment but also as a search engine or a “ref­er­ence engine,” and lever­age it as such.

Just as with search adver­tis­ing, key­words can be used to tar­get spe­cif­ic con­tent on YouTube. Align­ing your ad mes­sage with con­tex­tu­al­ly-rel­e­vant con­tent, or even com­pli­men­ta­ry con­tent is an effec­tive strat­e­gy for increas­ing engage­ment with your brand and mes­sage.

Guard brand equity

Media out­lets thrive on sto­ries about crises, cor­po­rate mis­takes, com­mu­ni­ca­tion blun­ders and scan­dals of pop­u­lar brands. Some of their favorite tar­gets are the major media com­pa­nies, espe­cial­ly the social media plat­forms of Face­book, Twit­ter and Google, which, of course, owns YouTube.

With YouTube and oth­er social media plat­forms where there’s user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent, brand suit­abil­i­ty must be con­sid­ered. Not only should your cre­ative and mes­sage be con­sis­tent, the con­tent you align your mes­sage with should be as well.

There’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty here to enhance your brand equi­ty by align­ing with con­tent that’s impor­tant to con­sumers, espe­cial­ly when it’s rel­e­vant to your prod­uct or mes­sage. An effec­tive strat­e­gy for gain­ing con­sid­er­a­tion is to demon­strate to con­sumers that you’re in line with their think­ing, their inter­ests, and their val­ues.

Channels and categories

Mar­keters typ­i­cal­ly select chan­nels on YouTube. Chan­nels, how­ev­er, are only brand suit­able until they’re not. There have been a num­ber of inci­dents where YouTube celebri­ties with very pop­u­lar chan­nels, post­ed con­tro­ver­sial con­tent or did some­thing inap­pro­pri­ate, ille­gal or uneth­i­cal.

Instead of just buy­ing a chan­nel, do your home­work and iden­ti­fy spe­cif­ic videos from vast arrays of chan­nels. You can then align your brand and mes­sage with the most con­tex­tu­al­ly rel­e­vant, brand suit­able con­tent.

With regard to cat­e­gories, video cre­ators are incen­tivized to get peo­ple to watch their videos. The more they’re watched, the more ads run and the more mon­ey they make. You may not real­ize it, but those cre­ators make up their titles and write their video descrip­tions. They choose the cat­e­go­ry too, using YouTube’s cat­e­go­ry labels and lan­guage. Mis-cat­e­go­riza­tion or inac­cu­rate descrip­tions lead to acci­den­tal, but still incre­men­tal traf­fic. This means that video gam­ing could be rep­re­sent­ed as either sports or news and pol­i­tics could be rep­re­sent­ed as edu­ca­tion.


It is pos­si­ble to pre-select where your cam­paign will run on YouTube. Pre-buy trans­paren­cy should be essen­tial when exe­cut­ing YouTube media buys.

We esti­mate, based on a sub­stan­tial sam­ple set, that 40 per­cent of YouTube con­tent is made up of music videos, gam­ing videos and kids con­tent. Google pre­ferred inven­to­ry is based on the most pop­u­lar videos and chan­nels, and many of those are relat­ed to music, gam­ing and enter­tain­ment. These three cat­e­gories can eas­i­ly dom­i­nate where your cam­paign deliv­ers with­in YouTube.

Is reach­ing the right per­son or peo­ple the only thing that mat­ters? Not nec­es­sar­i­ly. Depend­ing on your tol­er­ance for this type of con­tent, which can some­times be an effec­tive part of your inven­to­ry mix, there may be more effec­tive envi­ron­ments to tar­get.

Define your target audience

Google, because of the pop­u­lar­i­ty of its search engine, has a tremen­dous amount of first-par­ty inter­est and intent-based data for tar­get­ing. Not only can you lever­age this data, you can also define your tar­get by the con­tent a con­sumer is show­ing inter­est in.

That’s impor­tant and many mar­keters leave that out of their tar­get­ing mix. Com­bin­ing both audi­ence data and con­tent data is an effec­tive way to find con­sumers who may not fit into your audi­ence def­i­n­i­tion, but they could still become loy­al cus­tomers.

Set your KPIs

Before plan­ning your YouTube cam­paign, think about what you’re try­ing to accom­plish. With the goal or out­come in mind, think about what you want con­sumers to do. What action do you want them to take? Do you want them to learn more? Do you want them to “like” or share the video?

You also need to deter­mine how you’re going to mea­sure the suc­cess of the cam­paign. Set your cam­paign up for suc­cess by giv­ing these KPI’s seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion and share them with all of the part­ners par­tic­i­pat­ing in the deliv­ery and mea­sure­ment of your cam­paign. When everyone’s aligned and under­stands the goals and expec­ta­tions, every­one can work more effec­tive­ly and coop­er­a­tive­ly to opti­mize toward your cam­paign goals and busi­ness objec­tives.


By imple­ment­ing all or even some of these ele­ments into your YouTube cam­paigns, you’re guar­an­teed to get bet­ter results and you’ll gen­er­ate a sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er return on your invest­ments.