How to win at YouTube

Andrew Bent, Creative Lead Google

Issue 30 | March 2014

When you have five spare minutes today, try opening up these two YouTube videos and get them playing side by side.

'Express Yourself Every Day' is a branded video from Philips.

'World's Best Flipper!' was made by YouTube creator Marquese Scott, WHZGUD2:

Both videos feature sign spinners, but in every other way they are very different.

The Philips video looks lush and rich, with multiple cuts and focal lengths. Marquese Scott's is one shot with no camera moves.

The Philips video features a voiceover from the sign spinner about how he uses sign spinning to express himself.

Marquese Scott's features a banging dubstep track called 'I Cried Out In Silence' by someone called Slamtype.

The Philips video was filmed by TribalDDB on a multi-million dollar budget. Marquese Scott's cost precisely fifty pence and a bag of grapes.

But, most importantly, the Philips video has gained just 13,000 views in two and a half years, where Marquese Scott's has 6.2 million in twelve months.

This is a stark demonstration of a conclusion which becomes unavoidable if you spend enough time hanging around YouTube: with a handful of exceptions, for any brand trying to do something on YouTube, there's a YouTube creator doing it bigger, and better.

And they're normally doing it bigger and better from their bedrooms, living rooms or sheds.

When you think about the amount of money and resource, talent and know-how, time and senior sign-off which goes into the branded videos that get posted on YouTube that is a little embarrassing.

If you're trying to create branded content, the room for improvement is enormous. And perhaps one way to start getting better might be to look at the mistakes some people are making.

Recently Mashable identified six things which brands and advertisers are getting wrong on YouTube, I've boiled it down to three.

You might find these obvious. You might find some of it a little counter-intuitive. Hopefully you'll find it liberating because YouTube should be a wonderful playground for creative agencies.

The three biggest things brands and advertisers are getting wrong on YouTube:

1. ‘Let’s make a viral!!’

Who remembers Megawoosh?

This was a big hit viral video, which has amassed 6.59 million views since August 2009. That’s a serious number of views for a video from back then.

If you add up all the re-upped versions by other profiles it probably comes to more than double that. So, unquestionably a successful viral video.

But who remembers what brand it was for? Microsoft Project.

No, me neither. And if you look at the search trends from that period you see no connection between the surge of interest around ‘Megawoosh’ and searches for the product ‘Microsoft Project’.

I would question whether one single copy of Microsoft Project was sold because of this unquestionably successful viral video.

On the other hand you have the brilliant “Dove Beauty Sketches”. It was #1 In Adweek’s 10 Best Ads of 2013.

It was a Grand Prix winner at Cannes and is officially the most watched branded video of all time.

Interest in ‘beauty sketches’ around the April 2013 release of the video coincided with a 15% increase in searches for the pure brand term ‘Dove’.

This video did go viral but I’m betting that if Dove had briefed their agency to “make us a viral video”, there is no way that they would have come up with this.

It’s neither crass nor vulgar nor amateurish. It’s actually really emotional, classily put together with high production values. It is three minutes long, it’s clearly branded. There are no cats.

What we’re talking about here is a HERO video which goes out into the world, tells the brand’s story to millions of people, and brings back the ones with whom it makes the strongest connection.

The role of the HERO video, then, is to find new followers for a brand by raising awareness and extending reach. You might say that’s a classic advertising brief, and I’d say yes, it is.

2. ‘Let’s just stick up the TV ad’

In 2011, L’Oreal ran an ad on YouTube starring Hugh Laurie –at L’Oreal Men Expert.

At the time Hugh Laurie was the most popular television actor in the world. Or certainly the highest paid for his cantankerous diagnostician, Dr Gregory House.

And what do you get on YouTube if you put the most popular Television actor in the world in a formulaic L’Oreal TV ad?


But when you think about it, this makes total sense because this ad was never designed to be chosen to be watched.

It was designed with the big, snuggly safety blanket of an above-the-line media buy in mind to keep it warm, and two big water wings of a popular TV show either side of it to keep it afloat.

You take something designed for that environment and you put it into a brutal landscape like YouTube, where, if people don’t choose to watch your video, it doesn’t get watched, then it’s going to get cold pretty quickly and sink like a stone.

Interestingly on the same profile is a really simple video of Hugh Laurie improvising to camera while he gets his nails polished. Less structured, less polished it has 940,000 views.

See it at:

Okay, it’s not a record-breaking number of views but it’s still four times as many as the TV ad attracted.

If you were going to take on board the Silicon Valley philosophy of ‘launch and iterate’, I think it’s pretty clear which kind of video you should do more of and which one you should do less of. 

3. ‘Let’s do some digital creative’

So this is the bit that might seem a little counter-intuitive. Hear me out.

Go to

This is a video for the Wonderbra Decoder, a mobile app which allows you to “Uncover Adriana Cernanova’s secrets”.

If you sync your phone with the video as it plays on your laptop, when the fully clothed Adriana walks behind a yellow curtain on the larger screen, she walks onto your phone’s smaller screen in just her bra and pants.

This has been featured on Digital Buzz Blog, it has been nominated for an IAB Award and it is featured on Creative Sandbox (at:, Google’s showcase of everything great in digital creativity.

Everyone seems to love it.

Unfortunately, that’s everyone apart from people on YouTube, where the video has succeeded in getting only 240,000 views since being uploaded in September 2013.

And, to be honest, this makes sense. To get to the point where Adriana is on my phone wearing just her bra and knickers is just too tortuous a journey for me and for most others.

There are four problems with this idea.

First, I have to find out about it, which considering the video only has 240,000 views, it doesn’t seem many people have managed.

Second, I have to give a damn. What that means is when writing a digital brief you have to remember the audience is busy. The audience is always busy. So the more hoops you make people jump through, the fewer people you will end up talking to simply because they’ve got other things to do.

Third, I have to download the app.

Surely we’re all at the point now where we realise people aren’t going to download an app just to participate in a marketing campaign?

Long term utility? Yes. Short-term entertainment? It’s possible. But being made to go through a lengthy rigmarole so I can be marketed to? Not so much.

Fourth, I’ve got to sync my phone with the video, which is glitchy and never works first time. So I have to want to try it again to get it to work.

At the end of the day there are quicker and easier ways of watching videos on the internet of girls in bras.

Speaking of which, while Wonderbra were wasting everyone’s time with their Decoder, Victoria’s Secret were busy doing the serious job of building their brand on YouTube by making great video.

Have a look at:

They don’t expend their creativity on trying to insert a layer of custom functionality between the video and the viewer. What they do, week after week, month after month, is behave more like an entertainment broadcaster, a content producer, or perhaps most appropriately a YouTuber.

Like Marquese Scott.

And this is where we started, comparing the two videos of sign spinners. The YouTuber did it better.

In fact, YouTubers do almost everything bigger and better than brands. The few exceptions are Red Bull, DC Shoes and Victoria’s Secret.

They are winning because they make videos more like YouTubers than they make videos like advertisers.

They don’t do cut-through. They do consistency. They don’t do disruption. They do reliability.

They don’t do three blockbuster campaigns a year, they do three videos a week.

You know exactly what you’re going to get from Marquese Scott. He’s a reliable, regular and responsive content creator. Which is why he’s built a subscriber base of over a million followers while Philips have just twelve thousand.

There’s a lesson in that. 

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