Nathalie Nahai: It wouldn’t be Christmas without the soul-stirring video ads, but do they actually engage?

Festive campaign mania is upon us, but brands wanting to know how successful their online campaigns have been need to look beyond views and find out what happens after audiences have watched their offering.

As we career towards another Christmas and the inevitable flurry of festive ads, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a bit world-weary of the innumerable pull-on-your-heartstrings campaigns clamouring for our attention across our various screens.

From Sainsbury’s poorly-judged (but brilliantly executed) World War One storyline to John Lewis’s product-centric penguin skit, this year looks set to pull out all the stops in an attempt to seduce the nation with sad stories and mini emotional rollercoasters.

And yet, with marketers’ spidey senses all tuned in to churn out psychologically engaging videos, we still seem stuck at the gate when it comes to measuring their success. When the flood of ‘most watched ads of the year’ articles hit our inboxes, we’ll again be asked to join the chorus that the most watched videos should also be the most celebrated. But before we whip out our hymn books and all start singing from the same sheet, let’s take a deeper look at what we’re actually preaching.

With regard to video analytics, it pays to have friends at the cutting edge of the game, which is why I interviewed Craig Hughes at Unruly Media for this article. Having worked at IBM and PeerIndex, Craig’s role has been to help some of the world’s top marketers to gather, make sense of and apply insight from social data to optimise their marketing decision making process. As such, you could say that knowing which metrics to use to effectively ascertain the success (or failure) of your marketing video is one of his specialities.

Now, most marketers will agree that ‘views’ are still consistently deemed the critical success factor for an online video campaign. Most of us, individuals and businesses alike, could be forgiven for our somewhat obsessive relationship with YouTube view counts. A seductive, single performance metric, if we’re ‘doing it right’ this magic number should publicly show not only that a huge number of people have watched your video, but that this number far outstrips that of your competitors.

As Craig opines, the problem with using number of views as the key performance indicator (KPI) for the effectiveness of online video is that it’s self-reinforcing, and offers no insight into how effective your video is. You can take it from the horse’s mouth when I quote that the majority of brand video views are paid for.

If your KPI is something that you’re going to spend to guarantee delivering against, then you’re measuring your (or your media agency’s) ability to buy media and not the effectiveness of the content in contributing to your wider marketing goals.

It is therefore critical to look beyond views and understand what happens after your audience watches your video. We are measuring engagement, which comprises qualitative factors such as emotional response, psychological persuasiveness, and the amplification of your message to a wider, relevant audience. In terms of metrics, this kind of measurement includes whether they comment on it on YouTube, share it on Facebook in a status update, or like and comment on it when their friend shares it, thereby pushing it into other people’s news feed. It’s whether they’re tweeting or blogging about it, helping you to expand your reach and increase brand salience among a more qualified, receptive target group.

This kind of social reaction is vital for two key reasons. First, it paints a clear picture of how effective your content is in engaging the intended audience by motivating them to share the video and your brand’s messaging (this kind of word of mouth generates its own rewards). The second reason is that a strong social reaction puts your media budget to work as hard as possible, delivering additional, earned views beyond those you’ve already paid for.

If we are to objectively, accurately measure the effectiveness of online video, the bottom line is this: we have to look beyond view counts towards the more meaningful metric of engagement rates. How many people shared your video out of every 100 people who watched it? Ultimately, the bigger the media budget and number of views delivered, the greater the absolute volume of engagement you can reasonably expect to deliver.

So, whatever beautifully executed videos pull at your heart strings this Christmas, as you peruse ‘This Year’s Top 10 most viewed ads’, just keep in mind that you’re probably looking at the ten biggest media budgets of 2014.

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