The top 10 most popular YouTube ads of 2014

Despite the fact that a growing number of the most popular YouTube ads of 2014 were made for online, rather than TV, the top ad – Sainsbury’s Christmas ad featuring the famous World War I truce – did debut on TV first.

However, this ad, like many others on the list, was made for online and repurposed for TV. Sainsbury’s full YouTube ad is 3 minutes 40 seconds long while the spots that aired on TV were typically between 30 and 60 seconds.

In the rest of the list, the John Lewis and Marks & Spencer’s Christmas ad debuted on YouTube with shorter versions airing on TV. Others, including Always #LikeAGirl, Pepsi’s Loop the Loop and Save the Children’s Most Shocking Second a Day Video were digital-only spots that were never shown on TV while Nike’s two World Cup spots that make the top 10 were created with YouTube and a social audience in mind, rather than TV.

Ads on TV are usually 30 seconds long and rarely longer than 60 seconds (the TV debut of Sainsbury’s and John Lewis’ Christmas ads aside). However the top ads on YouTube last year averaged 2.8 minutes in length, 57% more than the top 10 in 2013, suggesting that consumers online are happy to spend more time with branded content as long as it entertains them and is relevant.

The most popular ads also tap into a big event or story to get across their message – be that Christmas or the World Cup. The most successful brands know that to get reach they need to split up big events into interactions based around smaller moments – hence Nike managing two spots in the top 10.

The final takeaway – don’t be afraid to tug on consumers’ heartstrings. The top 10 is full of ads that aim to make an emotional connection rather than directly selling products. A little controversy doesn’t hurt either, with Sainsbury’s ad topping the list despite more than 700 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Graham Bednash, consumer marketing director at Google, says: “The most popular ideas are those where brands are thinking like publishers, not advertisers. They are mashing together the skills of documentary, music video and advertising to create amazing, shareable content.”

YouTube ranks ads based on how many paid and non-paid views they garner and how much of a video people typically watched. It also considers other factors such as likes, shares and total watch time.

The top 10 YouTube ads

1. Sainsbury’s Official Christmas 2014 Ad

Views: 16.58 million
Creative Agency: AMV BBDO
Media Agency: PHD

2. John Lewis Christmas Advert 2014 – #MontyThePenguin

Views: 22.13 million
Creative Agency: Adam & Eve DDB
Media Agency: Manning Gottlieb OMD

3. Nike Football: Winner Stays. ft. Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Rooney, Ibrahimović, Iniesta & more

Views: 101.87 million
Creative Agency: Wieden + Kennedy
Media Agency: Mindshare

4. Nike Football: The Last Game ft. Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Rooney, Zlatan, Iniesta & more

Views: 74.87 million
Creative Agency: Wieden + Kennedy
Media Agency: Mindshare

5. Always #LikeAGirl

Views: 53.72 million
Creative Agency: Leo Burnett
Media Agency: Starcom Mediavest

6. Three – #SingItKitty

Views: 5.8 million
Creative Agency: Wieden + Kennedy
Media Agency: Mindshare

7. Marks & Spencer Christmas Advert 2014 #FollowTheFairies

Views: 3.16 million
Creative Agency: RKCR/Y&R
Media Agency: Mindshare

8. Save the Children – Most Shocking Second a Day Video

Views: 43.83 million
Creative Agency: Don’t Panic
Media Agency: Steak

9. Sapeurs – New GUINNESS Advert (2014)

Views: 3.53 million
Creative Agency: AMV BBDO
Media Agency: Carat

10. Human Loop the Loop with Damien Walters – Pepsi Max. Unbelievable #LiveForNow

Views: 10.56 million
Creative Agency: AMV BBDO
Media Agency: OMD


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There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Lindsey Clay 6 Jan 2015

    If these really are the most ‘popular’ ads as defined by Google, then surely they should discount paid views, but these appear to be lumped in with unpaid views and other measurements. Otherwise it is equivalent to TV broadcasters claiming ads are popular partly based on the number of ratings the advertiser bought.

    I worry about the hang-up here over whether these are TV or online ads. They are both and I wouldn’t worry about the distinction so much. This is about integrated campaigns. Chronologically some may appear online first, but the chronology doesn’t really matter. What matters is what works and how they work together. The best advertisers take both into account and use them accordingly.

    Look at two of the brands in the top 10 who are making this work: Sainsbury’s and John Lewis. Both have brilliantly managed the seamless integration between broadcast TV and online. But they have done it in completely different ways. John Lewis released their ad online first, rewarding loyal fans and harnessing the anticipation they knew was there; Sainburys did the opposite by launching it on TV and then exploiting the interest it created in different ways online. Neither was the only right way, but the common denominator was TV and online working together (along with other media).

    However, if you want to talk about whether those on the list are ‘TV’ ads or ‘online’ ads, the average person on the street would describe the John Lewis ad, the Sainsbury’s ad, the Three ad or any of the other TV ads included here as TV ads. That is what bought them the mass audiences and fame which then helped drive the online views. The popularity of ads on YouTube doesn’t occur in a vacuum. They are driven by many factors – TV ads which are popular on YouTube are undoubtedly driven by the broadcast TV campaign, whether or not the version on YouTube is the same as the one TV.

    To give some perspective to the YouTube views given in the piece (which are global and not UK), here are the UK broadcast TV ‘views’ for a few of the campaigns:

    John Lewis: 395.5 million

    Sainsbury’s: 203.8 million

    Guinness: 487 million

    Marks & Spencer: 228.4 million

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