Why video advertising is the content of choice

Video advertising on the internet and mobile phones is a growth area with research showing that people will engage further if the content is compelling

A picture is worth a thousand words, but video is where brands are putting their money. Video advertising on the internet and mobile increased to £202m in the first half of 2014 – a 59% year-on-year increase; mobile video went up by 196% and took £63.9m. “Video accounts for £1 in every £5 spent on the internet and mobile display ads,” says Tim Elkington, chief strategy officer at the UK Internet Advertising Bureau, which carried out the research.

The rewards are not always so significant. The fact video advertising interrupts the content consumers want to watch is perhaps what leads marketers to conclude that they should make a play for consumers’ attention with viral video-based content, as opposed to advertising.

However, at Danone’s water brand Volvic, the word ‘viral’ has been banned from the marketing team. Head of marketing Pam Pines says: “A virus is unpredictable and irrational, and that’s no way to approach effective marketing.” She prefers a more “strategic, planned and rational approach” to what is a “creative, innovative and exciting space”.

“The only strategy we feel is effective is to stick to our definition of great content marketing – content that people want to watch and spend time with, which is simultaneously held accountable as advertising,” Pines explains.

As such, Volvic and its content marketing agency Kameleon do not distinguish between video as advertising and as ‘marketing entertainment’ – it is both. “Everything we make must stand on its own two feet as entertainment – it must have [that] value, otherwise it’s not ‘content’,” says Pines.


“A virus is unpredictable and irrational, and that’s no way to approach effective marketing.”

Pam Pines, Danone


She claims that at Danone “great care” has been taken to identify the hook that makes its content watchable. It could be the talent, such as musician Rizzle Kicks working with Evian; partnerships, such as the Tough Mudder endurance challenge; or the concept. “It starts with great insight,” says Pines. “Do we know our audience well enough to know what they want to watch, spend time with and share?”

Some brands have let go of the reins, placing their content in the hands of video bloggers (vloggers). “It is high risk, but hopefully that means high rewards,” says Toni Ambler, head
of brand communications at tour operator Contiki.

The IAB study is supported by Brightcove research published in September. It found that 76% of consumers cite video as their preferred content source for brand information, 24% said video is their ‘most trusted’ source of brand content and 20% feel more emotionally connected with the brand.

Yellow Jersey uses animation to promote its cycle insurance as it plays on emotion

If content does not elicit a strong emotion or opinion, it is “dead in the water”, says John Cave, digital director at online travel agency verycheapholidays.co.uk. That was not the case for the ice bucket challenge, a fun concept with the aim of raising awareness and money for motor neurone disease. People were able to nominate others to do the challenge, which accelerated the sharing process.

A non-specific target audience also enabled other charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support, to take advantage of the appeal to raise money for other causes. Yet the ability to maintain long-term effects or repeat successes from ‘virals’ is largely unproven.

“Creating a strategy that means your piece will be shared is going to be better than paying to display your piece,” says Cave. But he adds: “A lot of time and sometimes money goes into creating a good content marketing video in the hope that people will share it. More fail than succeed, so save money to market it yourself.”

Some have taken a shortcut to mass sharing while taking a step away from direct engagement with their target audience. In the past few years, vloggers have flooded the internet and a few have attracted millions of followers. Homebase partnered with vlogger Tanya Burr. She was given £500 to spend in the store and created a 12-minute YouTube ‘homehaul’ video showcasing her purchases.

Homebase digital marketing manager Jonathan Hudson is quick to assert that this was not a platform through which the retailer could simply sell more. “We weren’t prescriptive,” he explains. “Tanya’s audience are interested in her opinions and it’s only believable if it’s done through her eyes and taste. It’s easy as a retailer or brand to do content in order to sell more wallpaper, but I see great content as something that brings Homebase front-of-mind.”

Homebase might not have seen the link-up as a quick way to sell more products, but sales of the products showcased by Burr increased 46%, and the retailer’s Facebook fanbase grew 10%.

Contiki has used 90 vloggers for its ‘RoadTrip’ project. Every year, some of the world’s most popular vloggers are taken on a trip and asked to create content. There is no brief, script or guidelines.”


“The great thing about video
is that it’s measurable: one view
equals one person more aware”

Patrick Cox, Male Cancer
Awareness Campaign


In the travel sector, views of travel-related video content are up 118% year on year, according to Google. But video content also appeals to ‘drier’ sectors such as recruitment (see Balance and Bravery, p 27) and insurance. Yellow Jersey has used animation to promote its cycle insurance; there is a sales message and humour, but the clips also play on an emotion.


Evian worked with Rizzle Kicks in a sponsored musical video

Top Challenges

Going viral

This has become something brands steer clear of. Danone has even banned the word ‘viral’ from marketing teams. Even the very best will be short-lived, and the challenge thereafter is to maintain communication. “The conversion process can take longer but it’s arguably more effective,” says Contiki head of brand communications Toni Ambler.

Cost benefits

One piece of great content does not a sales uplift make – though some have managed it. “Content is advertising – and it must be accountable to the same metrics as everything else in the marketing mix,” says Pam Pines, Danone Waters UK head of marketing. “We set clear KPIs and evaluate and optimise our video content in real time to achieve those marketing and business objectives.”


Whether it’s content or paid advertising, the video has to be relevant. Those producing content must ensure there’s a specific demographic in mind, whilst those paying for ads must understand their clip will interrupt viewing. “The audience needs to feel something and resonate with the piece, however it needs to reflect your brand and for us it needs to be light, punchy, amusing,” says Iain Lumsden, O2 head of content – communications and reputation.

“Cyclists are sentimental about their bikes and by visually demonstrating the serious message of why cyclists need insurance, we created a need for our product to protect their passion,” explains brand manager Kelly Barnes. “We had almost 4,000 views in three weeks – seven times more than our main competitor has had in a two-year period on their YouTube channel.”

The right content is likely to engage people further. After watching a ‘good branded video’, 39% of consumers are more likely to research a subject further and 30% are more likely to watch content from the brand again, according to Brightcove’s research.

“We have a great brand that we know can be easily taken in the wrong way,” says Cave at verycheapholidays.co.uk. “Yes, we sell cheap holidays; it is a given. Our issue can sometimes be the perception that we only sell cheap accommodation, budget flights and so on.” In fact, the site sells the same holidays as everyone else and Cave believes video is the best way to communicate that: “We want to get this message across in a way that also shows our personality and have a bit of fun with it.”

But where is the balance between creating something that is fun and maintaining more serious brand values? Patrick Cox is chief executive of the Male Cancer Awareness Campaign, which is working with the agency Rubber Republic to launch the “world’s first flying testicle”. Cox explains the charity’s approach is far from humour for humour’s sake.

“Our job is to raise awareness and reduce embarrassment of male cancer. No-one is really interested in a text-heavy awareness leaflet with a few medical anatomy drawings – especially not men.

“Laughter triggers memory and it’s easier to share with friends and family something that makes you smile or something that is clever. Our campaigns is to drive home our awareness message and the great thing about video is that it’s measurable: one view equals one person more aware,” he adds.

Balance and bravery

Reed.co.uk is a recruitment brand that has leaned towards video advertising rather than content. Previously it had tried running its TV adverts online with “mixed results”, head of digital marketing Jamie Bodkin says, but its Cute Kittens campaign changed all that. Messaging was focused on online users’ common habits of wasting time or ‘procrastinating on the interweb’, and urged them: ‘Stop watching cats and find a new job’

“Our creative had a deliberate hook before the option to ‘Skip Ad’ to keep engagement high,” says Bodkin. “Our videos make reference to the viewer’s previous viewing habits, coupled with their demographic to help communicate on a more personal level.”

Clickable zones were incorporated into the ads containing calls to action. The result was a 3.6% click-through rate – more than three times the average.

“Our investment in TV provides large levels of exposure and impact – online video allows us to take the conversation further, with greater degrees of flexibility both in terms of what can be done with the creative, the targeting and the follow up,” says Bodkin.

Advertising – particularly promotional activity across YouTube – now represents a major part of the firm’s approach to branding. Bodkin admits that advertising is “less organic and [more] interruptive in comparison to credible content” and he is always wary of overexposure. “But most platforms provide frequency options, and the ability to re-market and further engage with those who show signs of interest and choose to watch or interact with us,” he says.