By Pippa Nutt, Chief Digital Officer

So you want to drive sales for a lower CPA than your TV ad buy, and you think YouTube is the place to be? Oh, and you want to use your existing commercial spot? Welcome to every client call over the last year, it’s like Grumpy Cat on replay.

I know it’s the fastest growing digital channel, and I know Justin Beiber has the most subscribers and Selena Gomez is the Queen of Instagram (what is wrong with the world?), but there are some things you need to know about digital video advertising before jumping head first into the well.

Let’s look at some of the facts:

FACT: Digital video continues to cannibalize TV ad budgets.

FACT: Digital video is the future.

FACT: Digital video is not without its challenges (at least in a direct response context).

You know that little disclaimer in your car mirror that says “objects in mirror are closer than they appear”? Well, YouTube and Facebook videos should come with a similar disclaimer: “Results not always as they appear”. Our latest DR mantra around the office is “what’s new and hot and bling, is not guaranteed to make the phones ring”. Ok, ok I know no one picks up the phone anymore but you get the idea.

Google has spent a ton of time and energy over the last year trying to convince media planners and buyers to shift dollars away from TV to test digital video; they’ll even do a complimentary brand lift study to make it look pretty. (I could have said put lipstick on a pig, but that feels a bit harsh.) Since when does Google offer to do anything for free? Well, when they need to prove a point and build their case. Because the truth is, whether it be YouTube or Facebook (um…good luck if you are trying this elsewhere), the medium is wrought with challenges.

Here are the core ones in my opinion:

Engagement ≠ Sales

Remember that mantra? It’s unfortunately very true. The reality is this medium is still very much focused on brand engagement, which works for brand but not so good for DR when you are trying to drive action. And the CPM’s are still off the charts, but only if you are comparing to traditional TV CPM’s (and in my opinion that comparison is flawed). A digital impression, especially a viewable impression, is worth more than a TV impression when you have no idea if the person watching is even in front of the TV when your ad airs.

You can’t go into a digital video test expecting the same results as linear TV, and you have to consider all the touchpoints in the channel including remarketing and the assisted conversion path to really understand the full picture.

It Requires a Different Creative Approach

You wouldn’t wash your car with toothpaste and expect it to shine, the same goes for slapping your commercial spot online and expecting to drive results from that. A digital video audience is WAY more fickle (some would say…ahem…savvy) than a passive TV viewer watching the fourth rerun of Judge Judy while clipping coupons on their couch. You need to get their attention — fast — and with an offer and message that resonates with the target audience (which can also be a lot more granular online), and that will likely mean editing your existing footage into a new experience. When it comes to the call to action, remember you wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on a first date. If you go into the test thinking you can distract that closet Bieber fan and get him to click and buy, you will definitely be sorry.

Another worthy disclaimer here, 85% of Facebook video is watched without sound. So if you can make something compelling without needing people to turn audio on, you are ahead of the curve. Focus on your visual message!

Mobile Rules

More than 65% of YouTube and Facebook video views come from mobile devices, so if your site is not optimized for mobile, and/or your mobile conversion rate is subpar, you are not going to see great results from a digital video test. (Well, Facebook may tell you it’s great and then change their tune a year later!)

Slippery Metrics

There is a lack of consistency within the industry on what constitutes a video “view”, and given you typically pay per view, you should care about that.

On Facebook and Instagram, viewing only 3 seconds of a video of any length is considered a view. YouTube is 30 seconds, regardless of the video length. Further, according to MarketingLand, the standard of a YouTube “view” is 10 times higher than that of Facebook or Instagram!

Within that, viewability continues to be a hot topic. According to the IAB, a video ad counts as viewable “when at least 50 percent of the ad’s pixels are visible on a screen for at least two consecutive seconds”.

The metrics are confusing, so be careful what you bid on!

The Oligopoly in the Room

At 1.86 billion, Facebook has almost the same monthly active users as WhatsApp (1 billion), Instagram (600 million) and Twitter (340 million) — combined. (Source: DMR.) YouTube has over a billion users with 4 billion views per day, almost one-third of all people on the Internet. (Source: DMR.)

The demand far exceeds the supply right now in terms of digital video inventory, and you are competing in auctions against large scale advertisers that are not measuring ROI (for the most part), and can therefore easily outbid you. Closely monitoring campaign efficiency in this context is key.

Demographic Skew

Facebook, Instagram and YouTube all skew younger, and when you layer on the mobile penetration, the demo drops even further. YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S. The lion’s share of users on Facebook (30%) are aged 25-34, and skew female. Trying to reach a 50+ audience? Digital video may not be your best bet. Even outside of that is it difficult (but not impossible) to find a message that stands out from the crowd and also resonates with such a capricious audience (unless you are Disney or Starbucks).


Digital video is the future and is here to stay, so you might as well get your feet wet, but a fast follower approach in this context may not be such a bad thing. Moving forward, we will likely continue to see the same ups and downs as people navigate through trying to drive positive results from this channel and fine tune the measurement aspect. Hope you like the Warp Wall!

We can help boost response rates, increase conversions and improve your ROI.