Skippable YouTube advertising: does it really work?

Brands invested over $3billion on YouTube advertising in the US alone in 2017, double the 2014 spend (1), with a lot of this spent on ‘pre-roll’ ads. These appear before you watch a YouTube video. On a recent brandgym project a client asked, “Does skippable YouTube advertising really work!? Don’t most people, like me, hover over the ‘skip’ button waiting to click it when 5 seconds are up?”

We decided to research skippable YouTube advertising to create the module on Turbo Charged Marketing on our Mastering Brand Growth online marketing training program. Below I look at the facts I found on YouTube ads and how to increase their effectiveness, drawing on several different research reports I dug up.

1.Most people DO habitually skip YouTube ads

65% of people do skip online video advertising, according to an extensive study by with 11,000 U.S. consumers by Magna, IPG’s research arm (1). On average people watch before they skip:

  • 5.5 seconds of a 15-second ad
  • 7.4 seconds of a 30-second ad.

The numbers get worse when people watch ads on the go on a smartphone: skippable YouTube advertising is skipped by 84% of people

The good news for advertisers is that aided recall is boosted 22% even amongst people who skip the ads. And you effectively get this benefit for free, as you only pay for people watching at least 30 seconds, or the end of the video (whichever is shorter).

All images from Magna/IPG research

2.Stopping skipping pays off, but is hard

It does of course pay to stop people skipping your ad. Brand scores increase significantly across the board, on measures including purchase intent and favourability.

But stopping people skipping is super hard. It turns out 76% of folk are like me: they have an ingrained habit to skip YouTube ads. A further 14% skip because the product is not relevant.

That leaves just 10% of skippers that you can influence with your creative.

So, rather focusing on stopping people skipping your YouTube ad, a better approach might be to look at the effectiveness as a whole, amongst both skippers and non-skippers.

3.Tell a brand story that peaks early

Consistent with previous posts on ad effectiveness, it pays to tell an emotionally involving story about your brand in YouTube ads, rather than just pushing the product. Brand recall is slightly lower with the story-telling approach, but brand favourability and likelihood to recommend are significantly higher.

Emotionally engaging ads are also less likely to be skipped, according to research by Unruly (3). And humour seems to be particularly effective. “People are more likely to watch humorous ads, and those ads also see greater lifts in ad recall and brand awareness,” according to a YouTube research study (4). Geico’s “Unskippable” ad below is a good example of this approach, which makes fun of the skippable nature of YouTube ads.

Furthermore, recall is increased by having story ‘arc’ that climaxes early in the ad rather than later. This makes sense, given that most people are skipping the ad and not watching it to the end.

In contrast, the primitive trick of sticking your brand logo near the skip button doesn’t work: brand recall is unaffected.

4.Consider shorter format ads

Short format ads have a special place in my heart. The first commercial I ever made as a P&G assistant brand manager was a 10 second spot to launch Clearasil Gel.

So I was interested to read in the IPG report about the effectiveness of 6 second un-skippable ads.

First, these super-short format ads are much more effective than skippable 15 second ads. If most people only watch a YouTube ad for 6 seconds, why not create an ad with this habit in mind?

Second, a 6 second un-skippable ad is only marginally less effective at driving brand recall than a 15 second un-skippable ad (+47% vs. +57%), which will cost quite a bit more to buy.

This super-short format is a creative challenge. But a gallery of films by agency creatives on Think With Google shows the trick is to create films specifically to fit the format, not cut-downs or distillations of longer format ads (5). An example of one of 2017’s most viewed 6 second ads is the one here from Corona, which nicely captures the feeling of freedom and refreshment.

In conclusion, Kara Manatt, Senior VP at MAGNA sums up well the key challenges with YouTube advertising. “While skipping is an ingrained behavior, more succinct ads, coupled with human connection and good storytelling, will help brands more deeply engage with audiences.”

You find out more about projects to help brands grow the core with distinctive marketing here.

As mentioned at the start, we explore the role of digital advertising on our brandgym Mastering Brand Growth program. If you’d like more info on the program, simply pop your name and email in the form below (we’ll also send you the weekly brandgym blog email and brandgym Academy news, but you can opt out at any time).