In this article, you explore a variety of YouTube ad formats. You find out the benefits of each format and the reasons to use them in a campaign. You also discover the ad policy that governs what you can and, most importantly, cannot advertise.
YouTube’s Ad Format Offerings
YouTube has pioneered different ad formats and is constantly experimenting with new and compelling ways to deliver a marketer’s message to the audience. YouTube always keeps in mind these two goals:
- What will be the most relevant, best possible, and most useful advertising experience for the audience without providing a negative experience on YouTube
- What will help advertisers reach the right people, at the right time, in the most effective and compelling way
Those goals are in order of priority. YouTube, and Google in general, will always put the user first.
As YouTube’s ad formats do change often, you can find the latest ad format offerings at https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2375464?hl=en.
At the time of writing, YouTube has a simple yet comprehensive offering of ad formats that come in a variety of lengths, types, and abilities:
- Skippable in-stream ads
- Non-skippable in-stream ads
- In-feed video ads
- Bumper ads
- Discovery ads
- Masthead ads
Forced versus unforced ads is a really important distinction to make for video ad formats. Some ad formats are forced and require you to watch to the end before your video will play. Ads that offer you a Skip Ad feature are unforced. A six-second bumper ad is a forced format, meaning that it plays in full before your video plays.
1. Skippable in-stream ads
Possibly the ad format that makes YouTube the most incredible of platforms is the skippable video ad. Skippable video ads allow you to skip the ad after just five seconds of viewing.
Skippable video ads appear before, during, or after a video. The advertiser only pays when the viewer watches 30seconds or the end of the video ad, whichever comes first.
At the time of writing, Google TrueView is the name most commonly used to refer to skippable video ads on YouTube. TrueView was developed to provide a great viewing experience for the end-user and to allow the advertiser to pay only for the views people watch.
After all, why force someone to watch your ad when they may not be interested? Instead, TrueView encourages advertisers to make ads that people want to see. Even further, TrueView doesn’t limit the length of your video ad, so you can make a 30-second ad or a 30-minute ad!
TrueView can come in two flavors:
- TrueView in-stream: The TrueView in-stream ad plays before or during a video (see the nearby sidebar “Blah Airlines” for an example). You pay only when the user watches 30 seconds or to the end of the video, whichever comes first.
- TrueView video discovery: This option allows your ad to appear alongside other YouTube videos in the search results page and on websites in the Google Display Network (GDN), a network of third-party websites outside of Google where your ads can also run. You pay only when the viewer chooses to watch your video by clicking on the ad.
The added bonus of TrueView is that the view count of your video will be incremented each time a viewer watches 30 seconds or the full video ad, whichever comes first, or interacts with your video — for example, by clicking on the ad to visit your website. (Note that YouTube Analytics won’t track video views of TrueView videos less than 10 seconds in length.)
2. Non-skippable in-stream ads
Non skippable video ads work the same way as skippable video ads (see preceding section), except viewers do not have the option of skipping them.
YouTube is always evaluating whether non-skippable video ads provide a negative experience for the end-user and will often experiment with the options available for this kind of ad format. In fact, YouTube uses a range of signals, such as how the user discovered the video, to determine when it may be okay to serve up a forced video ad.
Nonskippable video ads appear before, during, or after a video and force viewers to watch the entire ad, which is typically 15 to 20 seconds long.
Many traditional marketers like to use a non-skippable forced-view ad because that’s how other media works. For example, TV commercials are forced because you can’t skip ahead of them. You can, of course, deliver a high-quality video ad that someone wants to watch and run in a non-skippable ad format, but why force someone to watch your message even if they don’t want to see it? Instead, make ad creative that people want to watch, run it in skippable ad formats like TrueView, and only show your ad to people who wanted to watch?
You may like this ad format because non-skippable video ads
- Guarantee someone will see your ad
- Can work well as part of a media mix, complementing skippable formats
- May fit the format of advertising creative already made, such as a 15-second TV ad that you can repurpose
Keep in mind that you may be forcing people to watch an ad they just don’t want to see, which may mean it’s not effective.
3. In-feed video ads
You can promote video content through in-feed video ads next to related YouTube videos, as part of a YouTube search result, or on the YouTube mobile homepage.
The in-feed video ads consist of a thumbnail image from your video and some text. In-feed video ads may vary in size and appearance depending on where they appear, but they always entice viewers to click to watch the video. This video appears on the channel homepage or watch page of YouTube.
In-feed video ads appear:
- On YouTube search results
- Alongside related YouTube videos
- On the YouTube mobile homepage
You’ll only be charged when viewers choose to view your ad by clicking the thumbnail.
4. Bumper ads
Partly thanks to the rise (and for some, fall) of platforms like SnapChat, Vine, and Instagram, shorter videos and ad formats are commonplace. A few years ago, YouTube created bumpers, a new ad format that is sometimes referred to as six-second ads.
Bumper ads were developed to work especially well on mobile devices, where people don’t want a long video ad to interrupt their viewing experience. The idea is that despite being a forced ad, a six-second format fits nicely with human’s attention span and isn’t too interruptive an experience, particularly when you’re just hopping onto YouTube briefly.
You may be surprised at just how much you can communicate in a six-second ad and how useful they can be as part of your media mix. Six-second ads are great to
- Complement your media, broadening your message by reaching a wider audience cost effectively, which increases your reach and frequency
- Let you try a variety of different messages without a significant overhead of creative production
- Add a cost-effective ad format into the mix because they’re often not expensive to buy
- Give you an ad format that works especially well on mobile devices, where the majority of people are watching YouTube and accessing the Internet
Big marketers often take their 30-second TV commercial and cut it down into just 6 seconds. Sometimes this approach can work, but trying to force a lot of content into a short ad may not make for the best advertising creative.
You may like this ad format because bumper ads
- Can be easier to create because they’re short
- Are great for reaching people on mobile, which is where a lot people are watching YouTube
- Allow you to experiment with different creative approaches and messages to see what works best
- Complement other media in the mix and can extend your reach and frequency
I can’t think of any reasons why you wouldn’t choose this ad format. I think bumper ads are great.
5. Discovery ads
In-stream ads behave similarly to traditional TV commercials, whereas discovery ads are more like the ads you see on Google’s search results page. Considering that YouTube is an Internet search engine and social network at the same time, this makes sense.
Organic search results and discovery ads appear together. People are more likely to watch your video if it looks more relevant than organic results.
A discovery ad includes three lines of text and a thumbnail. After clicking the ad, interested people are directed to your YouTube channel or video page.
Discovery ads appear to people exhibiting high-intent behavior, as determined by Google’s algorithms. For example, eCommerce companies can use them to acquire new consumers and introduce their audiences to new products and services.
It’s important to note that the Discover feed isn’t available to consumers in Germany, Australia, and France. Therefore, these consumers will also not see ads like these in their Google App.
6. Masthead ads
If you visit the YouTube home page, you’ll see the Masthead, a large display ad that spans across the page above the video thumbnails. The Masthead is the mother of all display ads, allowing advertisers to purchase a takeover of the YouTube home page for a full 24 hours. It’s a huge canvas that you can customize by using images, text, video, and rich media.
Large-scale marketers with big budgets may buy this ad unit for a big awareness campaign because it reaches millions of people in just one day. The Masthead costs a lot of money, in the hundreds of thousands for just one day, with the price varying by country.
Each time you visit the YouTube home page, see who has bought the Masthead slot that day, and think about what is being advertised and why the Masthead may be a good vehicle for it.
- Is an amazing way to own a day and promote a specific event, such as a sale, or a moment in time that’s happening in the world
- Gives you access to a massive audience very quickly
- Is a big creative canvas to play with
- Is a PR opportunity that may get people talking.
Of course, if you don’t have a few hundred thousand dollars to blow in one day, this ad format may not be for you. The Masthead is really only for the biggest of advertisers.
YouTube offers a tool that lets you see what your ad could look like in the Masthead. Visit www.youtube.com/yt/videomasthead and enter your YouTube video’s link, and the tool will create a Masthead ad automatically. Just make sure that you have a few hundred thousand dollars handy if you want to buy the Masthead for a day!