How to write YouTube ads that work (using insights the big brands are missing)

In Viewability: Harness the Power of YouTube Ads and Be There for Your Customer — When It Really Counts, Tom Breeze has written a copywriting book disguised as a book about YouTube advertising. That’s a double win for readers:

  1. You get a guide to writing better copy to advertise your business.
  2. You get advice from an expert on how to distribute your copywriting using the world’s second biggest search engine, YouTube.

What follows is a summary of and my notes on Viewability.

Benefits of YouTube advertising

  1. SEO: As the rules of technical SEO keep changing, you’re safest investing in quality content because any changes Google makes will be to favour quality content. So producers of quality content will always be ahead of any slaps Google gives to sites relying on technical SEO.
  2. Facebook: Facebook, Breeze suggests, is like a town with a single main street — its crowded newsfeed. Having everyone concentrated in only one street makes Facebook ever harder and more expensive to penetrate with ads. YouTube, on the other hand, is expanding like a city — an always increasing number of main streets to advertise in. Breeze does a great job here of keeping the reader’s focus where he wants it to be. (Hat tip perhaps to Cialdini’s Pre-Suasion?) Of course, if you didn’t want to keep everyone’s focus on YouTube, you could just as easily argue that having everyone in one main street makes advertising easier (if more expensive).
  3. AdWords: Google Ads is much more costly than YouTube.

Writing YouTube ads for the moments that matter

Breeze divides the book into seven sections, each building on the one before, and most centred on the concept of matching YouTube ads to “moments” in your client’s decision making:

  1. The Moments We Live In: Missed Opportunities from the Audience’s Perspective
  2. The Moments of Truth: Converting Viewers into Customers
  3. Mapping Your Customer’s Moments: How to Find Those Opportunities
  4. The Message for the Moment: How to Define It
  5. Meeting the Moment: The Logistics of Making It Happen
  6. Mastering the Moment: Bringing It All Together
  7. Momentum: The Adventure Starts Now

Moments makes for a good conceit. The idea of moments pulls you through the book, and all the steps Breeze says you must understand to know who to target your videos to, as well as how and when.

How even the biggest brands are missing their target audience on YouTube

Breeze tells a compelling story about how he fell into training for a marathon at the last minute. As he searched desperately for videos on how to squeeze 25 or more weeks of training into the 16 weeks he had, he writes that he was open to all sorts of products and service. He would have entertained advertising for shoes, gels, physiotherapists and hotels near the start line. Even though he would have been wide open, none of those things was advertised to him at this point in his research.

At this point in the book, your mind will doubtless turn to your own clients. What are they searching for in the weeks or months before they will, more than likely, need you?

This is fertile ground. Breeze quotes Google saying that brands miss the moments when their customers are searching for them nine times out of 10.

If Nike isn’t clued in enough to offer shoes to an aspiring marathon runner, imagine the gaps that exist in your industry.

Finding your target audience with YouTube video advertising

For every product or service, some people are ready to buy now, those who are doing research, and those who are slightly interested. These three different types of customers require three different approaches. — Tom Breeze

Breeze segments customers into only three audiences:

  1. Window shoppers — mildly interested in your product or service; might buy in the future. Window shoppers need your YouTube video to grab their attention and highlight features and benefits so they’ll become…
  2. Researchers — they want what you’re selling, and they’re looking for more information or the best deal. They want advice and demonstrations.
  3. Buy now — customers who are at the checkout; they might just need a little reassurance they’ve made the right choice before they pull the trigger.

Three types of customers means a need for three types of message, argues Breeze. Again, most advertisers go for one, so there’s a world of opportunity for the advertiser who will segment.

How to turn YouTube ad cost into profit: start with the user

Breeze is clear throughout the book that a good user experience will translate into sales. And segmentation is key to that experience. Window shoppers won’t respond to the same ad as checkout customers — or not as well, anyway.

The cascading YouTube ads campaign

Breeze and his team have something they call the cascading campaign: as a soon as a viewer has seen an ad without responding, they see a new one. If they still don’t respond, they get a third video ad.

Breeze says not seeing the same ad twice is a better user experience than smashing them with the same ad until they do something or hate you.

Also, when your audience sees three ads, you have more options with the narrative — each ad can hit a different potential trigger or the sequence can form a whole picture.

“Be human” in your advertising

Breeze recommends that you focus more on being helpful and less on “clicking links and signing up”. That high-pressure hustle taught by online marketing gurus isn’t about good user experience.

Copywriting for YouTube ads

Write your video script as if you’re talking to one person, advises Breeze. It’s at this point in the book that it becomes apparent just how much this is a copywriting book with a YouTube overlay.

YouTube is the distribution channel, but what you’re distributing is copywriting. (It’s striking how little Breeze talks about anything visual in the book — it’s all about tone, avatars and approach.)

YouTube video ad copywriting advice from an expert

Breeze gives some more useful copywriting tips for would-be YouTube ad writers:

  1. Make sure each video you create is not trying to deliver more than one message. Delete anything extraneous.
  2. Violating schemas makes for a catchy opening — basically, if you can give your audience something they’re not expecting, you’ll arouse their curiosity and grease the chute (keep them watching). Breeze gives a brilliant example — not coincidentally from a copywriter, Frank Kern — about being thrown out of a strip club in the afternoon, which is not an opener you expect from a respected expert.
  3. If you can’t think of a clever schema variation, ask the viewer a question.
  4. Try to draw the viewer in by opening a loop (intriguing them in a way that they have to know how it ends, so they keep watching).
  5. Using the CEO or someone high up adds credibility and personality.
  6. Tailor the format to the message — products need demonstrating, for instance.
  7. But wait, there’s more — make it clear you’re not giving away the farm in your YouTube ad. The viewer has to do something, go somewhere to get more.
  8. Link benefits to features — whenever you tell the viewer what you can do, make sure you give them the benefit at the same time. “We do this so you can do that”. “It goes this fast so you can arrive in record time…”
  9. “Because” works wonders. The mere use of the word “because” makes it sound like you know what you’re talking about. Sounds crazy? Check your Cialdini.
  10. Test — don’t spend $20,000 shooting a fancy video that might not work. Test and learn. See what works first.
  11. Do use a professional videographer. If your video looks like shit, people will draw the same conclusion about your company. Yes, it’s horses for courses — no one expects their business coach’s videos to look like Qantas ads, but you get the drift.

Does anyone need a copywriter for a YouTube video?

“With the ADUCATE… principles, combined with your knowledge of your customers and their moments, you’re more qualified to write the script for your YouTube videos than any copywriter you could commission. Contractors might be able to write a good script for TV or Facebook, but it won’t work for what’s unique about YouTube and how viewers interact with the platform.” — Tom Breeze

Respectfully, because I enjoyed the book, this is bullshit.

For an author who has basically written a beginners’ guide to copywriting through the lens of YouTube, Breeze turns out to value the craft of copywriting at nothing. You think your business owner client could out-pull John Carlton because Carlton is a “contractor”? Or the scriptwriters for the master of the video sales letter, Jeff Walker? Good luck with that.

ADUCATE [see below] is a great formula. The tip about writing for a single viewer is excellent. But these two things, some borrowings from Eugene Schwartz and a couple of lines summarising a fraction of Cialdini’s work on influence aren’t going to turn the ordinary business owner into a copywriter.

If those things were enough, no business owner would need a copywriter for any medium, whatever Breeze argues about the uniqueness of YouTube from a messaging point of view.

And every page of Viewability screams that being a great copywriter is what you need to be to write great YouTube ads.

Getting conversions with YouTube ads

Chapter two of Viewability is about positioning your product or service in the best way through YouTube ads.

Breeze breaks down four moments of truth for your clients:

  1. Search: Will customers find you?
  2. Purchase: Will customers buy from you?
  3. Reflection: Will customers think fondly of you?
  4. Influence: Will customers recommend you?

Those questions, Breeze argues, are dependent on how well you structure your offer in your YouTube ad. Does it have:

  1. Perceived value? (Will your customers see it as useful and valuable?)
  2. Meaningful business reflection? (Does your offer reflect your business and what you stand for?)
  3. Desirability with ease? (Is your offer something your clients actually want and have you made it easy for them to get?)

Offers that tick all three boxes, Breeze says, are:

  1. Webinars
  2. How-to videos
  3. Documentaries
  4. Online tools
  5. Books

The ASK Method for YouTube advertising

Breeze is a fan of The ASK Method, which is about surveying clients to find out what they want, segmenting them into “buckets” accordingly then tailoring content for each bucket.

The ASK Method “lets you play the role of an examining doctor instead of a pushy salesman”, says Breeze.

Mapping Your Customer’s Moments: How to Find Those Opportunities

Chapter three invites you to put yourself in your client’s shoes as they go through each moment. This creation of an avatar and visualisation of their personality, situation and needs is pure copywriting methodology of course.

Bringing the copywriting technique back to YouTube advertising, Breeze points out that people are on YouTube to:

  1. Be inspired. (53% of them, according to Google, he says.)
  2. Learn
  3. Buy
  4. Be entertained

There is, in short, a trigger that brought them there. Understand the trigger and you can start to write your message to match.

You don’t want to show an educational video to a prospect who is out of the research phase and is ready to buy. That person just wants some reassurance about the features of the product.

However, you might want to run an educational video about a different product or service to someone who is ready to buy something else. Breeze, for instance, didn’t know when buying his running shoes that he should also have been booking his hotel at the marathon starting line. His time of purchase of shoes would have been a good time for an educational video from a hotel.

What else are your clients searching for?

This is an exciting time in the book because ideas are likely to be coming hard and fast. What else are your clients searching for? Breeze gives an example of a physiotherapist who could advertise against searches for back pain. However, the physio also knows that they see many older gardeners who have done their backs in when gardening. Instead of bidding against every physio in town for “back pain” keywords, they could advertise against gardening videos (and limit display to people in a certain age range).

What’s more, this doesn’t need to look like advertising. You’re being useful when you show up in the right place at the right time.

Mapping customer moments for YouTube advertising

Breeze gives some tips for mapping your clients’ moments, including offering a “Title Grabber” to give you the top 100 videos for any search. Those titles will give you some ideas about your customers’ journeys and where, perhaps, you could meet them on the way. (But at the time of writing, even though the book had been out two months, the book’s advertised resources section on the Viewability website was under construction. You might have more luck now. It’s supposed to be here.

Breeze breaks the mapping process into three steps:

  1. Thinking about your customer and mapping out all the moments before they come to you, e.g. a business coach’s clients who might be searching “how to grow my business”.
  2. Choose a single moment in that journey. Who is having that moment? What is life like for them? How are they feeling? This is pure avatar creation; something you should be doing in any piece of copywriting.
  3. Take the picture you’ve painted and think about how you can help that client in a way that’s congruent with what you offer.

The ADUCATE formula for copywriting YouTube ads

Breeze and the Viewability team have developed a model for writing their YouTube ads that they call the ADUCATE formula. It comes up in chapter four, “The Message for the Moment: How to Define It”.

And, demonstrating again how much Viewability is a copywriting book disguised as a YouTube advertising book, the ADUCATE formula is inspired by legendary copywriter David Ogilivy.

ADUCATE

A: Aim. (Tap into your audience’s innermost desires — a tip that could be straight from Breakthrough Advertising by another copywriting great, Eugene Schwartz.)

D: Difficulty. (Address the difficulty that brought the viewer to YouTube in the first place.)

U: Understanding. (Show you understand the way your viewer is feeling.)

C: Credibility. (Demonstrate your authority in this area. Another tip that could have been from Cialdini, who isn’t a copywriter but who is compulsory reading for anyone who wants to be.)

A: Action plan. (Show the viewer you know exactly the steps they can take to get out of their difficulty.)

T: Teach. (Prove you know what you’re talking about by teaching them something that will help.)

E: Exit. (Restate what it is you can do; future pace what will happen if the viewer takes action with you.)

An interview with Tom Breeze, author of Viewability

A guide to the different types of YouTube ads

1. In-stream ads

These pre-roll ads show before a video — these are the ones you can press “skip ad” on.

2. Discovery ads (formerly “in-display” or “in-search”)

These ads show up in the search results, just like paid Google Ads show up at the top of search results in Google. They get less traction than in-stream ads.

3. Bumper ads

Six-second pre-roll ads that were new at the time of writing Viewability.

Different types of targeting for YouTube advertising

Demographics

You can overlay demographics on any type of YouTube ads campaign — age, sex, parental status, location…

Video-placements

You can choose specific videos to advertise against (assuming the creator accepts advertising).

Breeze recommends starting with video-placement ads because of the granular data you’ll get on your ad’s performance.

Channel placement videos

You can choose to advertise on all the videos in a particular channel, e.g. if you’re selling baby products, you can target a YouTube creator’s new-parent channel because you know all those videos are aimed at your target audience.

Topic targeting

YouTube has lists of topics you can advertise against, e.g. “Parenting” or “babies and toddlers”.’

The audience here is most likely to be people who are researching before buying, says Breeze.

Keywords

Breeze explains that keyword targeting doesn’t just mean the keywords your prospect has typed into Google to find the video they’re watching. “Keywords” here means the user’s recent browsing history (possibly up to the last forty minutes) — including on Google as well as on YouTube.

Breeze says this is his favourite way to find viewers who are at the research stage of a buying journey.

However, he says, this can be expensive to scale even after you overlay a demographic filter. The answer is to add a topic filter.

Website remarketing

Show videos to people who have visited your website.

Video remarketing

Show ads to people who have watched a video on your YouTube channel.

Google customer rematch

Upload your mailing list and have YouTube show ads to your subscribers.

Similar audiences

Google’s artificial intelligence will find people who behave similarly to others on your list in the hopes their similarities extend to an interest in your product or service.

Affinity audience targeting

Google knows all, including what your prospects are interested in. You can advertise to people who’ve shown an affinity for (interest in) certain topics, like buying a house or taking photographs.

Custom affinity audiences

Don’t like Google’s own affinity audience categories? Make your own based on Google’s data — a Frankenstein audience you put together based on sites they’ve visited or keywords they’ve searched.

In-market audiences

Another thing Google knows is what you might be interested in buying. You can show your ads to people Google knows are shown recent interested in buying a holiday or one of dozens of other things.

How to choose what type of YouTube targeting to use in your advertising

“With all these different options, it’s not easy to translate the targeting choice to the customer’s psychology or where they are in the buying cycle.” — Tom Breeze, Viewability

Breeze gives a handy guide to how to match YouTube ad targeting to where buyers are in the funnel:

Window shopper

  • Affinity audience targeting
  • Similar audience targeting
  • Channel placements

Researching

  • Video placements
  • Keywords
  • Topics

Ready to buy

  • Website remarketing
  • Video remarketing
  • In-market audiences

How often should you show a YouTube ad to a prospect?

Breeze argues that once is enough. A well-targeted YouTube ad is “responsive” to the target prospect. A repetitive (even if well-targeted ad) is a “nuisance”.

Measuring the results of YouTube advertising

Breeze has some tips here:

  1. Hypothesise before you launch your YouTube campaign: What results do you think you’ll get? Start by measuring results against this hypothesis and looking for holes in the hypothesis once you have the data.
  2. Don’t look too soon: It takes a while for the data to become meaningful. Hitting refresh on your results in less than about 48 hours will give you RSI, not data. (After 48 to 72 hours, you should be hitting pause on what isn’t working and optimising what is.)
  3. Split test: Nothing beats running a few videos against each other to see what does better. “It’s not uncommon to see on ad outperform another by a large margin,” says Breeze.

Final thoughts

Viewability is worth every penny (and three times as much). It’s readable, useful and a great primer. It’ll give you a solid start on YouTube advertising, and something slightly less than that in terms of a beginning point for copywriting. (For that, you’d be better off with some of the other books mentioned above, especially Breakthrough Advertising.)

To me, the most valuable part of the book was the inspiration to think about where else you can intersect with your prospects — i.e. rather than just advertising against keywords specific to what you sell.