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How brands are gaming YouTube’s skippable ads

After five years of skippable ads, YouTube advertisers have had to step up their game.


Rae Votta


Posted on Apr 8, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 3:08 am CDT

To think, only five short years ago you couldn’t skip out of a boring advertisement on YouTube. Now that you can avoid those commericals, brands and agencies pull out all the stops to keep you watching.

YouTube launched TrueView in 2010, an ad format that introduced a five-second ad preview and allowed viewers to skip promotions after that time. It only charges advertisers if viewers stick around for 30 seconds of video (or to the video’s end, whichever is longer). 

With the threat of losing potential eyeballs after the five-second preview, advertisers stepped up their game. One of the first big triumphs of 2010 and the new ad landscape was Old Spice, whose “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad sparked 50 million views, countless memes, and a series of ads that continued to delight viewers who didn’t much consider what they were watching as advertising.

The focus became ads that felt like YouTube, instead of ads imported from TV formats into the YouTube space. While this still happens all the time, and often ads that are launched on YouTube find television homes, the most successful YouTube ad campaigns after the advent of TrueView feel uniquely digital, like the hunter shoots a bear choose-your-own-adventure-style ad from 2010 or emotion-driven campaigns that ping on social justice issues, like Always’ “Like a Girl” series. 

Recently, Geico even found ways to play within the YouTube ad format and create unskippable ads that frontload all the pertinent information in the first five seconds. If users keep watching, the ad shifts surreally. 

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The system introduces something of a win-win for advertisers and consumers. If viewers are quick to click out, they only have to endure seconds of an ad they don’t care about, and advertisers don’t have to pay for eyeballs that are already tuning out of their content.

As YouTube continues to take up larger chunks in advertising budgets, it’s likely that creating content suited to the ad formats of the platform will take center stage for more brands. Until then, you can experience the best of YouTube’s ads on a handy playlist curated by Google.

Screengrab via Old Spice/YouTube

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*First Published: Apr 8, 2015, 1:49 pm CDT