Understanding the ABCDs of effective creative on YouTube

What do ads that drive results on YouTube have in common? This question inspired a collaboration with Ipsos, and the involvement of two independent reviewers, Nielsen and Kantar, to find out. What emerged is a set of YouTube principles demonstrated across video ads that worked effectively for brands. We call these principles the ABCDs.

Crafting a successful ad

Making an ad involves many decisions: some big, some small. This talent or that talent? Cut here or there? By factoring four simple principles into each decision, your work is more likely to achieve your marketing goals.

The ABCD principles are not a formula for generating creative ideas. But research, like that from Nielsen Catalina Solutions, proves that creative — everything from concept to execution — is the No. 1 driver of campaign effectiveness and ROI. In other words, creative execution is just as important as the idea itself. So once you have that big idea, the ABCDs can help you bring it to life on YouTube in the most powerful way.

On average, the ABCDs deliver a 30% lift in short-term sales likelihood and a 17% lift in long-term brand contribution.1

Applying the ABCDs

Imagine you’re on a creative team tasked with producing an ad for a new line of fish-flavoured dog treats. Your concept was approved, and now it’s time to put together a storyboard. As we go through the ABCDs, we’ll explore how we might improve our ad at this early stage of execution.

Attention: Hook the viewer

Start big! Successful ads work hard to earn engagement right from the get-go. Of course, there are many ways to do this. You can start your ad in the middle of the action, or open with a close-up. Audio inputs like music, voice-over, and sound effects create a rich, sensory experience that helps people pay attention.

Think about colour and contrast to ensure your visuals are bright and strong. Play around with bold imagery at the start of your ad to create an attention-grabbing opening. Below are some ideas that you and the Fishos team might explore.

B = Branding: Brand early, often, and richly

Whether with product shots, pack shots, in situ branding, graphic elements, voice-overs, or musical treatments, work your brand identity into the story. YouTube is almost entirely a sound-on experience, so take advantage of the multisensory aspect of your medium to get more impact. Below are three different ways to ensure your brand is present.

C = Connection: Help people think or feel something

Don’t think of your viewer as passive. Work to educate, inspire, or entertain them. Humanise your story to help them relate. Lean into emotional levers with storytelling techniques, such as humour or surprise. But avoid doing too much in your ad. Focus the message as you make your connection.

D = Direction: Ask them to take action

Finally, with clear and simple instructions on what to do next, people will be more likely to respond to your ad the way you want. A written call to action, graphics, audio, or even a scene from your story can help guide them. Here are some ways to turn engaged viewers into active customers.

Now compare the revised ABCDs version of the ad with the earlier version. Which one is more compelling?

The Fishos ad before and after the ABCD principles are applied, as the storyboard comes to life. There’s a happy ending in both versions: The dog in a shark costume gets a Fishos treat.

Push the form further with objective-driven ABCDs

Simply following these general YouTube principles led us to create quite a different ad, so you can imagine how much more could be done after optimising for specific marketing objectives. Whether you aim to raise awarenessdrive consideration, or prompt action, leveraging the version of the ABCDs tailored to your goal can help you craft a more effective ad.

For more details, download the ABCDs Playbook.


1 Google/Kantar Link AI, Global, The Short and the Long of ABCDs Effectiveness, 2021.

This article was published exclusively on Think with Google on May 2022.