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Millennials + YouTube: rethinking the definition of “advertising”

Content on YouTube: funny cat videos, SNL clips, crazy humans doing OMG stunts.

Advertising on YouTube: annoying pre-roll ads we can’t wait to skip.
Or, if you’re a millennial, sometimes content and advertising are the same thing.

YouTube is certainly killing it with millennials as an entertainment channel, reaching more 18- to 34-year-olds than any cable network in the US.1 But to a millennial, YouTube isn’t all fun and games: 1 in 3 say they use it as a news source3 and 2 out of 3 millennials agree they can find a YouTube video to learn anything they want.4


Millennials are hungry for videos about brands and products they’re interested in.

According to Google’s own research, 18- to 34-year-olds consider YouTube “the best place to learn about a product or service that interests them.”4 Seventy-six percent follow companies on YouTube, and 62 percent would rather watch a video from a company than read text.5 Most revealing to us as marketers is the fact that 80 percent of millennials look to videos when researching a purchase decision.5

So great, millennials want to watch company videos. But are these YouTube videos actually “advertisements”? Should they be? Yes. And no. Millennials turn to YouTube to answer intent-driven questions during the times that Google calls micro-moments:6

  • I-want-to-know moments
  • I-want-to-go-moments
  • I-want-to-do moments
  • I-want-to-buy moments

In these moments, answering a millennial’s question isn’t about pushing your product, it’s about providing valuable content – content that mentions your brand and may technically qualify as advertising. Except that it’s not, because millennials hate advertising.

For a video to positively affect a millennial’s purchasing decision, it must walk that fine line between information and marketing. Check out how these three brands have nailed it on YouTube with videos that transcend all notions of traditional “advertising.”

Lowe’s recognizes that millennials are getting into home ownership and have lots of I-want-to-know moments. To meet them where they’re researching, Lowe’s created a YouTube channel with hundreds of how-to videos and product demonstrations that answer their pressing questions. On the low end, videos like “How do I cut bricks?” have around 3,300 views. On the high end, videos like “How to build a raised garden bed” have over 1.3 million views.

Other Lowe’s videos take the pure storytelling route. Posted just one month ago, Lowe’s House Love video isn’t about products, DIY tips, or even the brand. It’s a three-minute story about a boy, a girl, and their respective houses. There’s almost no dialogue – and the brand doesn’t even appear until the last three seconds. Eighteen million views later, Lowe’s has shown us how to do videos right by moving way beyond the :30.

Dove’s two-pronged YouTube strategy plays to both the practical and emotional side of millennial women’s YouTube-ing. On the practical side of I-want-to-buy moments, the Underarm care from Dove playlist contains videos about how to use their product, as well as UGC-style reviews from real beauty vloggers.

However, on the emotional side, Dove seeks to empower millennial women and give them a new perspective. In their video Dove Choose Beautiful a hidden camera records real women as they choose whether to walk through a door that says “Beautiful” or a door that says “Average.” (Spoiler alert: heartbreaking!) And Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches explores how women (negatively) describe their own appearance versus how others actually describe their beauty. Dove’s videos strike a chord with women and reveal that authentic stories, beautifully told, can be both inspiration and marketing.

No one does YouTube better than Red Bull. Capitalizing on millennials’ aspirational I-want-to-do moments, Red Bull’s YouTube game is top-notch. Are their 5,681 videos with hundreds of millions of views advertisements for Red Bull, or entertaining videos of extreme athletes performing amazing stunts? To the millennial captivated in an I-wish-I-could moment, it doesn’t even matter!

Connecting the dots

Your millennial audience is looking to learn new skills, go somewhere, do great things, and buy the right products. Leveraging the power of micro-moments, your brand has a unique opportunity to advertise

nope…intersect with millennials at the most crucial moment – the moment when they want to see what you have to show them. As their go-to source, YouTube is the channel that can connect what they want to what you offer. It’s a beautiful new picture of a brand relationship.

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about how micro-moments can be applied in mobile strategy, check out my past blog on the topic.