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How YouTube makes video ad production simple (and cheap)

CNET@Work: YouTube Director onsite removes a huge barrier of entry to online video advertising.

With technology increasingly intertwined with all aspects of business, CNET@Work can help you -- from prosumers to small businesses with fewer than five employees -- get started.

To grow a business, you need a steady flow of leads and sales. Word of mouth and good PR can get you business, sure, but you can't control when or how often a recommendation or bit of press will happen. For a constant flow of leads and sales, you need advertising.

Advertising, of course, opens up an entirely new series of questions. Newspaper, magazines or video? Online or print? All can work to some degree, and all can fail if they're not the right fit for your business. One thing is for sure, though: Video engages people more effectively than anything else.

Unfortunately, for most of the history of modern marketing, video advertising has been inaccessible to small companies. Video meant TV, and it was just too expensive. With YouTube and online advertising, that's all changed.

According to, consumers are 27 times (not percent, times) more likely to click through a video ad than through a standard banner. That, alone, should rock you back and get your attention. According to Google, which owns YouTube, more 18-49 year olds watch YouTube video on mobile than any broadcast network. Google also says that same demographic group dropped TV watching by 4 percent, but in 2015, increased their YouTube watch time by 74 percent.

In short, YouTube is where people go for information and entertainment.

Even for small players, the numbers can be astonishing. I have a small YouTube channel called Advanced Geekery, where I post videos that support my ZDNet articles. I post a new video once or twice a month. Even with a relatively low frequency of postings, the stats for my channel show that my viewers spent 1,068,736 minutes watching my videos in the last year. That's more than 17,000 hours of folks watching some guy in his garage.

What would it take for you to advertise on YouTube?

Advertising on YouTube

Advertiser Brian Ellerkamp of Quick-Latch (left) and videographer Owen Cole, proprietor of Juicehead Media.

David Gewirtz/CNET

Here's where it gets interesting. YouTube has a program called YouTube Director onsite, where it makes it easier to create and deliver a video ad for YouTube than I ever thought possible.

I talked to small advertisers and the people who produce the ads, and in the rest of this article, I'll introduce you to those folks and show you how you can get your own video produced for free, with an advertising buy-in of as little as $350. The program is available in 170 cities across the US.

This is huge, because one of the biggest concerns and challenges for small businesses is doing the creative ad development and production. Because we all watch so much video and TV, we're able to tell -- instantly -- if a video is cheesy or poorly produced. If you want something that looks professional and can help sell your products and services, a quality video is necessary.

In the past, combining the creative skills of writing, directing and filming was expensive and time-consuming. But with YouTube Director onsite, YouTube has systematized the process, making ad production professionals available to you at no cost (again, assuming you buy at least $350 worth of ads).

Talking to advertisers

I wanted to know what the experience was like. Specifically, I wanted to find out if you could get any workable results from an ad investment of as little as $350. I had the chance to talk to two companies who had gone through the process.

My first conversation was with Matthew Durham, a chiropractor at Abbeville Family Healthcare in Abbeville, South Carolina, a historic American town settled by French Huguenots in 1764.

When Durham first received a YouTube promotion about the program, he said he almost deleted the email, thinking it might be spam. "It looked too good to be true," he said. "Glad I didn't!"

"I really didn't know what to expect as I have never ventured into video advertising," Durham explained. "We chose the format because everything is moving to video and YouTube made it super affordable."

I asked him what his communication goal was for his ad. He told me, "Our goal was to let people know that chiropractic care is a great natural drug-free option for back pain."

Here's his ad. It's 30 seconds long. Watch it, and then we'll discuss how it turned out for him.

"The video has greatly exceeded all of our goals," Durham told me. "I have learned that everyone watches YouTube! Everywhere I go, from the coffee shop to the recycling center, people recognize me as that chiropractor on YouTube."

He added: "My biggest surprise has been the number of views. Now they have to watch the whole 30 seconds to count as a view and to date, over 19,000 folks have viewed the video. To put that in perspective, I practice in a town of 6,000 and a county of 26,000."

To get that degree of reach, I was curious about his ad spend. He was kind enough to tell me, "I've spent $450 to date. That's two cents per view!"

When asked what advice he'd give you and other small business owners, he said, "My advice is try it if you get the chance. Overall it was fun shooting the video with patients (who are now enjoying their YouTube fame as well) and the results have been phenomenal as far as views and cost."

According to Durham, the ad continues to run.

Next, I spoke with Brian Ellerkamp, sales and marketing manager for Quik-Latch.Com, based out of Greenville, Texas. Quik-Latch makes a quick latch that's a cool way to connect things. As an avid builder, I'm in his target market and his video clearly explained how his latch works.

Ellerkamp told me that the experience with YouTube Director onsite went smoothly from start to finish. From the initial contact made by YouTube with the Director onsite offer, to the setting up of the video ad, he was impressed by the speed of implementation.

I asked him what he wanted to accomplish in his video ad. "The bulk of our customers utilize our products for automotive applications," Ellerkamp said. "We wanted to demonstrate that our products are adaptable to a wider range of potential applications across multiple industries."

Was it effective? "Yes, absolutely. There is no question that there has been an increase in business since the video ad campaign began running on YouTube."

Quick-Latch has done video advertising before through other channels. I wanted to know if he learned anything new in his YouTube experience. "We learned about the surprising amount of useful detailed data that is available after running an ad campaign on YouTube," he told me.

According to Ellerkamp, it's all about the analytics. "Having the ability to be able to measure and analyze video ad statistics helps to run a lean promotional campaign to a laser-targeted audience with minimal waste of advertising dollars. It also helps to determine if changes need to be made, or if the ad campaign has run its course."

Ellerkamp described a positive production experience, as well. "I believe this was accomplished quite well by the talented editing of Owen Cole, proprietor of Juicehead Media. He was the videographer assigned to us by YouTube and he did a fantastic job helping communicate that exact message."

Couple recording a tv commercial
andresr/Getty Images

As something of a planning wonk, I was surprised by Ellerkamp's advice to other advertisers: "My advice for those considering the YouTube Director onsite program, or any type of video ad for that matter, is to not think too much about it. Just put something out there to get your name out there, even if the video is not perfect in your eyes."

He says, "Speed of implementation is critical in order to quickly make things happen, and imperfect action beats perfect planning in my opinion. You can always adjust as you go and move forward with your video ad campaigns."

Finally, I asked him to bottom-line the experience for us. He said, "It was a major help that they [YouTube] provided a professional videographer and the Google Adwords team did great in walking us through the process in setting up the first ad campaign on YouTube. They ensured that the ad was working properly and answered any questions I had before displaying the ad to our target audience."

Quick-Latch's ad is continuing to run towards a targeted audience. Ellerkamp says, "It continues to help generate leads and sales that we otherwise might not have had."

Of course, just because these two businesses got results, that doesn't mean everyone will. It does depend on what you're selling and what you're saying, as well as suitability for your audience.


SmartShoot's John McWeeny.


Finally, I wanted to talk to one of the producers.

The video producer's perspective

John McWeeny is the CEO of SmartShoot, the production platform that YouTube partners with to manage all the YouTube Director onsite freelance filmmakers.

I asked him how much time producers devote to each video. He told me, "It varies from project to project to meet the client's needs -- generally from a few to several hours. We try to be super efficient and respectful of the time of the advertiser and employ a lot of upfront preproduction planning."

Since most small businesses aren't advertising videographers, I was particularly interested in the support, preplanning and hand-holding SmartShoot provides. McWeeny explained, "Advertisers provide details about their business and what they want to cover in their 30-second ad and we use that information to write a draft script which we refine with the advertiser."

They try to keep the back-and-forth process to a minimum, so the ad gets done without taking too much time on anyone's part. He told me, "We really emphasize good preproduction collaborative script editing before the shoot and collaboration with the advertiser during the shoot to minimize the need for edit changes. That said, the client gets one round of edits to the video if they need to make changes."

I asked him what makes for a good ad, and what are the most important factors in making an ad successful. He told me that a compelling, authentic intro about the business can really grab the viewer. According to McWeeny, "Authenticity is key and don't bury the lede. The internet is much more of a lean-forward experience than TV. Viewers expect a more personal connection and they have a short attention span, so get right to the point."

If you're thinking about moving forward in the YouTube video arena, McWeeny offered this advice: "YouTube Director onsite filmmakers know how to make a great video ad and the advertiser's role is to give the filmmaker enough information about the business to help make that story happen."

He continued: "Advertisers should think about why customers choose them over other options, what makes the business unique, and be prepared to actively participate with the filmmaker in the preproduction process."

Finally, McWeeny shared advice for preparing for a video ad shoot that's equally valid for any sort of video production experience. "Rest up before the shoot. A good night's sleep helps everyone look their best on the day of the shoot. Also, don't wear stripes."

Final thoughts

I had the opportunity to talk to advertisers, producers and some executives at YouTube about this program. It's clear that by properly targeting it, your video advertisement can have sufficient reach even on a small business budget. That surprised me.

Beyond the cost of the ad itself, YouTube has removed the greatest challenge in getting a video ad out there: producing the video. If you need leads or sales, it certainly seems worthwhile to run a marketing test and see what YouTube and YouTube Director onsite can do for your bottom line.

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