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YouTube turns 10: Visual storytelling for effect

By Paul Hewer - Posted on 13 February 2015

In light of YouTube turning 10 this week, Dr Paul Hewer, Director of Research within the Department of Marketing, explores three brands that use video and the marketing channel effectively to engage their customers.

The promise of love-heart shaped chocolate and vibrant red roses surround us this week in the run up to Valentine’s Day, but there is another commercial success that shouldn’t be overlooked this Saturday – YouTube’s 10th birthday.  The www.youtube.com domain name was created on the 14th February 2005 in California by former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steven Chen and Jawed Karim.  Fast forward 10 years and YouTube is estimated to be worth up to $40bn, with 100+ hours of video uploaded every second.  From a business perspective, the platform has been instrumental in the ever-increasing popularity of viral marketing, which more often than not incorporates video to accelerate sharing of a brand’s message across online and social channels.  One study found an impressive 75% of internet users visit a band’s website after viewing its video.  As the second largest search engine after Google, YouTube is a channel that creative marketers must effectively utilise – they know this is no longer a choice but a necessity.  Creative marketers have utilised the channel’s potential to harness affect, a few examples include:

Old Spice

The aftershave range was one of the earliest contenders to take viral marketing seriously. A yesterday brand rekindled its love of spice through the now famous ‘smell like a man, man’ ad (see below).  The ad was aired for the first time during the 2010 Superbowl and it went viral in a matter of hours.  The fast-paced, zany humour engaged the masses, re-energising the slightly tired brand, but a few months later views plateaued.  This didn’t stop Old Spice using the power of video to give the campaign another boost.

The brand shot a two day Q&A session with the ‘Old Spice Guy’, filmed in his bathroom, asking fans to submit their questions via Twitter and YouTube.  Personalised responses were given to celebrities as well as the public, prompting further sharing across social media.  The video responses were aired on YouTube and within 48 hours Old Spice has generated close to 11m video views.  The brand led the way for early viral marketers, dominating the area and best performing how content must be creative and customer-focused to stand out and engage users.


GoPro ranked first place last year when Google released a YouTube Brand Channel leader-board.  Brands were recognised for publishing regular content that built an engaged fan base.  GoPro came out on top by actively involving fans in its content creation, encouraging them to use their product, the GoPro camera, to send in their own videos.  The best submissions were then uploaded to the channel.  With the camera range being dubbed as virtually indestructible this makes for cost-effective but visually impressive marketing content.

Red bull

Another high adrenalin brand that knows how to get the most out of YouTube is Red bull.  Similarly to GoPro, the drinks manufacturer recognises the visual impact of extreme stunts with its channel collating the ‘best action sports clips on the web’.  However one video in particular astronomically trumps the rest.  Felix Baumgartner or ‘Fearless Felix’ had been planning his supersonic 24 mile freefall from space for 10 years and when the time came to make the jump, millions were watching.  Red Bull sponsored the stunt and streamed it live on their YouTube channel.  The stunt broke several records with Felix becoming the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.  Online records were thrashed too, with Red Bull’s YouTube channel gaining the most livestream viewers ever – more than 8m concurrent streams at one point.  The previous record had sat at just 500,000.

As the examples demonstrate, YouTube harnesses our desires for Share and Play, to bring vibrant, bold and re-energised meaning to our lives.  Making creative content in techno-colour which engages users is no easy task but our love affair with generating, commenting on or simply watching such content, shows no signs of ending soon.  But then how could it?  YouTube makes our lives less ordinary, bringing glamour and the promise of fame through its screened performances, standing out as a digital platform where commercial interests collide and dance with our everyday passions.  It’s a platform that is devoted to celebrating and archiving our enthusiasms and quirkiness, giving them a presence, with an extra special measure of humour and emotion added for affect.

Happy birthday, YouTube!

Which brand videos have stood out to you the most over the past 10 years?

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