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A recent YouTube marketing experiment by the U.S. Navy helps to showcase how much digital video has transformed the way companies and organizations can reach new audiences online. Prior to this year’s YouTube experiment, the U.S. Navy spent nearly 70 percent of its media budget on TV ads. However, after phenomenal success creating a series of 6-second digital shorts with the theme “Forged By the Sea,” the U.S. Navy plans to allocate 70 percent of its media budget to online in 2019.
Coming up with the perfect digital strategy
The No. 1 problem facing the U.S. Navy was how to find and attract a much wider audience of young people thinking about a potential career in the armed services. Working with outside marketing agencies, the U.S. Navy identified a potential new audience comprised of mixed martial arts (MMA) fans, cooks and music lovers. These were people who had previously never considered a career in the Navy, and perhaps for good reason. (If you have friends who love to watch the Food Network every night, would they ever think about joining the Navy?) So the goal of the new digital marketing campaign was to come up with messages that would resonate with this audience and encourage them to check out the U.S. Navy online.
In coming up with new the 6-second digital shorts (known as “bumpers” in the marketing industry), the U.S. Navy decided to focus on content that would match the mindset of the YouTube viewer when the ads were being shown. In other words, if people were in the middle of watching YouTube music videos, then the U.S. Navy would show them a bumper ad featuring music as a theme. In the music example, the U.S. Navy created a “Hype” video showing a group of Navy cadets on the deck of an aircraft carrier getting fired up for a new day of work, and then the tagline, “This is our hype song.” Even though the video is unlisted on YouTube, it has still racked up over 129,000 views.
Results of the YouTube campaign
More impressive than the number of views, however, is the change in mindset that the U.S. Navy was able to create. The Navy found that people watching two or more of these incredibly brief 6-second ads were 16 percent more likely to join the Navy. And they also found that people watching two or more of these digital ads were 19 percent more likely to search for other U.S. Navy content on YouTube. When the Navy combined these 6-second video ads with more traditional 15-second ads, there was even greater engagement around a potential career in the Navy.
The big takeaways from the YouTube experiment
There are a lot of great takeaways from this marketing experiment. The first is perhaps the most obvious: you have to focus on made-for-digital creative in order to achieve success online, rather than just repurposing traditional media content for online users. And the second takeaway is that marketers have to get rid of the “interruption mindset,” in which all ads are an unwanted interruption or distraction. Instead, the goal should be to show ads that make for a natural match for whatever action a person is taking online. For any company or organization trying to grow its reach online, these are important lessons to keep in mind.