The 10 Most Watched YouTube Ads of 2016 (And the Agencies Behind Them)

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Most ads on YouTube are something to be endured, muted, and skipped immediately after the mandatory five seconds has passed. It’s nothing personal — people just want to get to the good stuff.

So how can advertisers create branded videos that users actually want to watch?

For an ad to be sought out and consumed willingly on YouTube, it needs to stand out as an enjoyable, compulsively shareable piece of content. It can’t just be a typical advertisement — it needs to compete for attention with viral, non-branded content.

To better understand what YouTube users want in a watchable online ad, let’s take a look back at what worked in 2016.

Google released a list of the top 10 most watched ads on YouTube from 2016, and we’ve compiled them here to inspire your next digital ad campaign. All advertisers and marketers should be taking notes: These are the online ads people actually wanted to watch in 2016.

The 10 Most Watched YouTube Ads of 2016

1) Mobile Strike

Things escalate quickly in this extended Super Bowl spot for Mobile Strike, an online multiplayer game. Starring former California governor and beloved action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, the plot follows Schwarzenegger as he’s attacked by a slew of characters after opening up the Mobile Strike app on his phone.

A deadly fight for the phone ensues, and pretty soon there’s a military tank crashing through the walls and marines rappelling from the ceilings.

Created by San Francisco-based 215mccann, the one-minute spot was the number one watched spot on YouTube in 2016, amassing over 102 million views since its release in February.

2) Knorr

MullenLowe created this clever digital campaign for global food and beverage brand Knorr. In the three-minute ad, a group of singles are paired off based on their favorite flavor profiles (e.g., spicy, hearty, salty etc.) and then asked to feed each other a meal matching the flavor preferences they share. The results are delightfully awkward.

It’s a weird but undeniably touching social experiment, and Ukonwa Ojo, senior global director at Knorr, insists the emotions they captured on film were completely candid. “It’s as real as I can humanly make it with cameras and equipment and people standing around,” Ojo said to Adweek.

The ad has been watched over 60 million times on YouTube since its release in April.

3) Nike Football

Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo experiences a Freaky Friday moment with a young fan in this short film from Nike and Wieden + Kennedy. After taking a tumble into the crowd during a match, Ronaldo and a young British soccer fan switch bodies

Naturally, the kid is in awe to find himself inhabiting the body of the famous footballer, but he quickly learns he’ll have to improve his soccer skills if he’s going to pass as Ronaldo. Meanwhile, the real Ronaldo — trapped in the body of a teenager — steadily rises through the ranks of youth football. Over the course of a year or so, he’s made it to the pros.

Clocking in at nearly six minutes, it’s Nike’s longest brand film ever — but it’s definitely worth sticking around for the climactic ending. It’s no surprise that it’s picked up over 58 million views on YouTube.

4) Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge

Developed in-house at Samsung, this extended ad introduced consumers to the much-anticipated Galaxy S7 and S7 edge back in February.

The introduction video excels at condensing a lot of information into an easily digestible format, with sleek graphics and a dramatic soundtrack. The video was watched over 46 million times.

5) Clash Royale

Leave it to creative agency Barton F. Graf to produce something zany, offbeat, and yet somehow still universally appealing enough to get almost 38 million views on YouTube.

This ad for Clash Royale, a multiplayer mobile game, stars an turtleneck-clad keyboard player exuberantly explaining “the rules of the duel” — in song, naturally. And not just any song. The whole ad is set to an altered version of “Flash” by Queen.

6) Mtn Dew Kickstart

This ad raises more questions than it answers. What the heck is that thing? How did it get into that apartment? What made those guys think following it outside would be a good idea?

The Superbowl ad for Mtn Dew’s energy beverage, produced by BBDO, rapidly gained viral attention for it’s visually unsettling main character: a Frankenstein creation with the head of an adorable pug, the torso of a monkey, and the legs of a human baby. It’s not pretty to look at, but no one can deny that puppymonkeybaby accomplished what it set out to do: Get people talking. The ad received 27 million hits on YouTube.

7) Always

Always worked with agency Leo Burnett to produce this ad focusing on female empowerment through sports. The ad, which ran during the summer Olympics, features a group of young women and girls explaining discouraging comments they’ve received about their athleticism, and encouraging all young girls to stick with sports no matter what.

The positive message propelled the ad to 27 million views.

8) Hyundai

Hyundai’s Superbowl ad from agency INNOCEAN USA opens on a couple racing through the woods — with two vicious grizzly bears in close pursuit. Thanks to the voice activated technology on their Hyundai, they’re able to make a speedy getaway.

The grizzly bears, discouraged by their prey’s escape, plop down for an unexpectedly cartoonish conversation. “I was just gonna hug him!” one of them says. It’s an amusing example of thwarted expectations that drew in 26 million YouTube viewers.

9) Pokémon

This Superbowl ad from Los Angeles-based agency Omelet celebrates 20 years of Pokémon with cinematic flair.

Taking cues from sports advertising, the commercial follows a series of kids and young adults as they train in their respective fields, drawing inspiration from each others’ successes. In the final scene, a young boy witnesses an epic Pokémon battle on TV, and his dad declares, “You could do that.” The ad received 25 million views on YouTube.

10) Skittles

Skittles is no stranger to delightfully weird advertising, and their Superbowl commercial this year was no exception. In the DDB Chicago-produced spot, Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler is presented with a portrait of his likeness made entirely from Skittles. And it sings, of course.

24 million people tuned in to see the ad.

What ads did you watch on YouTube in 2016? Let us know in the comments.

 

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