WARC’s Chiara Manco looks at how winners of the 2021 US YouTube Works Awards supported audiences and grew their businesses during the year that marked the start of the global pandemic.

Developed by Google in partnership with Kantar Global, the US YouTube Works Awards celebrate brands’ most innovative and effective uses of the video platform.

This year’s Awards championed 2020 work, which clearly meant an abundance of pandemic-related comms. But putting aside the inevitable common backdrop, each one of this year’s winners is surprising and inspiring in its own unique way. The winning work tackled a variety of challenges, uncovered distinctive audience insights and crafted solid strategies off the back of them.

From supporting local businesses to providing light relief, this work shows how US brands used YouTube to empower audiences in uncertain and difficult times, and reaped results along the way.

GoDaddy: Championing equal opportunities in entrepreneurship

In 2019, internet domain registrar and web hosting company GoDaddy launched its content series Made in America to champion the country’s everyday entrepreneurs. In light of the challenges that 2020 posed to small businesses, the brand decided to create a second season of the series, focusing specifically on younger entrepreneurs as well as those from underserved communities suffering from a lack of resources and opportunities. Each episode explored the personal, environmental and financial challenges of the featured entrepreneurs, highlighting the importance of a supportive and inclusive community.

The docuseries was hosted on YouTube and promoted through the platform’s masthead and in-stream skippable ads. Additionally, connected TV allowed the brand to reach viewers of longer-form content.

The in-house work led to a 254% increase in organic traffic watch time and 394,000 engagements across all media. GoDaddy saw a 309% increase in subscribers and the campaign won in the Breaking Barrier category of the YouTube Works Awards. One of the judges, Amanda Richman, CEO at Wavemaker praised it for activating YouTube “as a learning and development platform.”

Adobe: Keeping creators inspired

Software company Adobe won in the Brand as Creators category with its Stock Film Festival campaign, through 72andSunny Los Angeles. The work aimed to inspire creators who were challenged in the development of their ideas by the limitations imposed by the pandemic. The brand identified Adobe Stock as the perfect product to help them, but knew that creators were usually sceptical of stock footage, seeing it as a boring, back-up option.

To shift perceptions of the product, the brand recruited international indie filmmakers, photographers and artists to each create a short film made entirely with Adobe Stock assets. To build anticipation, Adobe promoted the films through TrueView pre-rolls in the run up to the main event: the Adobe Stock Film Festival premiere on YouTube Live. The shorts were then hosted on a playlist and additional behind-the-scenes content could be found on Adobe Live.

The Adobe Stock Film Festival had more than 1.5 million viewers, led to 1,062 new Adobe Stock subscriptions and 3,000 Creative Cloud ones. The YouTube Works Awards jury appreciated how this campaign was able to cast a new light on an overlooked product as well as recreate the real-life experience of a film festival on the YouTube platform.

Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department: Building back trust in tourism

In Oklahoma, the Tourism and Recreation Department sought to promote the state as a safe destination for socially-distanced road trips. The RoadTripOK campaign followed a group of four photographers and videographers as they travelled across Oklahoma, highlighting a variety of activities that could be enjoyed in compliance with safety guidelines. The content was released as weekly episodes on YouTube, with TrueView Discovery and in-stream ads promoting it.

The series was watched for a total of 40,000 hours and boosted the Department’s YouTube subscriber base by 8,000. The work of VI Marketing and Branding and Retrospec Films, the campaign resulted in a $7m projected lodging revenue for the state of Oklahoma. The judges awarded it in the Underdog category, praising its creativity and tenacity on a small budget.

Match.com: Lightening the mood

Last but not least, the 2021 Grand Prix winner from Match.com delighted the jury with its wit, cultural relevance and phased approach to YouTube content. The online dating brand aimed to remain top of mind among singles whose dating plans had been wrecked by the pandemic, increasing consideration and sign-ups. 

Wanting to bring daters’ predicament to life in a humorous way, the brand partnered Ryan Reynolds’ agency, Maximum Effort, and Taylor Swift to create Match Made in Hell. The series of ads narrated the love story between unlikely match Satan and ‘2020’, following the couple as they engaged in activities all too reminiscent of the tumultuous year following the pandemic’s breakout – from working out in empty gyms to stealing toilet paper. The humorous videos ended on an optimistic note, encouraging singles to “make 2021 your year”.

The first phase leveraged the social media following and reach of Reynolds and Swift to earn PR and views of the YouTube videos. Then, Match.com deployed a paid media strategy that used Trueview for Action to drive traffic and sign-ups. In addition to the main ads, which were served to viewers sequentially to narrate the couple’s story, Match.com created social media posts, a Giphy page and extra content – such as a ‘couch conversation’ with the ad’s starring characters.

To date, the campaign has amassed more than 40m views on YouTube, earning a total of over 800 media stories and 5bn impressions. The work led to a 40% increase in consideration and favourability for Match.com. One judge, Raig Adolfo, Chief Strategy Officer at 360i described its craft and tone as “the perfect way to use YouTube.” Another jury member, Carla Eboli, EVP at Energy BBDO, summed up: “All the ads in 2020 were zigging and Match.com was zagging.”

You can find all winners of the 2021 US YouTube Works Awards on WARC.