YouTube Ads Creative Analysis

JAN 16, 2024
Brian Craft gTech Data Science Team
Satish Shreenivasa gTech Data Science Team
Huikun Zhang gTech Data Science Team
Manisha Arora gTech Data Science Team
Paul Cubre gTech Data Science Team


Why analyze YouTube ads?

YouTube has billions of monthly logged-in users and every day people watch billions of hours of video and generate billions of views. Businesses can connect with YouTube users using YouTube ads, which are promotional videos that appear on YouTube's website and app, with a variety of video ad formats and goals.


The Challenge

An effective video ad focuses on the ABCDs.

  • Attention: Capturing the viewer's attention till the end.
  • Branding: Helping them hear or visualize the brand.
  • Connection: Making them feel something about the brand.
  • Direction: Encouraging them to take action.

But each YouTube ad has a varying number of components, for instance, objects, background music or a logo. Each of these components affect the view through rate (which is referred to as VTR for the remainder of the post) of the video ad. Therefore, analyzing video ads through the lens of the components in the ad helps businesses understand what about the ad improves VTR. The insights from these analyses can be used to inform the creation of new creatives and to optimize existing creatives to improve VTR.

The Proposal

We propose a machine learning based approach for analyzing a company’s YouTube ads to assess which components affect VTR, for the purpose of optimizing a video ad’s performance. We illustrate how to:

  • Use Google Cloud Video Intelligence API to extract the components of each video ad, using the underlying video files.
  • Transform that extracted data to engineered features that map to actionable business questions.
  • Use a machine learning model to isolate the effect on VTR of each engineered feature.
  • Interpret and action on those insights to improve video ad performance, for instance altering existing creatives or create new creatives to be used in an AB test.


The Process

The proposed analysis has 5 steps, discussed below.

  1. Define Business Questions - Align on a list of business questions that are actionable, for instance “does having a logo in the opening shot affect VTR?” We suggest taking feasibility into account ahead of time, for instance if a product disclaimer is necessary to have for legal reasons, there is no reason to assess the impact a disclaimer has on VTR.
  2. Raw Component Extraction - Use Google Cloud technologies, such as the Google Cloud Video Intelligence API, and underlying video files to extract raw components from each video ad. For instance, but not limited to, objects appearing in the video at a particular timestamp, presence of text and its location on the screen, or the presence of specific sounds.
  3. Feature Engineering - Using the raw components extracted in step 2, engineer features that align to the business questions defined in step 1. For example, if the business question is “does having a logo in the opening shot affect VTR”, create a feature that labels each video as either 1, having a logo in the opening shot or 0, not having a logo in the opening shot. Repeat this for each feature.
  4. Modeling - Create an ML model using the engineered features from step 3, using VTR as the target in the model.
  5. Interpretation - Extract statistically significant features from the ML model and interpret their effect on VTR. For example, “there is an xx% observed uplift in VTR when there is a logo in the opening shot.”

Feature Engineering

Data Extraction

Consider 2 different YouTube Video Ads for a web browser, each highlighting a different product feature. Ad A has text that says “Built In Virus Protection'', while Ad B has text that says “Automatic Password Saving”.

The raw text can be extracted from each video ad and allow for the creation of tabular datasets, such as the below. For brevity and simplicity, the example carried forward will deal with text features only and forgo the timestamp dimension.

Screenshot 2024-01-19 at 11.09.46 AM


After extracting the raw components in each ad, preprocessing may need to be applied, such as removing case sensitivity and punctuation.

Screenshot 2024-01-19 at 11.10.23 AM

Manual Feature Engineering

Consider a scenario where the goal is to answer the business question, “does having a textual reference to a product feature affect VTR?”

This feature could be built manually by exploring all the text in all the videos in the sample and creating a list of tokens or phrases that indicate a textual reference to a product feature. However, this approach can be time consuming and limits scaling.


AI Based Feature Engineering

Instead of manual feature engineering as described above, the text detected in each video ad creative can be passed to an LLM along with a prompt that performs the feature engineering automatically.

For example, if the goal is to explore the value of highlighting a product feature in a video ad, ask an LLM if the text “‘built in virus protection’ is a feature callout”, followed by asking the LLM if the text “‘automatic password saving’ is a feature callout”.

The answers can be extracted and transformed to a 0 or 1, to later be passed to a machine learning model.

Screenshot 2024-01-19 at 11.10.51 AM


Training Data

The result of the feature engineering step is a dataframe with columns that align to the initial business questions, which can be joined to a dataframe that has the VTR for each video ad in the sample.

Screenshot 2024-01-19 at 11.11.25 AM

*Values are random and not to be interpreted in any way.

Modeling is done using fixed effects, bootstrapping and ElasticNet. More information can be found here in the post Introducing Discovery Ad Performance Analysis, written by Manisha Arora and Nithya Mahadevan.


The model output can be used to extract significant features, coefficient values, and standard deviation.

Coefficient Value (+/- X%)Represents the absolute percentage uplift in VTR. Positive value indicates positive impact on VTR and a negative value indicates a negative impact on VTR.
Significant Value (True/False)Represents whether the feature has a statistically significant impact on VTR.

Screenshot 2024-01-19 at 11.13.49 AM

*Values are random and not to be interpreted in any way.

In the above hypothetical example, the feature “Has Feature Callout” has a statistically significant, positive impact of VTR. This can be interpreted as “there is an observed 2.22% absolute uplift in VTR when an ad has a textual reference to a product feature.”


Challenges of the above approach are:

  • Interactions among the individual features input into the model are not considered. For example, if “has logo” and “has logo in the lower left” are individual features in the model, their interaction will not be assessed. However, a third feature can be engineered combining the above as “has large logo + has logo in the lower left”.
  • Inferences are based on historical data and not necessarily representative of future ad creative performance. There is no guarantee that insights will improve VTR.
  • Dimensionality can be a concern as given the number of components in a video ad.

Activation Strategies

Ads Creative Studio

Ads Creative Studio is an effective tool for businesses to create multiple versions of a video by quickly combining text, images, video clips or audio. Use this tool to create new videos quickly by adding/removing features in accordance with model output.


Video Experiments

Design a new creative, varying a component based on the insights from the analysis, and run an AB test. For example, change the size of the logo and set up an experiment using Video Experiments.


Identifying which components of a YouTube Ad affect VTR is difficult, due to the number of components contained in the ad, but there is an incentive for advertisers to optimize their creatives to improve VTR. Google Cloud technologies, GenAI models and ML can be used to answer creative centric business questions in a scalable and actionable way. The resulting insights can be used to optimize YouTube ads and achieve business outcomes.


We would like to thank our collaborators at Google, specifically Luyang Yu, Vijai Kasthuri Rangan, Ahmad Emad, Chuyi Wang, Kun Chang, Mike Anderson, Yan Sun, Nithya Mahadevan, Tommy Mulc, David Letts, Tony Coconate, Akash Roy Choudhury, Alex Pronin, Toby Yang, Felix Abreu and Anthony Lui.