Skip to main content
persuasion notebook

In the realm of such benign distractions as cute puppies, cartoon explosions and Liam Neeson, it would seem unlikely that viewers would be keen to sit through disturbing messages about sexual assault.

But of all the advertising that Canadians voluntarily watched this year – from big marketers such as Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and Reebok – a serious campaign from the Government of Ontario cracked the top ten.

Google Inc.’s video-sharing service YouTube unveiled its most-watched ads in Canada in 2015 on Wednesday morning. It reveals the videos that were most successful at what is becoming a crucial transaction: Audiences are no longer forced to watch ads, so advertisers have to essentially buy their time by creating videos good enough to be worth sitting through.

So how did a provincial government do that with a message about bystander intervention in sexual assault cases? It’s part of a larger trend where people are drawn to messages of broader consequence, said Bob Cornwall, head of brand integration at Google Canada.

“[Advertisers] have done a really good job of mining a human truth that connects with people on an emotional level,” he said. “... When they do that in a really interesting way, we find that type of content spikes on this platform, [and] captures the attention of a broad audience.”

Here are the ads that Canadians watched most in the past year. (Note: Viewer numbers are the total global views, at the time of a recent check. This Canadian ranking is calculated through a combination of view count, combined with the amount of the ad people watched before clicking away, and the percentage of “organic” views versus views that came from paid ads.)

1) Clash of Clans: Revenge (official Super Bowl TV commercial)

Advertiser: Supercell (mobile game developer)

Views: More than 82 million

At least for now, most Canadians don’t see the hype-heavy U.S. Super Bowl ads on television, so many of them go online to catch up on what everyone is talking about. Marketers’ annual spending spree yields some entertaining content and budgets big enough to convince celebrities such as Liam Neeson to make an appearance.

2) Boom Beach: Great Plan (official TV commercial)

Advertiser: Supercell

Views: Roughly 46 million

Gaming ads dominated the top of the list this year, which was not a surprise to Mr. Cornwall. Gaming videos in general are one of the top cateogories on YouTube.

“The audience is incredibly diverse. It’s not just your typical male 18 to 25-year-old,” he said.

3) Always #LikeAGirl – Unstoppable

Advertiser: Procter & Gamble Co.’s Always

Views: Roughly 38 million

“Social good is a big theme,” Mr. Cornwall said. Always scored high last year with its “Like a Girl” campaign and followed it up this year with a video that also performed well.

4) Budweiser USA: #BestBuds 2015 Budweiser Super Bowl Commercial “Lost Dog”

Advertiser: Anheuser-Busch InBev SA

Views: More than 30 million

Nobody can resist a puppy. But apparently some people can resist Budweiser. The brewer’s head of marketing said last month that he would not reprise the puppy commercials that have run in the Super Bowl for three years. “They have zero impact on beer sales,” Jorn Socquet told Bloomberg.

5) Dove Men+Care shares your first fatherhood moments this Father’s Day

Advertiser: Unilever NV’s Dove

Views: More than 17 million

Dove is just one of the brands (thankfully) ditching the old stereotypes of dads in commercials in favour of more respectful portrayals of engaged, loving father figures.

6) Reebok – Freak Show – Be More Human

Advertiser: Reebok International Ltd.

Views: Nearly 12 million

The sports apparel brand’s appeal to the hardcore pain-for-gain attitude of fitness movements such as Crossfit struck a chord.

7) Duracell Star Wars Commercial: Battle for Christmas Morning

Advertiser: Duracell

Views: More than 13 million

Star Wars is, in many ways, its own marketing: a bevy of fans excited about the newest film in the franchise are hungry for content to fill the void until its release date. Brands that partner on merchandise are smart to capitalize on that.

8) “The Recital”

Advertiser: PepsiCo Inc.’s Quaker Canada

Views: More than 10 million

Emotional advertising is a huge draw, and this year Quaker embarked on a shift in its digital marketing strategy (in that it actually had one – the brand had a relatively small presence in the past.) This heartstring-tugging video helped make its mark online.

9) #WhoWillYouHelp

Advertiser: Government of Ontario

Views: More than two million

The Government of Ontario’s powerful message resonated with viewers. It has just launched another advertising campaign about sexual assault that strikes a similar tone.

10) Tim Hortons Drive Thru Rookies with Sid & Nate

Advertiser: Tim Hortons

Views: More than two million

“When you think about YouTube content, it needs to do one of three things: inform, inspire or entertain,” Mr. Cornwall said. For hockey fans, this campaign from Tim Hortons clearly did the latter.