case study:

What’s in front of the screen?


YouTube is a valuable space for businesses to connect with people through advertisements, but the way users relate to different content depends on the setting, occasion and personal motivation. YouTube asked us to help them have better conversations with their advertisers through deep and engaging insights into user needs and behaviour.


Mobile ethnography allowed us to get into bed with the users. By giving them the tools to capture their own footage, we were able to watch them interact with YouTube as they truly do in reality. We observed them in a variety of contexts, in order to understand what value YouTube brings to their lives.


We provided YouTube with the tools to have a new kind of conversation with advertisers, by providing them with a dozen short films. The films used a combination of the users’ selfie videos and ethnographic footage from visits to people's homes, and documented deep insight into what happens on the other side of the screen in the world of YouTube users.

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An intimate look into the lives of their viewers as a hook for advertisers

”Usually, my AdBlock plug-in is switched on but when I go to my favourite channels, I turn it off because I want to support them”
Minh, 23
the challenge

When are advertisements relevant?

YouTube has over a billion users, making it an important investment platform for advertisers. YouTube’s sales department needed a tool to highlight the potential of YouTube to advertising executives, and a way to introduce them to the needs and experiences of the audience that the ads would ultimately reach. We did this by connecting with the users, having them self-document their experiences, and by studying their behaviour, motivations and choices.

We studied ad-blocking and discovered the phenomenon of deliberate ad-unblocking, using our findings to make strategic recommendations on the optimal ad type, timing and context to have the best connection with the viewer.

We found that people use YouTube in dramatically different ways and that had implications for how well ads were received and processed in the mind of the viewer.

the approach

Looking into user behaviour through mobile ethnography.

We asked users to shoot pictures and video of themselves using YouTube over the course of a week. Mobile ethnography was a valuable, inexpensive tool that allowed us to get an intimate and noninvasive look into the lives of YouTube viewers.

Respondents can capture what is truly important to them, and the output provides colourful, rich and sharable visual data. After sifting through the responses, we were able to pick those with the most interesting stories and scenarios, and return to them for a deeper conversation with in-depth interviews.

The Result

To change the conversation with advertisers, the result was a dozen documentary-style videos describing when and how people in the Nordic countries use YouTube.

The films show how YouTube helps people solve everyday challenges, and how it’s possible to snowball into a video-watching binge, even if your intention is just to have a short break: to start watching a music video about Rihanna and end up with a tutorial on how to talk with giraffes.

The videos IIAB created each reflect a specific user need addressed by YouTube, which became rich marketing material currently being used by the YouTube sales department.

With this we gave Google a great tool to engage advertisers in the understanding of the many different ways people use YouTube. It provided a different kind of dialogue and ultimately an easier sales situation for Google ad sellers.

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