By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

A WOMAN’S CELLPHONE hovers above everyone else’s heads. Another girl has found a tiny space to put out her phone: beside a shirtless dude’s armpit. In the crowded Light Rail Transit train heading for EDSA, the riders seem oblivious of the traffic below and the humidity inside the train. Almost everyone’s head is bowed over their phones.

Smartphone is the new TV, the new dominant screen. Because it kills time and diverts their commuting frustrations, many Filipinos are attracted to one key app — besides Facebook and Twitter — YouTube.

Gail Tan, Google Philippines head of communication and public affairs, said 90% of Filipino netizens are on YouTube, and 80%, aged 18-34, have watched YouTube videos in a month.

YouTube is one of Google’s subsidiaries. It is a portal for videos that range from cute cat clips and Hollywood series to TED Talks and documentaries. It is the gateway for random videos to go viral and the platform for strangers who crave overnight stardom.

“YouTube accommodates one billion viewers across the globe every month,” said Ms. Tan on Jan. 20, during the Google Ads announcement of the top 10 most watched local advertisements in the Philippines last year.

In the age of evolving platforms, YouTube is becoming a viable medium for ads, whether for self- or commercial promotion. It’s now at the forefront and of some marketing strategies, because in the eyes of such advertisers, 1 billion viewers a month are 1 billion potential consumers.

Lauren Tanganco, Unilever Philippines senior assistant brand manager, told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the event that it’s relatively economical to place advertisements online than on TV and in print. Newspaper advertisement usually cost five to six digits, depending on the size, color, and page placement. A 30-second TV commercial is even more expensive.

Unilever is the biggest spending company advertiser in the country. It holds 400 brand names under its belt, including Knorr, Ponds, Surf, Dove, Lady’s Choice, and Closeup, among others.

According to the latest Kantar Media report in 2014, next to Unilever, the other big spenders, in order, are Procter and Gamble Philippines, Inc.; Nestle Philippines, Inc.; United Laboratories, Inc.; and Colgate-Palmolive Philippines, Inc.

Ms. Tanganco didn’t divulge the digits of how much an online advertisement costs. But according to YouTube, “you only pay when someone engages with your ad. If they skip it before 30 seconds (or the end), you don’t pay a cent.” For instance, a video with 20,000 views on YouTube has a daily cost of $100, or P4,700++.

YouTube measures its ad results with built-in analytics, showing where the ad is viewed and how many clicks it gets.

According to Ms. Tan, there may be a “skip” button at the bottom right of YouTube advertisements. But once you’re past the 30-second mark, even if you didn’t finish the entire clip, it’s already counted as one view.

The table below is Google’s list of the top 10 advertisements in the Philippines for the second half of 2015, touched hearts and emptying pockets by incorporating key promotional tactics like catchy tunes, popular brand ambassadors, and compelling story lines.

The list is based on the number of clicks and views in the second half of last year, though the actual figures for the period were not available.

What’s the difference between online and traditional advertisements? It turns out, not that much. The famous faces, catchy phrases fomula for a successful TV commercial works online, too.

The AlDub tandem featuring Maine “Yaya Dub” Mendoza and Alden Richards secured the most viewed YouTube advertisement last year, all thanks to their massive followers. Together, they starred in two of the top 10 commercials, while Yaya Dub by herself featured in another high-scorer.

According to McDonald’s Marketing Director Christina Lao, the team that conceptualized the AlDub’s first ever commercial was very happy to secure the earliest partnership before the inevitable stardom saturation.

“There will be an expected saturation since all brands are getting AlDub, but [the saturation effect is not as big] if you’re the first to do their commercial,” said Ms. Lao. She said the marketing team was into “social listening,” or paying attention to the pulse of the masses; that’s why it secured AlDub’s first commercial.

She also said the commercial has tripled the volume order of McDonald’s chicken fillet ala king, which usually doesn’t make it to their top five most ordered items.

It also helps to have a lively, catchy theme song, especially when paired with dance moves. This contributes to a strong brand awareness and name recall. Half of the commercials that made it to the top used captivating jingles, including Tides’ “am-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba six pesos lang yan!” and Jollibee’s iconic “I love you Sabado, pati na rin Linggo.”

“Jingles are part of the heritage of a brand,” said Knorr Marketing Director Oli Sicam. Knorr’s “Asim kilig” jingle made it to the top 2015 ads.

McDonald’s direct competitor, Jollibee, meanwhile said it revived its iconic “I love you Sabado” jingle because “we saw a decline in our weekend sales because of the competition against weekend family getaway options,” said Arlene Adeva, Jollibee PR director and head of kids marketing.

But, commercials aren’t purely intended for sales; they can be educational, too. Bear Brand’s Micronutrient Deficiency edutainment video, which utilized the power of jingle, dance moves, and cartoons, is an example that education and promotion can go well together.

While Bear Brand cannot directly attribute the YouTube ad to its growing sales, the company saw a 40% increase in Google research for the word “micronutrients.”

An all-star cast and a memorable theme song aren’t the only key ingredients to a good promotion. Advertisements, whether soft- or hard-sell, should speak to the heart.

A successful promotion should have a story to tell and with a heartwarming advice, said Chuckie Consumer Marketing Manager Caron Cruz. “Our tag line appeals to the emotion,” she added.

Nestlé’s chocolate drink commercial, which secured the third spot, champions the classic mother-and-son tandem, where moms often take the roles of parent and friend. The commercial, which is also notable for its theme song, ends with a touching recommendation: “Minsan lang sila bata; sabayan mo na (They’re only kids for a moment; grow with them).”

Resorts World Manila (RWM), on the other hand, attributed a 10% increase in moviegoers to their YouTube commercial, which got the fourth spot. The advertisement shows a digital roulette that picks a random movie audience member who will take home P1 million.

In line with the RWM branding, it has come up with other gimmicks including lucky seat and fortune cookie surprises, where random, unwitting customers have the chance to take home cash prizes.

It is also important to note that all commercials but Globe’s went past the 30-second convention, which may suggest that the audience has a longer attention span, or that the ad successfully captured their attention.

“The digital space has become an extension of what can be viewed on TV, allowing brands to tell longer and more powerful stories. Nine out of 10 ads going beyond the usual 30-second mark is proof that digital offers a degree of creative freedom for brands to tell their stories,” said Ms. Tan.

Eskinol’s Wattpad five-minute second Webisode, which got the ninth spot, demonstrates how a storyline, no matter how short or long, engages audiences.

Webisodes are collection of short, online episodes.

“The Webisode garnered more than 2 million hits, and it just goes to show that people will engage with longer videos as long as they have a great story to tell,” said Ms. Tanganco.