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Case Studies

3,916% Increase in Branded Search Lift for Icelandair with Strategic YouTube Targeting

Produced by Hanapin Marketing


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In 2018, VisitDenmark joined forces with Icelandair, a Hanapin client, to promote travel to Denmark while also encouraging the use of the Icelandair airline. Icelandair reached out to our team to launch a brand lift study, for the purpose of increasing ad recall and measuring consideration. Featuring a video created by VisitDenmark, we launched YouTube ads targeting Massachusetts and Washington and saw 1.7 million views with a 57.6% lift in ad recall and a 92.1% lift in brand interest. The brands reached out to us again in 2019 requesting to launch another study based on this success. Because we’re always looking to improve, we implemented a few optimizations for even greater results.


The 2019 Brand Lift Study (BLS) was conducted with Google BLS 2.0, which allowed our experts to have more direct control of the BLS  from the beginning instead of going through Google to launch. This time around, we changed the location targeting to focus on Minnesota and Washington, instead of Massachusetts. Icelandair flies out of Seattle, Minneapolis, and Boston, so we wanted to be sure to bring awareness to all of their target areas and to discover which locations would respond best to the YouTube Ads.


We launched two surveys through YouTube ads. The first measured brand recall, asking users, “Which of these airlines have you seen video advertising for lately?”. The second survey measured consideration, asking, “Which of these airlines would you consider booking with?”. Icelandair needed very specific audience targeting to expand beyond simply “general” travelers, to the specific in-market traveler demographic that Icelandair typically receives bookings from. Therefore, we launched ad groups based on niche in-market and affinity audiences and built campaigns based on creative and location targeting. In-market audiences included travel, as well as specific “Trips to Europe”. We also leveraged Google’s affinity audiences to target travelers interested in the outdoors, sports, live events, and food. Campaigns were segmented by geo so that we could apportion budgets for each region targeted and make adjustments to audiences that performed better in Seattle vs. Minneapolis.


Brand safety is a crucial factor to consider when launching YouTube ads. Brands don’t want to see their advertisements in inappropriate locations. To combat this we uploaded numerous and various blacklists, implemented manual negative placements, and performed extensive placement analysis.


The video itself, created by VisitDenmark, received glowing feedback from viewers.


  • “Excellent cinematography! The music is perfect and the photos are amazing! One of my favorite music videos for sheer enjoyment…. it does not seem like an advertisement at all.  Thank you!!!”
  • “I have seen this ad so many times and yet still when it pops up on videos that am viewing I still can’t skip it the music and the way it’s filmed is brilliant everything works so well very well done .”
  • “This is the ONLY ad I’ve ever searched to watch over and over again. It’s kind of soothing.”


When we launched the full video as Trueview ads, as well as shorter versions, we had a banner running along the bottom with a CTA for viewers to engage at any time.







Budget 2018: $95,000

Budget 2019: $100,000 – We spent $70,030.45 on brand lift, the remainder was spent on Trueview for Action campaigns.


In 2018, the BLS 1.0 surveys stopped collecting around $20k in spend, when brand lift was reached. With 2.0, we could use all $70k to collect survey responses, so we had a lot more data to work with which ensured more accurate results.


In 2019, we had a bigger sample size with more views (2.33 million vs 1.7 million in 2018) and of course more survey responses (12k).


We targeted Minnesota instead of Massachusetts, due to previous research showing that the Minnesota population has a higher number of people with Scandinavian background. The CPV was .01 lower, which allowed our budget to gain more views. Based on the 2018 study, we were able to adjust audiences to better target Icelandair and VisitDenmark prospects. We used affinity audiences and in-market audiences for European travel and life events, such as graduation or marriage.



The BLS survey results showed a 9% relative brand lift, which proved that the audience that saw the ads had increased brand perception for Icelandair and VisitDenmark.



Additionally, the consideration survey, filled out by 58k users considering Icelandair, showed a 25% exposed positive response rate, which measures how often users exposed to the ads responded positively to the brand.



From these changes, we saw:

  • 183% lift in brand interest (best in class for US travel vertical)
  • 1.2M travelers reached
    • $0.04 average CPV
    • 6.6M viewable impressions
    • 54 sec average viewable time (out of 2:40 video)
    • 98% of ads watched with sound on
  • Branded Search Lift: Icelandair – 3,916% Copenhagen – 620%
    • 1 impression: 88% search lift
    • 2 impressions: 117% search lift
    • 3+ impressions: 291% search lift
  • Search lift by device:
    • Mobile: 81%
    • Desktop: 248%
    • Unknown: 175%


The BLS revealed the exponential search impact when viewers were served a video ad multiple times. One impression yielded an 88% search lift. When viewers were exposed a second time, the number jumped to 117%. But when viewers were exposed to the ad 3 or more times, the number nearly doubled, reaching 291%. The importance of multiple impressions showed us a critical insight to use in moving forward with Icelandair ads.


Both Icelandair and VisitDenmark were very pleased with the results, and Tai Klan, the marketing manager for VisitDenmark, said, “Wow a 3,916% brand search uplift for Icelandair and 620% for Copenhagen truly is amazing! By far the best we have ever experienced in VisitDenmark. Extremely pleased with this. VisitDenmark is very happy to see that we achieved our original stated goal of a high VTR, good BLS metrics and a valuable brand interest lift for both Copenhagen and Icelandair.”


Klan added, “For the second year in a row, Hanapin Marketing has been leading up our co-branding efforts with Icelandair. We are extremely pleased with the level of service we received. Not only did we exceed our KPI benchmark the first year around, but the 2019 campaign shattered all prior brand lift study achievements at VisitDenmark. Effectively proving that contrary to popular perception, long format YouTube pre-roll and Brand Lift Survey 2.0 can have huge commercial value, by virtue of;

  • 40X brand search lift for Icelandair
  • 16X brand search lift for Copenhagen
  • +50% commercial ROAS in a primarily awareness campaign
  • +58K actual brand purchase considerations generated!
  • +2.3M Americans reached in WA & MN alone!
  • +1.4M Americans watched the entire (2:25) ad!”


Airlines especially have such a competitive environment, so any competitive edge gained is fantastic. We are able to reach a massive audience for a very low cost because of YouTube’s low CPMs and CPVs. Since the search landscape is so competitive, leveraging video ads allows us to expand our top of funnel efforts without having to bid on competitive travel search terms. Additionally, Icelandair gains an uncalculated amount of brand exposure through free views alone in just 30 seconds of advertising, since they don’t pay unless a viewer watches 30 seconds or clicks on a CTA. Even though we chose to invest a fair amount of spend, we had hours of free advertising on top of it.


Because our team was able to bring such spectacular brand lift to Icelandair and VisitDenmark through their YouTube Ads campaigns, the brands will now enjoy higher brand recall and consideration from customers when they’re ready to purchase for international travel.


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