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What I Learned Burning $14k on YouTube Ads for Candy Japan (candyjapan.com)
554 points by jbardnz on Feb 25, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 243 comments

A few things that struck me. Note I primarily do Facebook consulting so I'm pulling broad generalizations from there but I do run youtube ads as well.

1. Using predefined broad audience categories rarely works. Doing keyword targeting or specific video targeting usually works out better.

2. $10 cpm isn't high. I regularly spend $40+ on Facebook that can be 5x+ profitable ROI. Judging an ad buy only by cpm is short sighted at best.

3. 14k is a very small budget. I regularly spend 5-10k per day for folks. It takes volume and frequency to optimize. Even the amounts I spend as a freelancer makes me a small fish in regards to any serious agency and their clients.

4. It is far far too early to measure the effects of the campaign. CLTV (customer lifetime value) takes years to realize. Modern analytics tools are very useful to inform us on performance. They are not the end all be all and don't do an awesome job of multi touch attribution.

5. 1 ad isn't really a great test. For clients spending any real amount of budget I can pretty easily push out 300+ ad variations a month. To find something that gets you the kind of results you want it takes time, effort, and paying close attention to what's working and what isn't.

Overall it's an interesting case study but I caution folks to not simply take this as "youtube doesn't work" but rather what this person did on youtube doesn't work.

For someone just starting in this world, any orientation or advice in how to improve with facebook ads or this world in general? I am following tutorials and forming more formally but 3 to 5 ROI would be huge for me professionaly, since we deal with not so big companies that would have, in the best of scenarios, a budget similar to the post, normally even smaller.

So it feels quite hard to stablish a relationship between the money spent and what we directly get the client in return.

So your comment was extremely useful for me!!

Use AdEspresso. Go to their free academy section and read their guides. They'll teach you 95% of what you need to know, for free.

yeah but a lot of us have our side hustles or are just individuals. we can likely only afford what the poster did. not millions like some big company

It ultimately depends on what you are pushing without revealing that these stats are pointless.

Sensational news, fake news will get you massive CTR. You'll have cheap CPCs but your ad account will be dead after some time. Yes, Facebook doesn't like it when ad viewers report our ads.

What is your clients' average ROI for these campaigns?

3 to 5x on a cold audience. 5-10x on retargeting campaigns and upsell/cross sells. It really depends on the client though.

Is there reasoning to not drive this into the ground, I.e. where profitability for the campaign hits 0?

At a practical level I wonder if you / they are cognizant of an exhaustion measure, if new campaigns are introduced rapidly enough to continue to maintain a 5-10x return, whether the spend is managed to a predefined ROI, etc.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always seemed to drive it into the ground, but those are for short term campaigns. The long term campaigns I’ve inherited have usually already been driven into the ground before me (though the PE firm I was working for bought that distressed startup on the cheap).

It depends on what you are doing. Many are just middleman, so they sell conversions they drive from FB, the difference of which is your profit. You have an incentive to keep conversion cost as low as possible and quality as high as possible to maintain your conversion payoff.

Driving it into the ground might be profitable for a product owner but not to an ad agency which pockets the middle.

I’m finding that extremely hard to believe. What’s the product category?

Find it as hard to believe as you would like but I have no incentive to lie. The most profitable campaigns tend to be high end consumer goods with a monthly recurring element built into it. The worst performers tend to be anything targeting small business.

Yes, I'm targetting small business ($25/month typical), and I've never been able to make google ads pay, even after optimizing the f*ck out of it.

What would you recommend as a minimum budget to have a reasonable chance of success?

People inexperienced in online adversities often think that they can pay for conversions. That is not the case. You’re paying to get your message out. Very very few people will immediately act because of an ad. But if you hit them enough, they may later convert.

Tracking those late conversions is imprecise. This does not mean advertising is useless. But it is not generally a game for those with a tiny budget or a short time horizon.

Disagree. I had a startup selling a piece of software that immediately solved a major problem for a small niche of users. Paid for conversions on common search terms and they were ROI positive since each click converted at 25% to signup, and then the product spread around the companies where one user adopted. Sold the company for >$10m.

Sounds like that was more of great product than a successful advertising campaign, even if it did help.

The product always needs to be good. But targeted ads such as on Google allow entire categories of businesses to exist. My company would have never been started without Google AdWords - there would have simply been no cost effective way to find the users who needed the product.

"The product always needs to be good. But targeted ads such as on Google allow entire categories of businesses to exist."

With regard to niches, my experience has been the opposite.

If your niche is small enough, you can't properly bid on adwords for rare keywords because they are flagged as "low quality" and you are forced to either abandon those keywords or pay 10x for them to show.

This, of course, defies the entire raison d'etre of adwords - the whole purpose of which is (presumably) to bid on a keyword that targets that one rare person that searched for that.

But it can't be done - if only 5 or 10 people search for a phrase or keyword every day, it cannot be bid on properly.

I don’t know about the 5 to 10 search a day volume level - I was quite a bit above this. But I agree that if they don’t serve that volume level well, it’s sad and aggravating. That should be something that can really help people who are out of other options. Might it be a privacy issue? If an ad can be targeted to that level it can be used to address a single individual.

> If an ad can be targeted to that level it can be used to address a single individual.

Alec Brownstein did exactly that by ad targeting his favorite creative directors' names some years back in order to land a job. It worked.


Sure, but you don't need to worry about conversion cost there.

I was faced with keyword combinations that had "natural" costs that were very low (and appropriately so, since I was the only person "bidding" on them). But then a few days later, "low quality score" and they ratcheted up the price 10x.

If you get a job out of it, the penalty doesn't really matter ... I was trying to convert $5/mo IaaS customers.

advertising is about telling people about your product. If you don't have a great product, it won't sell, no matter how much ads you put out there.

This is usually true but sometimes not. For example products like Grey Goose vodka make billions of dollars despite being indistinguishable from other quality vodka even by self-professed experts.

It's probably splitting hair at this point, but Grey Goose isn't bad vodka, it's just no better than other "good" vodkas (whatever "good" means in context of a product whose defining characteristic is the absence of characteristics). If GG was a foul-tasting vodka, no amount of advertising would save it.

this ^ I didn't say you need a better product, or the best product, but you need a great product. If people hear about your product, and they think it's great, then they'll buy it. GG vodka is a great vodka (not a vodka pro but definitely in the high end of consumer vodka I believe), and coupled with their advertising they sell a lot of vodka.

That's anecdotal.

How do you define a great vodka? With blind testing?

If its like beer, then there's a few types of beer and perhaps some spice but its mostly the same.

Wow, that's awesome! I have a product that also solves a problem for a small niche of users [1], but I think my niche is a bit smaller than yours. I recently increased the AdWords budget and I'm trying a lot of different ads to see what works. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story, that's really encouraging.

[1] https://formapi.io

How did you find the niche? Any reading material I should see?

I had a CS degree but was working outside the field in pharmaceuticals. I was having the problem myself and wrote a crazy Excel spreadsheet with tens of thousands of lines of poorly written copy pasted code to do it. I knew that there would be a market for it so I contacted an old classmate of mine who rewrote it much better as a web service.

That is why I think CS and software engineering should be part of every college degree, so that people can see the opportunity for software where it exists. I wasn’t good enough to be a programmer but I had enough knowledge to see an opportunity whereas most people thought “hm, this is just how this is done.”

Reminds me of this AMA answer by @patio11 [1]

> Here's an exercise you can do: do you understand what a life insurance agent does all day every day? Make it your mission for a week to do so, well enough to explain it to a close friend who has no access to your sources. All you have to do to learn this is read and make conversations happen. (People are happy to talk to you!)

I really need to take that seriously, and talk to people in a lot of different industries.

[1] https://www.indiehackers.com/forum/im-patio11-patrick-mckenz...

Just curious how much the software cost?

Individual contracts around $50,000 per year per customer.

And you were getting these customers from AdWords campaigns, instead of high-touch sales? That's incredible.


Hmm, that’s true. Thanks for your comment, you inspired me to think about creating a platform for independent sales agents, and then I found commissioncrowd.com. I’ve signed up and booked a call with one of their representives. I’ve been putting off sales, but I really need to take that seriously.

My company sells niche high value software in the same value ball park as the OP and the only thing that works is high touch sales.

My advice is stay away from outsourced sales. It is possible that you might find a good one, but you are more likely to find the secret of how to turn lead into gold.

The major problem you will have starting out is good sales people won't work for a business without an established sales process. Of course without good sales people it is hard to establish an effective sales process (nice catch 22). You are probably best grabbing someone new and keen and hitting the road with them until you have an established process that works. Then hire sales people.

There actually are ways like market mix models and multi touch attribution models to account for impact of those "late conversions" across multiple channels but requires fairly sophisticated data integration and modeling and is generally worth it only if you are optimizing millions of dollars in ad spend. The tools Google/Facebook currently provide are not really sophisticated enough for such work.

Source: I work on these techniques

I work in analytics in the sales and marketing department at a late stage startup. I was recently tasked with moving from just reporting to working in modeling and prediction.

A first step I thought of was to build some multiple variable models / apply multiple linear regression to try to measure the relative influence of our marketing campaigns and touches to a sale.

With your experience in this area - are there are particular models you recommend trying to build as a first step for someone who's more of a beginner in modeling and predictive analytics? Or business questions you find go the furthest within this specific domain of sales and marketing?

Could you possibly point to by resources on these models?

While details tend to be proprietary, MMMs are well established and lots of academic papers online. For instance


High quality multi touch attribution models are still fairly new and I've not seen much public literature on the designs. We've had to spend a fair amount of time in development ourselves vs. relying on existing methods.

Precisely - "marketers" these days don't grasp the concept of brand building. Just because you can measure directly results it doesn't mean the goal is to get a direct conversion - specially from a platform like youtube where people are actively consuming content - not buying stuff.

The idea of compound investment into brand building doesn't seem to exist.

I don't know if these guys thought that decades of TV advertising campaigns were made by clueless people, with no education, with no market research, benchmarks, that dumped millions to build reach and frequency to try to fill a small spot in the mind of consumers.

Precisely - "marketers" these days don't grasp the concept of brand building.

I'm not sure that's true. Some people are just working on a different scale.

Brand-building is fine if you're Coke or BMW or McDonald's. You have millions to spend, you can saturate channels, and then people might actually think of you in preference to your competition when they're in the market for a drink or a car or a burger.

On the other hand, if you're a bootstrapped startup and worrying about affording this week's ramen, ttul's "tiny budget and short time horizon" is probably all you've got. To a first approximation, the only thing that matters for online ads in this environment is how many people you can get to take some immediate useful action, even if it's just volunteering an email address that you can use to follow up, or sharing your site with someone else they know who might be interested.

Of course, in the longer term, brand awareness is valuable as well. But branding isn't worth squat if your business won't be around long enough for someone to remember it later.

I agree that the work of marketers differs from scale, but it doesn't justify bad decisions.

I don't agree that brand-building is fine just for major brands, where they fight for small % of a saturated, well defined, market share.

Like you said, it's all about scale, and actions of a bootstrapped startup should adjust to it - not to be spending thousands on Youtube campaigns (picking up this post example). If you want some immediate useful action you should focus on media and placements where you have a higher percentage of people that a near to take immediate useful actions - maybe a video platform to consume video content is not the best choice to start with.

Brand building can be as simple as the way you address your customers, how your company looks, how the buying/service experience is, etc - things that change the perception of something random and generic, yet foundational to any brand.

McDonald's was the place to get tasty food without having to wait sitting down for it.

you should focus on media and placements where you have a higher percentage of people that a near to take immediate useful actions - maybe a video platform to consume video content is not the best choice to start with.

Where would that be for a candy subscription service? I mean, people looking to buy candy probably just want one packet right now, not ten spread somewhere over the next few months.

In a startup brand awareness p is extremely important perhap more so than coke. They spend millions of dollars because they are trying to reach billions.

The most useful thing I noticed some startups do is get involved in their niche community and spent money building brand awareness for a targeted group.

Branding isn't just about spending a lot on ads. I found lots of actionable suggestions even for a small startups in a book called "Killer brands" by Frank Lane.

This week’s ramen won’t come unless the ads you ran six months ago generated some form of brand recognition...

That's going to be tough if our hypothetical business has only been running for three months, though, isn't it? Everyone has to start somewhere, and all I'm saying is that in those early days, the need for immediate results will naturally dominate longer-term brand-building -- unless you're already heavily funded and don't have the same priorities, of course.

I'd venture to say it's not the marketers acting on their own in many cases. Shit runs down hill. VCs want fast returns, CEOs want their investors to be happy about their CAC, marketers want to prove their value in this system. And EVERYBODY is obsessed with analytics, often as a poorly constructed crutch. You try pitching brand building in that environment.

But I understand that, so maybe it's a matter of choice.

What kind of brand you want, and set it right away from the beginning because it will define your media channel/production investment.

I think that brands who had strong branding advertising are still well positioned in people's minds, and it's indeed an investment that should be made with a massive ROI.

Now, it's a long term game. Doesn't suit the status quo like you well said.

The long term brand plan must be set by the CEO and in the example provided by the parent, the CEO only cares about keeping investors happy in the short term, alas no spend without immediately identifiable ROI.

Exactly this.

What marketers are you talking about? Who are "these guys"?

I work with marketers and I am one myself, and the concept of brand-building is as familiar as loops are to software developers.

No doubt you've encountered misguided individuals, but please don't generalize from specifics.

Anyone with a Google Adwords Certificate is a marketer these days.

> No doubt you've encountered misguided individuals, but please don't generalize from specifics.

When the community gives visibility to bad examples, specifics gain other dimension. So instead of blaming me for generalization, maybe understand the context.

I'm a marketer as well.

Brand building investment exists today, but like all other channels unless you can prove the return you're just gambling. It's certainly not the best place to start if performance marketing is a viable channel.

I know such investments still exist - specially in well established brands where a more "classical" marketing approach is still used.

But small companies don't even know how to measure such returns, or can't afford to measure their return beyond sales and analytics data. That's why it will always be a gamble for them, specially like you said, it's not the best place to start.

It's not just that they can't afford to measure their return, but that often you can't afford to spend money on marketing that doesn't have a direct return.

When I started consulting, I spent some money on marketing, but my big constraint was that if a given channel didn't at least break even on direct conversions, there was only so much money and time I could afford to spend on that channel for conversions down the road by increasing my brand: It's not just total lifetime returns from the advertising that matters, but how the timing of those returns affect cash flow.

If the time it takes to break even is too long, you might be bankrupt first, even if the potential lifetime return is fantastic.

Sometimes it costs a lot to not have the time and budgets to take a longer term view.

I have no question that people who have built brands believe that it was successful. We can even look at "big brands" like Coke -- they sell sugar water + a brand -- surely that must be real.

My nuanced take is that a brand "exists" in the sense that we are able to understand it, what it represents, etc. What we do not know is if that's the best way to spend resources. All the money that went into Intel Inside -- what if they spent it on something else? No marketer can know that; the question as a marketer: "is this the best thing I can do with my resources?" Nothing about "building a brand" provides objective feedback or testable predictions about the usage of that dollar.

Suggesting that TV advertising can't be a scam because so many people have put so much effort into it is another fallacy. Old school TV advertising was done by people whose jobs dependent on the revenue stream -- even if branding were completely ineffective; if they got paid, I wouldn't consider that irrational.

Brands happen. They can have value, but we can only try to prove that value after the fact.

Direct response, on the other hand, tends to be less full of b.s.


This lesson struck me hard when I was working with a major conference organizer. Even upon surveying them, they'd struggle to establish how attendees had heard of the event first. For the majority of attendees there was no direct way to correlate ticket purchases with ad spend because almost no-one immediately buys a $1000+ ticket after clicking an ad :-)

Market research is the easiest way to solve these problems!

What if you provide a discount code in the ad that’s unique to the ad? Subsequent ads have slight lower discounts so there’s an incentive to use the code from the first ad they saw.

Discount codes was one method used, the only problem was that at the $1000+ ticket level, it's often another department buying the tickets and they frequently don't bother to use the codes :-D

Might work for some people, but the probability that I would even remember the first ad had a code - let alone the exact string - is minuscule.

Not being able to find a discount you saw can be pretty frustrating. Less important in this case as employers often pay for these conferences.

Uhh look up funnel marketing. There's a whole system in place that exercises and excels in exactly what you say we in advertising are inexperienced? I mean you can technically pay for views it's just not anything over 5% of impressions though... retargeting though works.

Indeed. People are subjected to feel more secure about a brand that is more familiar to them (e.g., Tide).

Indeed you mainly just buy awareness of your service. The road from awareness to trial can be quite long.

Well the initial snap impression is that the ad isn't very good. But let's talk about how this could have been done better.

For starters, I would not pitch a real world get stuff in your mailbox service with animation. There are no photos of the product, the explanation of how it works and why it's not a scam is hand wavy. I don't care how it works I care about what's in it for me, the buyer.

There are no clear examples of what you'll get. There is no sense of who is behind this service and why you should feel connected and like you would trust them.

In addition the implementation tactics are suspect. You targeted hardcore gamers, but you're not selling games. That's almost a complete non-sequitur.

Your goal was to target people likely to purchase candy, or perhaps Japanese novelty items, via a mail subscription service. It doesn't appear that you made much effort if any to figure out what that audience looks like and how to reach it.

One of the reasons digital advertising can be so effective is that it allows you to try multiple different approaches at the same time. Nearly every successful PPC type campaign starts with multiple theories, different hypothesis about who the audience is and what they'll respond to.

You try a few ideas, see what works, track sales and intermediate metrics (clicks, engagement, time on site, add-to-cart behavior) and then continue to direct your budget to things that show signs of yielding positive ROI.

These things are to some extent always a roll of the dice, but there are definitely some things you can and should be doing here to improve your odds of success.

> You targeted hardcore gamers, but you're not selling games.

Maybe I missed something, but where does it say he targeted gamers? I only see a mention of the fact you can target it to gamers as an example.

Hi Bemmu. I subscribe to TokyoTreat, and formerly subscribed to Japan Crate (and the 'umai crate' noodle box, until one of them got seized by customs because they shipped something with pork bits...)

I don't subscribe to CJ despite having seen it a million times here and almost definitely being the target audience (though this particular ad would have definitely repelled me) because your prices just aren't competitive. I mean, sure, the root price of $29 a month is, but when you consider the volume of candy you get, it's not even close. 7 items on your example image vs. the 14 I got in the February TokyoTreat (one of which was a heavy drink and another of which was a 30-piece share pack) just makes it clear.

Have you considered dropping the shipping to once a month like all the other boxes and making them bigger? I think that would help you compete more effectively, because you'd be paying less for shipping as a percentage of your subscription gross and the "unboxing" pictures of your boxes wouldn't look as sad.

$29 for 7 items is over $4 an item. You're going to have a hard time convincing people it's worth paying that if they look at any other subscription box.

From looking at the list of past boxes, I think you do a really good job hitting the right balance of "ooh, exclusive Japan thing" and balancing out the tastes of an average person. The candy you select is spot-on with what I considered some of the best stuff I got when I lived there.

At $29 for 7 items, you're almost better off just buying the Japanese snack packs from Amazon. They're really cheap. Not the biggest variety compared to the crate services, but unless you're planning to stick around for years, it's just as good.

The ad was terrible. It explained how Candy Japan works. I don't care how Candy Japan works. I want the why should I buy Candy Japan. It should have focused instead on the candies that you can get. Delicious, weird, unique candies only available through this service.

Additionally, just because someone is interested in Japanese candies, doesn't mean they like anime. The high-pitched annoying cartoon voice really turned me off right away, and it's not immediately obvious in the first 10 seconds (which is how long you have to watch before you can skip on YouTube) what it's for (after all, CrunchyRoll is a service for watching anime online, not ordering crunchy rolls.)

I believe that is intentional. Sentence missing from the blog post is still up on the reddit post[1]:

> Here's the end result. If the video tingles your weeaboo senses, that's intentional, as I want clearly uninterested people to skip the video as fast as possible. I'll explain why next.


> Now you might understand why I want to get people not in my target audience to skip – it's cheaper because you don't pay when people skip your ad!

In other words - you're probably not in the target audience.

Not saying I agree with why he is saying you shouldn't be in his audience (you're clearly interested in Japanese candy) but maybe you're not because you have an interest but would likely still cancel earlier than his normal audience. (which would have a much higher lifetime value making the numbers much harder to run)

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/Entrepreneur/comments/8062vs/what_i...

> In other words - you're probably not in the target audience.

> Not saying I agree with why he is saying you shouldn't be in his audience (you're clearly interested in Japanese candy) but maybe you're not because you have an interest but would likely still cancel earlier than his normal audience. (which would have a much higher lifetime value making the numbers much harder to run)

My wife loves Japanese candies and snacks. Neither of us watch much anime. I would absolutely buy this for her as a gift for Christmas or anniversary. Previously I bought her a monthly makeup subscription and she loved it. $350/year is easily within my budget for a special gift, especially something like this that keeps giving and that connects with her emotionally (she spent some time in SK/Japan as a kid).

If I had come across this ad, I would have skipped it immediately. That being said, I'm bookmarking the site for later this year, so I guess the blog post worked better than the ad?

Sure but keep in mind that a much higher percentage of anime fans would like the candies than the average YouTube viewer. So essentially the cost per interested user decreases since even though people like yourself miss out, overall the wins per dollar go up.

It's a good strategy. In theory he could spend the money saved from people like you skipping the ad on a different ad that targets a more general market and end up with more wins overall.

The blog posts are how I originally discovered Candy Japan (which is a great service by the way. I definitely recommend). But we are a weird demographic. I doubt the majority of his customers are HN readers.

Correction - statistically they're not in the audience. i.e. even if you'd one person would be a good Candy Japan customer, YouTube ad billing incentivizes you to lower the false-positive rate (ie the number of people who view your ad but don't buy) rather than the false-negative rate (ie The number of people that skip your ad but would have been interested in the product).

Sometimes you get it wrong, like with GP, but that's worth it.

I think this is a Good Thing - it makes advertisers and YouTube care in dollars-and-cents terms about not wasting ad viewers' time and attention.

I'm the "target audience" but the use of English made me flinch.

Agreed, as an anime fan (and spent ~4 months in Japan, love candy and love Japanese candy as much), the anglicized "Kony-chee-wa" at the start turned me off more than the concept of the ad. Either use English, or go full anime and do real Japanese with subtitles, ie what anime fans are used to.

Western-accented Japanese is the worst of both worlds.

I think people are being a bit overly critical of the ad

Yes, it could have been better, yes maybe there could have been an "adult" version of it. (I don't think the narration is bad, but I'm not used to hearing native Japanese speakers, so that might be it)

What I think they should have done is have a copywriter script it.

However the phrase "would you like to try some Japanese candy" ends at 0:04 (and "Candy Japan sends you unique surprises 2x a month" ends at 0:08) so I do think they got to the point as quickly as possible

The article is being overly critical of the ad system

In this instance it appears the ad may have been more the issue than the system so people are pointing out where the issue may be. Criticism of the ad is essential in this case to determine where the "burning" of $14k happened

They're not selling the product itself, but the cute Japaneseyness of it. And that's good, if they managed to target their ads to the right people. I really loved the ad, and I think I'm in the right segment: I love cute anime, and I want to live in Japan someday!

The blog post wasn't totally clear on this point, but it sounds like the problem was that YouTube's ad tools weren't good enough to get them the fine-grained targeting they needed. They'd put in "anime" as a keyword and then their ad would be shown on totally unrelated videos. There is plenty of anime on YouTube -- if they could attach their ad to that, and nothing else, I think it would have done well.

None of the actual (appealing) candy was shown in the ad nor was the most interesting part of his business (the personal need that drove him to created a delivery service) communicated. I was a subscriber to Candy Japan for a few months and I really felt it undersold his offering.

It should have been:

1) a personal story of him going to Japan

2) him going back the US... and missing the awesome Japanese candy you can't (easily) find in western countries

3) him starting a service to ship Candy (right from Japan!) to people every month for a (not-to-expensive) subscription!!!

That's a great story/ad. His ad was generic and soulless. And the honestly annoying childish voiceover really didn't help sell it the candy to me at all.

That's a good idea but I suspect you're being a little hard on a guy that went to the expense and clear trouble of getting something like this made, dropping the coin and then sharing the story for us to pick apart.

I doubt anyone gets their video based marketing right the first time - another thing an agency would have helped him avoid.

Me: I don't really care about the video or the product, I'm just glad he shared the marketing experience.

True, good point, it's always easier to criticize then it is to put yourself out there and create something. I should have been a bit more reserved in my judgement.

Yeah, but imagine someone who regularly visits the country, or is from there originally that wants nostalgic candy and certainly does not want to associate themselves with weeb/otaku culture.

Or someone who is a weeb but feels guilt, hides their power level and wants to indulge their inner weebness but the messaging/branding here is a step too far.

Or a proud degenerate wizard who is turned off by the quality of the animation and voice acting (perhaps it sets off his "ugh dubs" trigger despite context and logic).

I think a slideshow of actual examples of products with a quality normal adult human voiceover explaining the value prop, or a video of a normal adult human unboxing a shipment, or edited clips of several normal adult humans emoting the experience ("What are these" "I can't read what this says here... oh they're gummy haha ... mmm grape") would go a long way.

Yeah, its almost like its a pitch for the company to an investor instead of an ad to an actual customer of the business

A better ad could have been made a lot cheaper and faster too by just having a friend (or an actor) opening the box and eating the candy and enjoying it with a voiceover explaining the benefits.

Even better would have been paying one of the popular unboxing channels to make that video (well... not too popular or it would be crazy expensive!).

His competitors are already doing this very aggressively (based on a number of channels I've unsubscribed from because I don't want to watch them eat candy), so it seems like it works.

I made a little Elsagate scraper thingy, scrapes video metadata and thumbs of channels and takes note of featured channels, channels mentioned in descriptions and channels videos that get mentioned belong to; then I go through those, tag them as EG or not EG, rinse repeat. My point is that EG channels link lots of channels showing hands unpacking sweets and talking about them (just like they link to official cartoon channels and whatnot).. I'm just seeing this tiny, random fraction, and yet there's so many it did dent my faith in humanity some more.

I really wonder about the target audience, I can't come up with more than toddlers and Anne Wilkens from "Misery"... as for the creators, they "just want to make some money", and I know I'm mean about something that harms nobody and is voluntary to watch. Though I'm not blaming them at all for being linked from EG, I do find them demented in their own right, and can see why EG would approve of them.

> The ad was terrible.

Agree - I found the voiceover in particular, to be very off-putting.

That said however, a brief view of the comments section on the ad showed that more than one person thought the voice was great.

Which kind of leads through to this statement from the article

> Now you might understand why I want to get people not in my target audience to skip – it's cheaper because you don't pay when people skip your ad!

If I didn't use an ad-blocker, and I was ever shown that ad, I would've skipped it straight away just to get away from the irritating voice.

"explaining" is a pretty good technique since Candy Japan is a service that people want, but might not know about. But the ad didn't need to be more than 10 seconds, "Candy Japan sends you different Japanese snacks twice a month. Try something new!". It felt like it repeated itself, and the high-pitched not-actually-japanese konnichiwa was very off-putting.

Spot on. Old talk by Simon Sinek presents it pretty well, start with the why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4&t=3m20s

I've seen that one before, and the only thing I get out of it is "I wouldn't buy a used car from this guy".


'Every car you've ever bought has been used by the time you take it home. Ours just happen to have been used by someone else. Wanna buy one?'

That was a great talk. One of the reasons I love the "TED video" culture. It revolves around pointing out why things everyone knows and feels are obvious...actually work. The "why didn't I think of that explanation" feeling. I guess I just love having my instincts and impulses explained and dissected. Understanding self. Higher platitudes.

Really enjoyed that video, thank you.

I've gotta agree with this, I feel like I should have a subscription like this and couldn't talk myself into it even when I was trying.

What's so cool about Japanese candy? There are a ton of other services out there like this one, why should I get this one? These are the questions I had that talked me out of it.

I say this hoping it helps, I felt really inclined to want to subscribe from past interest and I don't know what keeps me from doing so. Best of luck, and maybe I will in the future regardless ;)

I understand you mainly asked the questions to provide feedback, but as a subscriber i can give you some info that might help you decide:

A lot of the sweets are made with cane sugar, which tastes distinctly different from the typical american fare. Beyond that they also have some taste combinations that you usually don't encounter in the us. Savoury snacks with sea weed tastes are pretty nice.

The "what is Japanese candy like" can be answered by going to ITSUGAR and getting some... well... Japanese candy ( https://itsugar.com/crave-japan-blind-box.html )... or Amazon ( https://www.amazon.com/Japanese-assortment-dagashi-TONOSAMA-... - its even prime - I can get it tomorrow!). After I clicked that link, I've got on the order of 50 different Japanese candy boxes showing up in the "related to items you've viewed". So why Candy Japan rather than another one?

I'll point out that the savory snacks and sea weed are part of the "eww" mindset. When the pitch is "we're going to send you a bunch of random candy" I dread the prospect of opening it up and getting a box of sea weed. The repetition of "unique candy" reinforces that "I'm probably going to get sea weed"

While there may be good candy out there, trying to market it needs to take more into consideration that they're selling to an American sweet tooth. The Japan candy consumer who already has a different subscription service or connection needs to be sold on value (better selection, better quality, better price).

As to the sugar source debate... I've got a fondness for some european candies (particularly the Haribo candy berries). Yes, its a corn syrup base, but even the different traditions in making candy for a different pallet will change the flavor profile. Trips to Ieka find a purchase of Jelly Mice. All that matters at the end of the day is the "does it taste good?"

You may be disappointed if you choose the amazon link. I had a hard time finding any candy in that box. It seems to be made up of mostly senbei (rice crackers) and Umaibou (think Cheetos in a stick). The seaweed makes a lot more sense when you realise that it's savoury, not sweet. For some reason, quite a lot of Japanese children do not like sweets. I don't think any of my friends kids like sweets. Korean style flavoured nori seaweed is a really popular snack (especially with really young children -- 1-4 years of age).

But, getting a bit more on topic, that amazon link is "dagashi", which is just inexpensive snack food. It can contain candy (in that box I notice "Milky" which is a hard candy), but things on the same level of potato chips would be in that category. I don't know for sure, but I think CandyJapan sells only candy. The "It'sugar" link seems to be much more similar.

I'm going to guess that his target market is people who have an interested in Japan (possibly through anime) and would like to try an assortment of Japanese candy. I think his home page does a lot better job of explaining the product than the ad did, so possibly it's something to think about in the future.

The Dagashi point is very good. I was a candyjapan subscriber for a while, and their box contents usually felt like they were high quality products, or at least above average. Never "cheap".

I've even used some of them as gifts for other people based on their quality and taste matches.

> So why Candy Japan rather than another one?

That is a very good question. I don't know if there are comparison review sites, or how reliable they would be.

> I dread the prospect of opening it up and getting a box of sea weed

It sounds like you're not the type of adventurous person who'd care for this in the first place? Your mind went, in a leap of fear, from "tastes of sea weed" to "box of sea weed", which are wildly different concepts.

> different traditions in making candy for a different pallet will change the flavor profile

I'm a german and i've tasted, well, most german candies. And a bunch of american stuff when i visited (lol candy corn). The cane sugar stuff is wildly different even to my palate.

> It sounds like you're not the type of adventurous person who'd care for this in the first place? Your mind went, in a leap of fear, from "tastes of sea weed" to "box of sea weed", which are wildly different concepts.

Personally, I’ll try things. However, a subscription service isn’t try. You have to be sure you want it to subscribe. Without specics, it’s the random grab bag of clearance items sold for a flat rate.

I’ve had problems with poor quality subscription services in the past. Starts out ok, goes downhill.

This campaign is targeted at people who are familiar with the range of Japanese candies, like anime, and don’t already have a subscription to such. I’m not sure how big that audience is nor am I sure if YouTube videos are the way to reach them reliably (most of the time I’m waiting for the skip advert button to show up).

There isn’t any indication to the type or quality that will be sent. There is no indication that one could indicate flavor preference (I don’t like many chocolate varieties).

> Haribo candy berries). Yes, its a corn syrup base,

Are you sure? As far as I can see, Haribo's European products at least are made with sugar.

The EU sets a maximum production quota on high fructose corn syrup, I doubt there would be enough for Haribo to use it. (300,000 tonnes per year is the quota.)

>The EU sets a maximum production quota on high fructose corn syrup

Corn syrup != high fructose corn syrup. Way less sweet and mostly dextrose/glucose. Read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_syrup

Yes, you are right.

I'm not used to the American terms for ingredients, it's labelled glucose syrup in Europe.

The basic gold bears do contain corn syrup, under the name Glukosesirup: http://das-ist-drin.de/Haribo-Goldbaeren-200-g--1256/

> A lot of the sweets are made with cane sugar

A good point for an American, but most other countries in the world use cane sugar too, right?

Cane grows in the tropical areas, so other countries more often use sugar beets.

Agreed. For me, the ad's pacing was too slow and it didn't stoke enough excitement for the candy.

The question is - for $3,000 was it possible to make something much better? If so, is this information readily available / why was it missed?

As a marketer, videographer, and someone with a sweet tooth, I agree that it's a bad ad.

I have no doubt that people could make a 'better' ad within a television format, but that's not what this is. What could be done to improve it given the constraining requirement that the advertiser explicitly wants people who aren't in the target audience to skip the ad after 5s? It needs to be something that people who understand immediately want to watch, people who don't understand but are interesting in Japanese candy don't skip, but also doesn't pique the curiosity of people who don't understand it and aren't interested in Japanese candy. That's a really unusual set of requirements and something that I think would be immensely hard to make a good advert for. As soon as you make something 'better' in the traditional advertising sense people who aren't interested in the product will stop skipping the advert. That means you've failed...

This is the kind of product that should appeal to the heart, not the brain. I'm a rational person that's not going to spend lots of money for candy when I can go to the store and get a bagful for less than $5.00 bux.

But if you hit my nostalgia button or my curiosity then I'll be willing to spend so much more.

Place the how-to video on your site but go for the heart with ads.

That and the voice over actress sounded like someone from the Bronx trying to sound like a child. Her accent was jarring and bled through. Should have had professional ad copy written and voiced by someone who sounds either neutral or Japanese.

Look at all the free advice it elicited. What would it have cost to have people make all the comments on this thread? I reckon this post has accrued its value already.

I disagree. He targeted a specific audience linked to manga and anime. It's likely that demographic already knows the kinds of treats this service would likely offer. They just need to know there's service out there that will get them to you easily and regularly.

Shouldn't there be a group of people who maybe care how Candy Japan works and are curious to find out and perhaps buy some afterwards?

Why didn't it work on those people?

totally agree. showing examples of what candies you would get by subscribing would have been miles better then the animation. also, the blend in of the animation took a full second before you heard a the animated voice say hi. there was a reason Billy Mayes always started a commercial with a loud hi right from the get go.

I wonder if this could be a culture thing?

I thought it was fine

"Fine" is how you go bankrupt. There is way too much competition out there for 'fine' to be enough.

Fun fact, the word "fine" means "the end" in Italian.

Also: "thin", "elegant", "goal".

Is that from a fortune cookie?

How many many Japanese candies by mail services are there, not a lot of competition here ;-)

Sorry for the double reply but I can't edit my previous anymore. I just saw an ad for a "TokyoTreat" while on Facebook too

I think you might have searched for that or "Japan"?

I've never seen any of those.

I'm always seeing ads for Japan Crate on Facebook. If it weren't for HN posts I'd have never heard of Candy Japan.

For an indie effort on a limited budget it was fine. I got the point. I don't need to see the actual candy. If you don't already get the idea of weird candy from other countries not sure illuminating it more would make much difference. If it were me I would have invested a bit more to make 1 or 2 remixes of the ad content to see if one had more traction than the other. But yes, I'm not a successful web marketer.

Are you now a subscriber to the service?


Slight OT - is STMforum a beneficial thing, or a scheme for fleecing money out of marketing newbies? I have a friend looking to promote some unique products in a commodity market (leaving the safe space of Etsy for direct sales) and I was wondering whether STMforum is worth it.

While the Candy Japan lost the revenue on YouTube ads, I wonder how those posts, that hit front HN and certain Reddit subreddits convert.

Would you make money back, if you would include all the signups you will get within next 96 hours? The "mistake" cost you real money, but on the other hand, it allowed you to generate a content on a very interesting topic, that surely will get you thousands of new visitors, right to your website.

Also, the animated video is... well, it is not good. You can easily get highest quality animated videos on Fiverr or PPH for way below $1K.

I would suggest you get featured on unboxing video of some semi-famous guy. I am sure, you will get much more conversions for your buck since those channels are watched by people willing to buy a product.

Candy Japan has hit the top of HN many times. I imagine many people in this HN audience have already converted. Posting here likely has diminishing returns. However, I get the sense that the author truly enjoys writing and sharing his experiences and learnings.

Honestly, I have no idea about ad campaigns. However, I've felt that the ad itself wasn't good enough.

And, when you say "a typical YouTube ad is 30 seconds" doesn't mean you have to make one so long, you could have considered it more as an upper limit instead of a goal. Your message was simple, and i've felt the ad was unnecessarily slow and long. Being more specific, you lost me exactly after the first 8 seconds.

On the other hand, the ad taught me that it's possible to buy japaneses candies easily and where i could get them. If someday I, or one of my friends, want japanese candies, I could simply point to your website. (And in fact, I already made a friend interested about it before reading your post).

Lastly, the ad itself is boring, maybe with some background music or even a voice more like "Hatsune Miku" could been a little more fun to see entirely.

Speaking as a marketer: getting positive ROI on ads is hard. That’s why people hire professional marketers to market things. I often find that non-marketers think they can do marketing, and then when it doesn’t work, they tend to blame the platform. I hire engineers to do engineering work, and likewise business owners should hire marketers to do marketing work.

It's really REALLY hard to separate the real professionals from charlatans especially in the marketing world.

As a marketer, videographer, and someone with a sweet tooth, it's not a great ad. Get to the point. Show the actual product. Tease me with things I can expect to receive. Maybe show reaction videos of people opening and trying the candy (and loving it).

Also, you'd probably get higher ROI sending $14k worth of Candy Japan to YouTubers in the hopes they'd open it on their vlog and mention the website.

I read some of the comments on that video, many look similar in style talking about a 'scam', or have a negative tone. Is it possible those are planted from a competitor, or do video ads often have feedback like that?

It's the "Here is how it works" section of the ad. The wording is very close to the standard "enter your personal details on a shady website to get free stuff" scam. I think that's also the reason so many commenters seemed to believe he was offering something for free.

I'm not a marketer, but it would probably have helped to have the phrase "you pay us" or similar in there somewhere, even without mentioning the price.

The ad isn't good, and this component doesn't help. It feels far closer to a scam than it does a product. It's not personal.

Good post, some nice lessons there for someone entirely new to this.

Perhaps a missed opportunity was not advertising the domain name during the entire video. Often a user may not have the volume up and so perhaps providing a textual call to action in the first half continuously would help with conversions?

>But the cool part is that you can also track when someone views your ad, and then a bit later types in your web address to make the purchase without ever clicking the link.

>In other words you can track both people who click through an ad directly, or who see your ad and then visit your site a bit later

How does this work?

Most larger ad networks track post-view conversion - that is, someone viewed an ad but didn't click on it, and then later visited the advertiser's site anyway - using a "conversion pixel." The ad network provides each advertiser with a HTML or JS snippet that loads an 1x1 pixel image or makes a similar small HTTP request to the ad network.

The ad network records a post-view conversion if either:

1. The ad network cookie that was set when the ad was served is still present, or

2. A user was logged in to the publisher's site (Google, Twitter, etc) when they viewed the ad, and is also logged in when they visit the advertiser's site.

#2 is also how most cross-device tracking occurs. For example, if you're logged in to Twitter on your phone and see a Twitter ad, then type in the advertiser's URL on your desktop where you're also logged in to Twitter (and the advertiser has Twitter's conversion pixel on their site), Twitter will record a cross-device post-view conversion.

Here are examples:

Twitter: https://business.twitter.com/en/advertising/campaign-types/i...

AdWords (for YouTube impressions): https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/2375431?hl=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/business/a/performance-marketing-st...

Aside from blocking the ads, uBlock Origin blocks the conversion pixels/requests for the largest ad networks.

Often a conversion pixel snippet is used alongside retargeting/remarketing. Some ad networks use #2 above to do quite sophisticated retargeting, not just targeting those who viewed a specific page. For example, Google lets advertisers retarget AdWords ads to those who liked a video in the advertiser's YouTube channel: https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/2545661?hl=en&ref_...

Very interesting. Now, suppose I interpret this kind of action as spying on me, and I want to stop it, are there ways around it? Is not logging on to Google etc. and using the Privacy Badger extension enough, or do I have to ramp up the arms race further?


All ads and tracking can be blocked if you want them to. Its a arms race.

Adblocking extensions like uBlock Origin. Privacy Badger is a good tool that looks to specifically aim to block things like conversion pixels, so that should be protecting you already from this class of things.

uBlock Origin with EasyList and EasyPrivacy (https://easylist.to/) enabled blocks nearly everything that’s practical to block. Note that EasyPrivacy may need to be manually enabled in uBlock extension settings.

Disabling third-party cookies (desktop and mobile) is also easy to do. The only thing I’ve seen this break is inline support chat widgets. Enough clients have third-party cookies disabled (Safari defaults to disabled) that the chat widgets usually test for it and show an explicit message.

It’s much harder to block anything based on being logged in to a site (Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc), because:

* for retargeting based on intentional actions done while logged in (such as liking a YouTube channel): these can always get recorded, since the requests must succeed in order to complete the action you wanted.

* for conversion tracking: the hostname and even path of the conversion request can be very similar to that of an intentional request (like to login with SSO or to show content inline). The filter list entry is more brittle.

* for retargeting based on something done on a mobile device: you’ll need an ad blocker on the mobile device as well.

uBlock Origin with EasyList and EasyPrivacy gets as close as any other simple approach, though.

If you’re significantly more motivated, don’t browse while logged in to Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook (and set their cookie duration short, like the current session). For most people, this is past the point of diminishing returns. If you change only 1, make it Google; it has the largest market share of advertisers, has the most services to target based on, and has the largest inventory.

Otherwise, put your money where your preferences are: move to FastMail or the like. Not because there’s anything wrong with Gmail (there’s not), or because they’re unethical (I have no reason to think they are), but because their product choices don’t meet your privacy preferences.

Hopefully anyone reading this far has already done it, but if not, pause everything on Google Activity Control: https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols

Assuming Google Analytics tying it all together.

And perhaps spying through Google searches and chrome? I guess Google never spies on you except by proxy via analytics - but then, if they correlate views on YouTube with analytic hits, that's not really true.

Anyway, the above, as well as:

> If that still doesn't make your campaign profitable, there are broader exclusions and bid adjustments you can make based on age, gender, device, location, parental status and household income.

Really stood out to me - if anyone needed further evidence that Google is still an ad company, and that the free services are about driving ad traffic.

It'll be interesting to see how GDPR affects this. I suppose the sad truth is that Google/alphabet has built a ton of cash on the back of user data, and now no-one else will be able to that as this particular form of business becomes illegal.

But Google is big enough to shift into other growth markets like media manipulation/lobbying and defence contracts etc.

Google does use the "anonymous" usage stats from Chrome to inform AdWords. Source: I personally developed on this feature. Response to rebuttal: the tree you're looking at isn't actually what's complied into the Chrome binary.

I currently work at Google, and from what I know and have seen about how we handle privacy internally I'd be really surprised and appalled if that was the case. Mind sending me more details? My nickname @google.com.

Anonymous reporting in Chrome has been one of the leading use cases for differential privacy at Google. See e.g. https://github.com/google/rappor and https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.c... which specifically mentions the Chrome use case. This seems to indicate the people who work on this do care at least in some amount about privacy.

(Given the fact that you use a throwaway account I'm very much not expecting to see anything else than FUD, but hey, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.)

Fairly obvious that Google uses upstream chromium then adds in all of the proprietary g APIs and anonymous usage statistics after the fact.

Cookies are used and track both the ads you've seen and clicked on. Combine that with on-site analytics tags and you can see the campaign and traffic sources. View-through and click-through conversions are very standard in advertising.

Also yes, Google is an advertising company. I'm not sure when perception around that ever changed? Their biggest new avenue though is their Google Cloud Platform which has the potential in the future to make more than their entire business combined.

>Really stood out to me - if anyone needed further evidence that Google is still an ad company, and that the free services are about driving ad traffic.

97% of their income is through ads. Maps, Docs, email, Google Plus, Youtube, even Search - it all exists only to increase advertisement profits, and to get ever more minable data from the users. If the ads money ever dries up for whatever reason, the entire company goes belly up.

> But Google is big enough to shift into other growth markets like media manipulation/lobbying and defence contracts etc.

They're already the number one single company in lobbying, beating out AT&T and Boeing:


I imagine DoD would love smarter autonomous drones and tanks. They bought Boston Dynamics awhile back, makers of seriously creepy things:


They'll do just fine when the ad bubble bursts.

Google sold Boston Dynamics last summer to Softbank. Their next big moneymaker is the Google Cloud Platform which competes with AWS and Azure.

These are called conversion pixels, Google Analytics should have nothing to do with it (assuming there is a Chinese wall between AdWords, Doubleclick, GDN and Google Analytics.) Obviously Google offers some built-in integration within its products but you can achieve this within the ad-buying platform itself.

I really like the honesty about how he lost money buying youtube ads...feels like there's definitely a market for an self-serve "pay x amount a month" for "y results" app if you will.

That doesn't exist because it's impossible. Advertising doesn't work like that and anyone who could actually guarantee results would become bigger than Google overnight.

They don't have to guarantee results - Companies are becoming disillusioned about Ads as it is (since they don't understand technology and/or can't compete with companies that do)...we need a platform where such companies go back doing their core-services if you will and leave the rest to experts - As an example - a B2B company making some airplane part does not need to host it's own marketing site (for it's sales pipeline), measure KPIs on this site etc. - Instead, it could pay $X to an self-serve app, and let them manage everything about said content (maybe even help with the content creation as well) to achieve measurable results Y (KPIs).

That's called a marketing agency, and they come in all shapes and sizes. If you're a very small company then there are plenty of freelancer marketers that can help you out, even if it's just to setup a basic framework for running campaigns.

An "app" would not be sufficient to handle any of the complexity here.

So a self-serve app that would replace the different expertises (creatives, media buying etc) in advertising agencies?

An unfortunate part of experimenting with advertising is that it's expensive. Trying to find the right audience for the ad is very costly, to the point where I don't understand how advertisers can afford it.

I say this as a tinfoil-hat person: narrowing the audience is going to need a lot more info about the person. Particularly, their browsing history (i.e. remarketing). Knowing this would raise the conversion ratio immensely at the cost of privacy.

Very useful post thanks. I didn't like your ad though. It doesn't show me the product. Every food item ad I've seen: slow pan on the food product and then someone eating it - inserted somewhere in the sequence. (Given that they all do this, I would bet there are million dollar marketing budgets somewhere with data to support that this works.)

> Nope. I lost money.

At least your article got on the front page of HN. That should count for something.

Candyjapan and some businesses from patio11 occasionally makes it to front page. They write very informative posts.

I wish he had crossposted it to steemit as well, because I found it really valuable and my upvote there is now worth ~$40.

I wish sites like steemit realised if their front page is all meta content about how good the site/coin/blockchain is, it looks like a scam.

Instead of spending 3k on the animation, you could try the way gaming companies does it.

It looks to me that they grab the first 10 people off the street, pay them $10 to read a script (really bad awkward scripts as well!) and do 10 videos like that.

They are everywhere so it must be working and it must be cheap as well.

TLDR: YouTube Ads not as efficient as blog posts about YouTube Ads

The author can't really be totally certain if they lost money though, since it's entirely possible the ad will make an effect on people long-term. Maybe they'll break even in a few months, who knows.

To the first order the author can say they have. That’s reasonable enough given the scale of the operation. Higher order effects are for higher order budgets.

2 observations:

1) A video ad is potentially a poor environment for direct response signups in this case. People usually just want to watch the video they clicked on (unless maybe you're advertising on videos about Japanese candy — but in that case it might me more effective to sponsor videos by a popular video producer / channel (what SquareSpace does with Lessons From The Screenplay etc). At least with a sponsorship you can have a link in the description that doesn't disappear in 30 seconds.

2) Going a bit further, something like this is ideal for content marketing on Instagram (et al). I looked for an example of an account that posts novel Japanese candies. Low and behold the top two are both content marketing for similar services. https://www.instagram.com/tokyotreat/?hl=en https://www.instagram.com/japancandybox/?hl=en

$14k will get you a lot of pretty photos, posts, hashtags, follows, comments, etc. You continue to own your audience going forward and you end up with a neat little online publication / channel, which is a great jumping off point for other types of organic publicity (news quotes, etc).

Disclosure(?): I do content marketing / PR and formerly worked for a video platform on the product side.

30% of people who don't skip the ad seems extremely high. I wonder how many of them were just children clicking through cartoons.

While most of us happily discuss what Candy Japan's CEO did right and wrong with his Youtube ads, they miss one little thing:

Candy Japan, the master of upvoted stories on HN, burned $14K on Youtube to have another story for HN which brings attention, traffic and new subs. Still: The thread is full of super important infos, so all good.

Being a few hours on the front page of HN is definitely not worth $14k.

I ordered a voiceover with a professional actress reading out the lines properly.

Where does a person order voiceovers?

A friend is a voice actor. She is listed with an agency.

Contacts are anything from adverts to video games to an interactive display in a science museum to a telephone "press 1" system.

If you have played a video game with a voice acting not from a famous performer/actor, those are typically done by professionals who specialize in voiceover roles, almost all these will be credited in the video game listing on imdb.com and the performer's contact or agency info is linked from there.

I (well my company) hired one before, we didn't need anything fancy or specific at all - just a professional voice.

She worked for a voiceover company, but I don't remember the name. We called her company up and said we needed xxx word narration.

The voice-over market has a lot of dedicated sites. Check out voices.com for one.

Fiverr, Upwork, plenty of places

voice bunny

Speaking to a few anime/manga fans I know Bemmu has to compete with giants like J-List who dominate this space. Then there are local "Kawaii companys" in each region, for example Tofu Cute in the UK.

Why doesn't the Candy Japan Website have prominent links to Twitter and other social media?

Have you thought about using Social media more? Let's look at Twitter. Bemmu has almost 6,000 twitter followers, I'm guessing the Candy Japan Twitter account is @candyjapanese with about 250 followers?

While rivals - http://www.japancandybox.com/ has 23K follows and J-List has 155K followers.

Bemmu presented this very same topic in person at a previous HN Kansai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hs30WPkRpsY

As others have mentioned, the ad isn’t a good use case for this kind of blind marketing. There is simply no hook, evocation and it’s not emotional. It would work better as a landing page video to further explain the service to an already engaged potential customer, but not to new prospects targeted with route filters.

I think it could work a lot better as is if it was used for retargeting. i.e. people who have already been cookied and visited your site but haven’t yet made a purchase, or clicked through on some of your email marketing.

I wonder if there is "brand awareness" element that resulted from this ad campaign.

It's not immediately obvious - but it may be a prolonged subtle benefit resulted from it.

I don’t understand. You didn’t do any alternative testing? Why not?

Whenever I test a new channel I start by making variations to test different factors, so that I can learn what works and what doesn’t. I feel like a lot of people run ads but don’t quite get the concept of running a campaign.

My suggestion would be to try that next time... while you didn’t make money the real question your left with is what could you change to actually make money?

Loved be writeup! Thank you.

I only spent $75k in my life on ads but I had a x2 average ROI on it. The first thing is: you need at min. 30 different ad variations. Copy, animation, video, value proposition, pricing, landing page. Same with audiences. That's just the minimum. Therefore, standardized ones are obviously a no-no. With 1 variation, you've just - as you rightly wrote - burned the money.

A lot of things are wrong with this ad. That is a lot of money to spend without an experienced media buyer or consultant.

I agree with some of the other commenters the Candy Japan is a product that appeals to the soul not our brain. I doubt there isn't a better ad that could have been made to sell Candy Japan more effectively at a lower cost.

This should not be a lesson in avoiding all ads, not all ads are made equal.

I'm not sorry to say that Candy Japan will never see any of my money for the simple fact that there's no way that I'll sign up for anything that expects a recurring charge. The whole "service" attitude is flawed in that this is not a service, software as a whole is not a "service" it's an end product. Good for everyone whose pulling money out of these schemes but not a single cent of it will come from me. And $29/mo * 12 = $348 per year. (forming assumptions about the contract i.e. predatory "cancel early" clause and similar) On candy? give me a break, I don't spend that on candy over 5 years even if you include other needless crap like soda and sports drinks I doubt I'd hit that number over 5 years.

I should also add that I'm the epitome of anti-advertisement. The more that I am forced to see (thinking of YT style of ads here) an ad, the more likely I am to NOT* use that product or service. In fact, the more likely I am to purposely avoid that product out of spite.

14k is nothing. Lookup how much a single billboard beside a highway costs.

I watch youtube all the time. I some ads, at least the first few seconds. I have never clicked on one deliberately and certainly would never be a convert, but i do know these companies exist. That is worth something.

Apple pays $50k/month for that billboard sign in SF.

Billboards around here (Philly) are listing themselves as $10K/6mo

$3k/month for a billboard here

And how much to generate and install the picture upon it? 14k isnt very far away.

Great read. I am in a similar place with a small business. We have a commercial and animation and are considering doing YouTube ads. It sounds like it might be worth doing if the service is profitable enough per user. Really appreciate this detailed writeup of his experience.

I think it's easy to have a takeaway like "you will make money if you are profitable enough per user", but this depends a lot on how good your targeting is, and just how compelling your product & ad are.

If I were going to spend 5 figures on an ad campaign I wouldn't write the ad myself, I'd hire a professional marketer. I think that's the biggest mistake: you only get a few seconds to capture someone's attention on YouTube.

I posted this [0] on you 2017 review post. Wish you would at least try it. For some reason I think it could work.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16015617

Since it’s a bidding system, someone’s getting good returns on these ads and I’d speculate it’s just a small handful of people who actually hit a sweet spot, with the rest filled by people doing temporary campaigns or testing out campaigns.

Margin and volume are the key to advertising. Coca cola needs to sell a lot of extra coke to make a return, and they do.

At the other end, car companies. You only need to move a tiny fraction of people left or right on a $20K purchase to justify a hell of a lot of ads. 1,000 car buyers changing from a Toyota to a Hyundai is a massive return.

The number one rule of spending money on digital ads is to spend a small amount on many different ads before spending lots of money on one. This is doubly true today when a guy will make you an awesome video ad for $25 on Fiverr.

> In other words you can track both people who click through an ad directly, or who see your ad and then visit your site a bit later (this is known as a "view-through conversion"). It's magic.

It's not magic, just evil.

At least he's getting some good SEO-friendly clicks out of the blog post ;-)

Since a lot of marketeers seem to be here. I have a small webshop, anyone willing to improve my monthly ( 400 € revenue) to more through ads on commission ( adwords only currently)?

Only handling dutch currently, niche - swimming

IMHO this is the right stuff if you want to sell japanese candies with a video:


I love Candy Japan and the articles are always fantastic. However, I can't help but wonder what about CJ is so captivating to the Hacker News audience - the posts seem to always end up on the front page.

They usually contains real world business cases from point-of-view of a technical person. Thats fits well with a large portion of HN users.

Also, green tea kit kats!

>YouTube allows you to pay to show an ad before a video plays.

Is also the reason why I installed an adblocker.

I do not know if anybody still remembers the time when ads were not intrusive and did not try to hog all the CPU cycles.

Do the ads use any more CPU cycles than the regular video does?

And which are more intrusive, TV ads or youtube ads? I can skip youtube ads.

I haven't used an ad blocker so far, because I don't browse a lot of sites with ads, but have started seriously considering it when, last week, Youtube started to feed me with unskippable five minutes long ads. Five. Freaking. Unskippable. Minutes. Infuriating.

Fortunately(?), reloading the page made them skipped.

That sounds like a bug. All ads longer than 30 seconds should be skippable: https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/2679940?hl=e...

That sucks, and certainly would be frustrating. If something like that happens, sending feedback (right click and select “Trouble shoot playback issue”) can help (and no, those feedback reports aren’t just sent to /dev/null; they really are helpful!). Additionally, some employees have been known to lurk on r/youtube, but they might request the debug info for the playback (again, right click on the video; do this while the ad is playing and save it for later if you/someone needs it).

Disclaimer: I work at YouTube, but I’m just posting this in a personal capacity and don’t represent my employer in any way.

My favorite ad related story is I went to YouTube to see a movie trailer and got the very same movie trailer as the unskippable ad before the trailer :-D It's rare things get that good though..

Makes one wish we'd get closer to 100% adblock coverage...

Who do you think pays for the content you consume?

Myself, obviously.

Sometimes it's Patreon or Netflix between me and the content creator

Other times they show me a video that attempts to influence me to go to the store, pick up a different brand of detergent, then the store gives money to the multinational behind the brand, then the multinational gives the money to an ad agency, then the ad agency give the money to Youtube, then Youtube gives the money to the content creator. Except I buy store-brand detergent, so this pipeline leaks a lot.

So what? Do you feel obliged in any way to watch the ads on tv? And yet they pay for the programmes...

Advertisers do. If the economics stop making sense then the content stops being created. As a consumer it’s not my concern as to how money is made. That’s the creators job.

The end result is either you're paying for the content or someone else is. And if someone else is, it'll be on their terms and not yours.

Unless I'm using a content blocker and can watch the "content" without accepting intrusive ads and profiling, then it's on my terms.

I can live without the "content". If the "content" is made by somebody who thinks creating "content" on the internet is a viable substitute for a day job and advertisements are an acceptable way of making money, then I would prefer they rather create no "content" at all.

Businesses will find a way just like how cryptocurrencies will find a way to scale /s

Believe it or not, you can actually save even more CPU cycles, precious as they are, by not visiting the sites that show the ads you find so offensive.

A good approach might be to just produce videos and integrate them with the blog until you hit something that looks like a system and relatively viral. Then with that content go to the ad networks.

> I assumed to trigger a keyword match, the video title or description would have to match it. This turned out not to be the case.

Does Youtube extract the keywords from the speech in the videos?

Love the shout-out to Bingo Card Creator in the article.

The real ad is the blog post on front page of HN.

could people with a love for Japanese candy do for me what Candy Japan couldn't, mainly suggest some great things to try? I've ordered a ton of different black licorice/salmiakki from Scandanavia and Germany (fazer salmiakki filled chocolate bar? oh my Lord yes) and need another adventure!

Possibly somebody else will be able to help you, but I'm going to have to say that in nearly a decade of living here I haven't really found anything really mind blowing in terms of candy. Which is not to say that Japanese sweets aren't amazing - do a google image search of "wagashi". The problem is that these aren't candies and they don't really travel that well. You pretty much have to come to Japan to try them.

When I was living in Canada I managed to find some things. For example daifuku (mochi rice with sweet bean paste inside) is amazing (I especially like goma daifuku, which is unfortunately not popular where I live). Manju (steamed buns with sweet bean paste, etc inside) can probably be frozen and shipped. But it's just not really that good when not fresh.

For actual candy that's available almost everywhere: Pocky is nice -- not exactly mind blowing, like I said, but pleasant. Where I live "matcha chocolate" is popular and worth trying. It's basically coco butter with ground green tea in it. There are even various versions of Kitkat with green tea flavours. Actually Kitkat flavours are pretty crazy in Japan -- some of them are even good. My town is a test centre for Kitkat, so I get to try all of them (as well as Coca Cola -- Peach Coca Cola is horrible, just in case it makes it out of here).

Basically, as far as I know (and would be glad to be proven wrong) Japan doesn't really have a long history of candy making, so the candy you are likely to find is basically just variants of candy that came from other places. There are some exceptions, but I can't imagine the traditional candies I've had being particularly popular for anything other than nostalgia (for example pressed soy bean sugar).

so... I did say to myself to be a good guy and not to use ad bocker... did you try that on your site?!?

tldr: "In conclusion, did you break even? Nope. I lost money." "

I too have lost money on adwords, and have a feeling it is more the rule than exception.

Sure, Google's $100bn/yr revenue is all just charity from people losing money /s

tl;dr like nearly all internet advertising it wasn't worth it other than for the experience

I'm interested if a free spot at the top of hacker news hot articles will end up being better in terms of advertisement than spending ~$14k on youtube ads.

This is totally tangent but while the cost is perhaps not always quantifiable in dollars every post that makes it up here has the cost of some story behind it. In this case that is a $14k story on top of building the company.

This „free“ spot is precisely because the author spent the 14k...

proof of burn

I love the marketing industry. Everyone is overfishing in the same ocean. People's income don't increase much year to year but internet ad spending sees double digit growth!

My budget allows me to spend €500 on entertainment/leisure per month. You can bombard me with advertising all day but that's not going to change my finances.

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