Video excellence - Made With Purpose

With a depressing 94% skip rate and miserable overall approval of 20%, pre-roll ads seem to be the most hated form of online advertising (after inescapable pop-up windows). As viewers skip, mute, or simply watch them with faces turning red, it seems odd why anyone would get involved in this lose-lose situation and risk undermining their brand in the first place.

Reason is, when understood and made well, these short pre-roll ads are wonderfully informative or entertaining, and can be great for raising awareness, driving traffic, and engaging your selected audience in a precise and measurable way.

This post outlines some more unusual and creative ways to harness the full potential of pre-roll ads and get those worthwhile views from the increasingly impatient web user.


Pre-roll ads: good targeting and even better video

One thing that makes in-stream advertising on YouTube such an appealing marketing opportunity is the power of the targeting tools at your disposal.

Google AdWords for video offers targeting by demographics, location, categories and topics, interests, placements, and keywords.

And behold, as here lays one of the golden keys to a successful campaign. Making the pre-roll ad’s positioning, tone, content and message as relevant as possible to the context in which it’s going to be viewed will increase its impact.

On the other hand, overly narrow targets might push your pre-roll ad into obscurity and result in a significant drop in the total impressions. So a careful, well thought-out targeting strategy should form the solid foundation of a good campaign.

And on this foundation comes to sit the actual video. A tailored, interesting, concept-led pre-roll ad created to be shown precisely where intended – right before that cat video on YouTube.

One thing this advert should definitely not be is anything resembling a dragged-out TV spot or equally bad a shortened version of a dragged out TV spot edited on the cheap. Nothing misses the point so much as long, slow-burning commercials structured by olden day television’s rules which only start making sense towards the end.

A big no. This sounds rather obvious, but there is a multiplicity of such ‘lazy’ pre-roll ads cluttering the internet, annoying people and further negativising the format. Or put more bluntly by CNet’s executive editor: ‘For digital video to live, the 30-second pre-roll ad must die’.

An effective and modern pre-roll ad should ideally be between 5 and 15 seconds long, offer some interactivity or at least some call-to-actions, and if not led by a particularly strong creative concept – to mention the product within the first 5 unskippable seconds.

There are several ways to approach making an interesting and engaging pre-roll ad. Here are some general trends that have been hailed as successful across the web.


Offer control through interactivity

When it comes to forward-thinking digital advertising, interactivity seems to be the most desirable new feature of ads, but here it takes a slightly different meaning.

The solution offered by Solve Media uses a well-known everyday practice. The Type-In unit overlaid over the ad invites the viewer to type a certain message in a box in order to continue to the searched content. This uses the century-old technique of learning by repetition or rewriting.

The psychology of this method is similar to the Slide-to-skip, but better suited to getting the viewer to read and actually remember a certain message:



Empathise with your viewers

Some companies have decided to capitalise on the fact that most viewers strongly dislike pre-roll ads. Using both the power of precise targeting and a strong concept, based on empathy with the viewer’s negative experience, Burger King and Colenso BBDO have come up with 64 versions of the same Anti Pre-Roll ad showcasing their new meal deals.

They have tailored and attached them to different topics and keywords their youthful audience presumably search for on YouTube. Despite being self-aware and slightly phony, the campaign surely stands out, engages users in a creative way and is therefore considered quite successful:



Another company which has decided that truth is the best policy is Volkswagen. In their 5-second pre-roll ad for the new Beatle, they go beyond mere empathy, and skip their own ad for you with the help of an animated mouse pointer.

The message is clear and works on multiple levels – from your car to the way you watch videos online, we understand your needs. Less talking, and more doing:



Surprise and challenge

By far one of the most discussed creative pre-roll ads in recent times is Nail Communications’ ASPCA video. Done as an experiment in creating an ‘unskippable’ ad, it not only achieved view through rates of 26% (more than triple the normal 6-8% that pre-rolls get), proved that budget pre-rolls could be successful, but also made some money for the charity.

It uses reverse psychology as its underlying method to challenge our expected skipping behaviour, but also uses a shock factor (excuse the pun) to surprise the viewer and call them to action:



Another similar pre-roll ad which uses the power of reverse psychology is for food delivery app Eat24. With the bravado and humour of a circus clown it has a uniquely funny, silly and, in fact, effective approach:



Simply entertain

Sometimes all a pre-roll ad needs to grab and hold a viewer’s attention for the next few seconds is entertainment value.

In the case of Freeview’s ‘The Left Behinds’ campaign this is a well-known 80s power ballad and some excellent CGI and/or puppetry. The wonder of how the toys have been made to move and sing is only the first level of marvel, but when the bridge and chorus of Foreigner’s classic hit in, it’s all nostalgia trips for some and immediate Friday night mood for others.

The advert preceded (and interrupted) some very popular programmes on Channel 4’s On Demand player, but who would even think of tuning out or muting such an excellent opportunity for some loud singing and passionate ‘air grabs’:



Pre-roll ads: 5 seconds to show the world

Thanks to the proliferation of apps like Snapchat, the 5-second format for video advertising has become increasingly popular.

So much so, that there is a whole festival in the United States dedicated to the art of the 5-second clip. Recent research by MTV has also concluded that super-short video advertising is the most engaging and entertaining format to web audiences. And to exemplify the applicability of this allegedly future-proof way of advertising, here are four great examples of how much punch 5 seconds can actually pack:





The 5-second format seems an exciting opportunity to tap into a new trend, but what becomes clear from the different types of successful pre-roll ads is that creativity and good understanding of your viewer are what really gets people interested.

This article was published in February 2015. You might also be interested in the more recent post on pre-roll adverts