Everything you need to know about pre-roll ads

Considering adding pre-roll ads to your marketing strategy? Find out how they work, how you can use them in your marketing campaigns and five things you need to do to make them effective.

What is a pre-roll ad?

A pre-roll ad is a video ad that automatically plays before the online video content that someone has chosen to watch. Sometimes pre-roll ads are repurposed TV ads that have been shortened. On other occasions, they are content that has been created specifically for this purpose.

Generally pre-roll video ads are 15, 30 or 60 seconds long and they usually encourage people to click through to a landing page. On some platforms, such as Twitter, pre-roll ads are skippable, which means (as we will go into further later) they need to work hard to get attention and engagement.

Why do pre-roll ads work?

Pre-roll ads can be a powerful way to get your brand or offering in front of people. They are shown to people who have chosen to watch a video, so these people are engaged and alert, and they are often prepared to sit through a very short ad in order to get to their content. This means there is a fairly high chance they will see your ad for at least a few seconds.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that a 2017 study by IPG Media Lab and YuMe showed that pre-roll videos are highly effective for brand awareness, brand engagement and brand favourability. In fact, the research discovered that pre-roll ads are more than three times less likely to be considered disruptive than outstream and mid-roll ad formats on both desktop and mobile.

They also have much greater levels of recall: for aided ad recall, pre-roll ads achieved 69% on desktop and 72% on mobile, compared to just 19% on desktop and 28% on mobile for outstream, and 26% on desktop and 39% on mobile for mid-roll.

Across all three formats, pre-roll ads also scored highest on both desktop and mobile for ‘informative’ and ‘engaging’.

Further research by Nielsen in a study commissioned by Facebook learned that video ads had an immediate impact:

Results show that from the moment a video ad was viewed (even before one second), lift happened across ad recall, brand awareness, and purchase consideration. That means even people who never watched the video, but did see the impression, were still impacted by the ad. And, as expected, lift increased the longer people watched the ad.

According to Facebook’s research, people who watched less than three seconds of a video ad accounted for up to 47% of the total campaign value, and people who watched less than 10 seconds accounted for up to 74%, depending on the metric.

So even if people only watch a few seconds of a pre-roll ad, according to research the ad still has value, and aids brand awareness, making pre-roll ads an important part of any full lifecycle marketing campaign.

Are skippable or non-skippable pre-roll ads best?

When planning your pre-roll ad campaign, depending on the placement, you may need to decide between making ads skippable or non-skippable. As the names suggest, with skippable ads people can choose not to watch the remainder of the ad after a few seconds. However with non-skippable ads they are forced to watch the whole ad if they wish to see the content they are waiting for.

As you might imagine, non-skippable pre-roll ads have a higher completion rate (80%). Compare this to a completion rate of around 40% for a highly successful skippable ad, and it is easy to see why some brands are tempted to make their ads non-skippable.

However, we know from the research above that people don’t need to see an ad in its entirety to recall your brand and products. So even if your ad is skippable, it should have an impact. And your pre-roll ads should always be part of a wider retargeting campaign, which means a single ad doesn’t need to do all the work itself.

Weigh this up against the potential frustration of someone who has to sit through an ad they aren’t interested in, just to watch the content they have chosen to watch and you can see there is brand value in giving people the option to skip your full ad.

Five things the best pre-roll ads have in common

So how can you ensure your pre-roll ads achieve your campaign goals? Here are five things the best pre-roll ads have in common.

1. They make the most of the first five seconds

Your pre-roll ad may be up to 60 seconds long, but you have no guarantee of grabbing your audience’s attention for that long. That is why it is so important to make the most of the first five seconds. Here are two reasons why this is essential:

  1. People may only watch the first five seconds, so you want to ensure they take something away from your ad
  2. If you grab people’s interest and attention in the first five seconds they are more likely to watch the rest of your ad

It is also vital to get the call to action (CTA) in your ad as early as possible too, so any interested people can take action easily and swiftly.

So when planning your pre-roll ads, focus on making sure the first five seconds of content attracts attention, is memorable, encourages people to keep watching, and contains a call to action.

2. They add value

So we know it is important that your pre-roll ads are engaging and memorable, but how exactly can you achieve this? The answer is to make sure they add value.

Simply shouting about how great you are and what you do isn’t going to capture anyone’s interest. Instead, consider the people you want to notice and engage with your ad, and what they need and want to know and do. Then either ensure that your ad is helpful or entertaining (or both).

Don’t forget that your ad is temporarily blocking them from accessing the video content they really want to see. So you need to work hard to make sure that they not only don’t mind seeing your ad, but actually enjoy it and get value from it.

3. They elicit surprise and joy

When creating video ads, your creative is almost as important as your messaging. After all, you can have the most compelling message, but if your creative is dull and uninspiring people are much less likely to pay enough attention to see your message.

When planning your creative there are two words to aim for: surprise and joy. According to research published by the Journal of Marketing Research, “Surprise and joy effectively concentrate attention and retain viewers”.

And it makes sense. After all, if you are surprised by an ad it is going to capture your attention and curiosity. And who doesn’t like to feel joy? If an ad makes you feel happy and uplifted surely you are more likely to spend more time with it and remember it. As Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

That said, don’t try to ‘trick’ customers with artificial emotions, as, according to research ads with fake emotions put people off.

4. They are part of a clever DCO retargeting strategy

A single pre-roll video ad alone is unlikely to achieve your goals. Instead, you need to see it as part of a more sophisticated lifecycle campaign that includes dynamic creative optimisation (DCO) retargeting.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you show people a pre-roll ad for your outdoor supplies store, and someone engages with it but doesn’t buy. The next weekend is forecasted to be a heatwave and the country is going BBQ crazy, so in the run-up to the weekend you serve this person an ad for BBQ and garden supplies referencing the heatwave and with testimonials from happy customers and showing your five-star review rating. They show interest in outdoor dining, so you then serve them another ad with a time-limited offer on outdoor dining products.

By this point they have been exposed to your brand, seen social proof to reassure them you are a trusted retailer, seen a timely selection of your products, then seen a targeted ad that showed them products they were interested in, with a time-limited discount. In effect, your campaign has moved them from brand awareness (your pre-roll ad) to convert (retargeting).

The point is that your pre-roll ad alone is unlikely to do all the conversion work. Instead you need to see it as part of a more extensive campaign that enables you to build that all-important know, like, trust factor with customers and nurture them through your lifecycle.

5. They send people to a bespoke landing page

This may seem like obvious advice, but you’d be surprised how often brands get it wrong! If you are running a pre-roll ad with a specific message, or even promoting specific products or services, you need to ensure the page your ad sends people to corresponds.

Sending people to a generic web page that doesn’t refer or connect to where they have come from is confusing and jarring, and breaks the brand experience. They could even wonder whether they have accidentally clicked on the wrong link.

So if you are going to invest in pre-roll ads, ensure they are part of a smooth, joined-up brand experience that takes people on a journey and nurtures them through to taking the desired action.

Ready to make pre-roll ads part of your marketing strategy? How we can help

If you are ready to make pre-roll ads part of your marketing strategy, you need an experienced programmatic partner like Crimtan who can run a full lifecycle DCO campaign.

Why? Because whatever format your digital campaigns may be, there are three things you need to maximise success:

  1. To be able to build lots of interesting audiences (using DMP)
  2. To have inventory opportunities to deliver against those audiences (using DSP)
  3. To deliver a relevant message within those inventory opportunities (using DCO)

We have all the technology in one place: DMP, DSP and DCO. Not only does this reduce the risk of data wastage and leakage, but we can monitor customers as they move through your entire lifecycle, giving you far improved data, superior attribution and greater transparency.

If you are ready to make pre-roll ads part of your marketing strategy, get in touch and find out how we can help.