The Art of the YouTube Pre-Roll Ad

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Stop and think about your daily browsing habits for a minute. Consider the sites you visit regularly and the types of content you consume, whether for work or leisure.

Now ask yourself: How much of that time is spent watching videos on YouTube?

If the answer is “a whole lot,” you’re not alone. YouTube is the second most popular search engine on the Web. Users across the world collectively watch up to 1 billion hours worth of videos on it each day.

Yep. That’s “billion” with a B. In a single day.

It’s no surprise, then, that YouTube is a valuable channel for advertisers. With so many people watching—sometimes for hours at a time—it presents the perfect opportunity to reach potential customers at a time that they’re already paying attention.

This is exactly where the pre-roll ad comes in handy.

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What Are Pre-Roll Ads and How Do They Work?

Pre-roll ads are a type of advertisement that plays—you guessed it—before a video. These spots are commonly 15, 30, or 60 seconds in length, often with the option of skipping after five seconds.

skippable pre-roll ad

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While pre-roll ads also appear on a wide range of video platforms and media sites, YouTube is the Big One. Some additional platforms which support pre-roll advertising include Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed, and Vevo.

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What are the Benefits of Running Pre-Roll Ads?

While there are many people who say these ads can be annoying, they also help users gain awareness of new products or services—when they are done correctly.

Using a pre-roll ad is practical because the act of running the ad before relevant content that the user actually wants to see keeps them engaged and carries a higher chance of getting them to watch. In fact, they’re considered less interruptive than, say, mid-roll ads.

pre-roll ad statistics

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Outstream and mid-roll ads tend to annoy people more, with mid-roll ads being viewed as the most interruptive format (no surprise there). With a pre-roll video, you’re not interrupting the user; you’re only delaying them by a few seconds.

Even if a viewer skips your ad after five seconds, they’ve already been exposed to your product, so awareness can still increase.

cumulative campaign impact of video

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A Nielson study found that brands with video ads that are seen for a few seconds still see increased brand awareness, ad recall, and purchase intent.

Not too shabby, right?

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Creating YouTube Pre-Roll Ads People Won’t Skip

Not all pre-roll ads are created equal. There are a number of criteria you should incorporate into your strategy to ensure that you’re creating engaging content. The goal is to hook your audience and encourage them to keep watching.

Here are five tips for creating pre-roll ads that people won’t want to skip.

1. Keep It Short

A pre-roll ad should always be short—or at least engaging. If you manage to get a viewer to keep watching beyond the five-second skip window, you don’t want to push it by making the rest of your ad ridiculously long or a total snoozefest.

According to a report by eConsultancy, 94% of pre-roll ads are skipped. The key to creating a truly effective pre-roll ad is to hook your prospect in those first five seconds, and then only take the extra time you need to get a succinct message across.

In the case of unskippable ads, some brands have really nailed it in terms of at least keeping them interesting.

Take Geico for example. They ran a series of ads that you couldn’t skip, but that were so funny that you wouldn’t necessarily want to anyway. 


2. Keep It Clear

The messaging of your ad should be clear and concise while keeping the overall branding of your business in mind.

It’s not as simple as repurposing TV commercials, as they are not optimized for this format. A pre-roll ad needs to be structured with the skip window in mind. You have five seconds to convince someone to keep watching, so cut accordingly.

Of course, you have the option to say everything you need to say within those five seconds only, like this Bounce ad: 


Just bear in mind that YouTube analytics doesn’t track views that are less than 10 seconds.

3. Keep It Targeted

Just like any video advertising campaign, you can—and should—be as selective as possible when it comes to targeting your pre-roll ads on YouTube.

It’s amazing how specific this process can get using YouTube TrueView. You can target your ads based on things like:

  • Demographics — based on users’ age, gender, location, etc.
  • Topics — based on the topic of the main video being viewed
  • Affinity — based on interests regardless of the video’s topic

For example, if you’re a coffee roaster, you can have your ad run in front of videos about brewing coffee at home or how to select the best coffee grinder. You can also target viewers who have expressed an interest in coffee via their online behavior.

You can also use remarketing on YouTube to get your brand back in front of users who have previously engaged with your videos or your channel.

4. Keep It Good

This might seem like rather obvious, but production quality is important when trying to get someone to keep watching your ads.

Not only does this help keep your skip rates down, but higher quality ads equate to brand confidence in a user’s mind. In fact, according to Brightcove, 62% of viewers are more likely to think less of a brand with poor-quality videos.

video production quality statistis

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If your pre-roll ad is well-made, then you have a higher chance of making a good first impression, and those viewers are more likely to view your brand in a positive light.

5. Keep It Proactive

Don’t forget that the whole purpose of advertising is to get people to do something.

It’s great to be funny or provocative when the time is right, but if by the end of your ad, it’s unclear what the viewer should do next, your efforts may be wasted.

For most products or services, the call to action is obvious: “Buy this!” It usually doesn’t need to be explicitly stated. But if you want viewers to visit your website or go to a landing page where they can learn more, download something, or buy something, you need to tell them.

Some brands have found interesting ways to pull this off while simultaneously creating something funny that users want to keep watching. A perfect example of this is this pre-roll ad: 


Even though this ad is from 2013, it's almost a shame it's not actually linked anymore—the urge to click is still there!

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A lot of marketers may dismiss the idea of pre-roll ads on YouTube, believing that people will instantly skip them or be annoyed.

According to the stats, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When you structure your ads in a way that makes people want to keep watching, focusing on getting your message across clearly and concisely, there can be a lot of benefits to this form of advertising. It presents an opportunity to get creative and get precise with your messaging.

And as long as YouTube remains one of the most popular websites on the Internet, you can rest assured that you will always be able to reach the right audiences in the right context to boost awareness of your brand.

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