7 Tips for Making Pre-Roll Ads that Engage

If you are one of the more than a billion YouTube users, then you are no doubt familiar with their pre-roll video ad format. You may not know it by name, but you know it; pre-roll video is the short video that runs before the actual video you want to watch begins. You usually have to stick with the pre-roll for five seconds before you can click the “skip” button.

If you’ve clicked the skip button before, you’re not alone. In fact, there are some estimates that upwards of 94% of people choose to skip pre-roll videos.  So why are companies spending billions of dollars a year on them when it seems like nobody’s watching? Because pre-roll video is not a bad advertising method. In fact, it can be wonderfully effective when properly executed.

So, it’s not about whether pre-roll video works, but rather how to create a pre-roll video that convinces viewers to hang around for the entire ad?

It’s not easy, but here are 7 for making that happen:

1.Keep it brief.
Given the high opt out rate, it’s easy to see why it’s important to deliver your message or snag your audience’s attention within the first five second of the video. While YouTube allows videos 30 seconds in length, the sweet spot for many successful pre-roll advertisers seems to be between 5-15 seconds. A great example is Geico’s “un-skippable”campaign, because each video is very short, yet very effective.

2.Make the video relevant.
How often do you hit “skip” because the pre-roll content has nothing to do with your lifestyle, needs, or interests?  Probably a great deal of the time.To make your video relevant to your audience, use the demographic and targeting tools provided during set up. Doing so will increase the likelihood your captive audience will relate to the video you’re forcing them to watch. Remember, campaign success always means delivering the right message to the right person at the right time.

Burger King created a library of 64 pre-roll ads that linked to a variety of specific keywords young men tend to search on. Doing so guaranteed each video is relevant to the viewer’s search – be it Jimmy Fallon, North Korean babies playing guitars, or screaming goat videos.

3.Be where your viewers’ attention is.
When a pre-roll video begins to play, many viewers tend to stare at the “skip” button just waiting for it to turn on. Use that knowledge! If you know where your viewers’ attention is going to be already, you can use that knowledge to work for your ad.

For example:

The Australian Police changed the skip ad button to a behavior button to enlist viewers in helping to find missing persons.

A German car company crashed its car into the skip button.

Nail Communications threatened to use the skip button to electrocute a puppy.


4.Make them wonder.
The key to success is in either delivering your message within the first 5 seconds, or grabbing viewers’ attention in the first 5 seconds to get them to stick around and keep watching.  GEICO’s “un-skippable” campaign did more than just deliver a fast message, they encouraged viewers to stick around in an unexpected way…by not doing anything at all and making it awkward enough for viewers to want to see what would happen next. Take a look.

5.Be entertaining.
It’s easier said than done, but if you can entertain your audience in the first five seconds, they will likely stick around to watch the entire ad. For example, this ad combines silence and movement to pull the viewer in during those critical first five seconds, and then right at the moment when the “skip” button turns on, things get pretty entertaining.

6.Re-source TV commercials wisely.
One of the biggest mistakes companies can make in pre-roll advertising is using a TV commercial as a pre-roll ad that just doesn’t work in the medium. We’re not saying you can’t do it, only that the TV commercial has to be a good fit. Ethos used the TV commercials it created for First National Bank in pre-roll spots. The result? Over 18% watched until the end of the full 30-second ad.

7.Have a clear call to action and landing page.
Once you have your audience’s attention, be clear about next steps and what you want viewers to do. If you want viewers to go to a special landing page, tell them quickly and concisely explaining why they should want to do it.  A great call to action is simply: “Click now to get a free trial.”

After the click, be sure to send viewers to a landing page that relates to the video they just watched. Make sure your landing page is simple, branded, and quickly gives them access (via a contact form) to the information, content, gift, etc. that the pre-roll promised them.

The Bottom Line

Pre-roll video can be highly effective when properly executed. The key is to understand your audience’s behavior in order to create videos that speak to them in a creative and engaging manner.


About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside Maine.

At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference to each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.

With Ethos, you get more than a Maine branding agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.

Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!