When it comes to online video advertising, pre-roll has copped its fair share of flack over the past decade or more. And that’s not to say it didn’t have some of those sticks and stones coming. But as one of nascent video advertising formats, pre-roll served its purpose, and continues to be one of the most heavily traded ad formats in digital. So why do audiences hate it so much? Do they simply tolerate pre-roll, or is there more value than meets the eye?
Here are some misconceptions about the format, and some realities:
Misconception: Audiences hate pre-roll and will skip every time
Reality: Pre-roll is an ad format not unlike a regular television ad slot and this means audiences are already familiar with the conventions. They know what a pre-roll looks like, how to control their experience and what the transition to content will be like. Audiences complete pre-roll ads 79% of the time when viewing on desktop, 45% of the time on mobile phone and 55% of the time on tablet devices (according to TubeMogul) based on impressions served in the US*. Just as with boring, irrelevant or distasteful television ads, audiences can be put off. But as with entertaining, useful and relevant or emotive ads, audiences can be drawn in. So really, completion rates can come down to the creative as much as the ad format.
M: Audiences don’t recall pre-roll messages
R: Pre-roll advertising is particularly successful for identifying intent to purchase and creating brand awareness. With mobile now playing a huge role in the way we consume media and the way we shop, we need to look more holistically at how formats perform. For example, standard pre-roll creates around 24% brand uplift but when combined with mobile that figure improves to 28%. This combination also affects completion rates, which stand at just 19% with standard pre-roll but climb to 31% when combined with mobile. (TubeMogul Insights:Mobile)
There are different kinds of pre-roll ad formats available but we know that rich media formats allowing audience interaction, are much more engaging. Pre-roll is not a one size fits all digital advertising solution. If you want it to work for your brand, you must apply it to the appropriate campaign and address creative, data, relevancy and player size. Considering day parts and device type is also important when analysing how users engage. If you want a direct sell ad format, pre-roll probably isn’t the right channel, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place.
M: Pre-roll can be jarring for audiences
R: Pre-roll is a video ad format that doesn’t disrupt the conventions of video. The ad is viewed within the video player either before / during / or after a piece of content. But pre-roll requires more than simply re-purposing of a TV ad. There needs to be a consideration of length of video, and due to player sizes, the creative as well as the resolution of the final product needs to be high quality. Pre-roll can be jarring, but it has the potential to be seamless and evocative as well.
M: Pre-roll is boring
R: There is room for creativity and engagement but it is up to the brand to invest money in ensuring the quality of ad meets the audience’s expectation. There is a mixture of sound, images and high definition video that enhances the quality of the viewing experience. Brands also need to consider the platform in which the audience might be viewing the ad. This could be part of a social media feed, or it could be within part of a publisher’s website. This all affects how the viewer responds and if they accept the ad as a natural part of the medium, or if they find it intrusive. When a viewer is actively watching your pre-roll, your are not competing for their attention, you have it and it’s up to you to make that 5-30 seconds an experience they’ll remember, and with favour rather than regret.
M: Pre-roll ads are random
R: Brands and advertisers are buying against the data of the piece of content so there is the ability to highly target audiences of that content and create a contextual advertising experience.
Pre-roll can be traded directly or through the RTB programmatic exchange. Pre-roll video inventory is very valuable, especially when sold with pre-bid validation data and targetable data surrounding content categorisation, geography etc. But as with the aforementioned creative, if the sale and distribution methods aren’t considered with audience, platform and device in mind, the ads can be random, campaigns diluted and performance disastrous.
M: Pre-roll will never work on mobile
R: While pre-roll completion rates on desktop are much higher than that on mobile, campaigns with a mixture of standard pre-roll and mobile pre-roll dramatically increases campaign completion rates*. Viewability is also naturally very good on mobile, as the format is designed to be full screen and therefore both completion rates and viewability on iPhone, Android and tablet are positive and constantly improving. Having said that - when it comes to skippable pre-roll, tablet devices have the highest completion rate over phone and desktop with desktop performing worst of the three.
M: Pre-roll is long - I want to get to the content already!
R: It’s true, some pre-roll is woefully long and often boring, however there is plenty of high quality pre-roll, especially on mobile that is anywhere from 7-10 sec, 11-14 sec and 15 sec upwards. The shorter the pre-roll the higher the completion rates, and that’s true across all devices. So while there is long pre-roll, there is also short, and short can be just as powerful. Longer formats have the chance to convert if they engage and tell a story using combinations of ethos/pathos/logos. The long and short of it is still, quality, engaging, relevant content wins, in publishing, and in advertising.
While TV broadcasters can boast 30-second ad spots, the digital world competes with a different set of standards, the rules that govern the living room box, do not govern the digital one. In the world of pre-roll, advertisers have less than 5 seconds to not only grab the attention of their audience, but to ensure the right kind of attention is harnessed to generate a response. The best response being that the audience does absolutely nothing for 15 sec. (This is what the IAB considers the optimum length of a pre-roll ad).
How can we improve pre-roll?
Even though live and on demand OTT have made their way successfully to digital, the medium of television and online is not the same. The platforms in which people watch content is very different to traditional broadcast and therefore traditional broadcast ad formats are not congruent with digital. There’s no need to sugarcoat poor performance brought about by poor planning. Pre-roll has the potential to be an engaging ad format, it has the potential for immense creativity from brands, but it has the potential to fail time and time again, if advertisers take the easy road of cutting down their TV first ads, dismissing the focus needed in digital creative and delivery.
One of the earliest memories of an effective pre-roll ad spot was adapted from a television commercial. But in this ad, Cadbury present the theatrical, the funny and the emotional and tie in up in neat purple bow.
The Phil Collins 'Cadbury Gorilla Ad' is in my opinion - the original and the best. I had to move this clip into a second window while researching for this post so I could watch it at the same time as I was writing about it - it’s that kind of ad. Not only do you not want to hit skip, you don’t want to miss it - you’ll replay just to see that suited up jungle swinger hitting the high hat.
This original video was viewed almost 500,000 times during its first week of release in August 2007 and to date this video alone has been viewed over 8bn times.
Flight Centre Australia ask their audience, What if this one time you didn’t press skip?
Burger King recognise that guys don’t particularly care for watching an ad before the hilarious video content their mate has shared with them, and they are able to play on this to create a watchable pre-roll ad campaign.
These three ads are examples of how brands have used important elements to creative successful, memorable and impactful ads, including:
- Audience targeting via data
As competition for online inventory heats up, brands need to step up and create audience first, creative ad campaigns that address the spaces in the market. For brands to convert online, they need to be prepared to offer a campaign that is delivered across platforms, utilizing different formats to achieve reach, viewability, completion, message recall and ultimately ROI.
*It should be noted that skippable pre-roll completions are considerably lower than standard pre-roll ads according to Tube Mogul’s terminology and report with desktop skippable pre-roll registering only 12% completion compared with the 79% standard pre-roll completion.
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