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What is a pre-roll ad? (+7 ingredients of the best ones!)

When you clicked on this article, you made a decision to read it. 

Human beings make hundreds, or even thousands, of decisions every day – from what to have for breakfast to what time to go to bed – and you may be surprised to know that most of these decisions happen in the blink of an eye. 

According to a research journal from the Society for Judgement and Decision Making, consumers can make decisions in as little as a third of a second. That’s fast

And bad news for marketers. How can you encourage people to purchase when you only have their attention for a limited time?

Enter: pre-roll ads. 

In a world where human attention spans are shrinking, pre-roll ads are here to save the day! 

In this article, we’re going to take a look at exactly what a pre-roll ad is, the benefits, and 7 key ingredients that all the best ones share.

What is a pre-roll ad?

Pre-roll ads are the short promotional videos that play before the content you want to see. You’ve most likely seen them on YouTube. Here’s an example of one that we made to announce our brand refresh:

Pre-roll ads are essentially the TV ads of today! Back when terrestrial TV was king, video marketers were desperate for a coveted advertising spot between, before, or after one of the hit shows of the time. 

But now, as more and more people watch on demand, online, and stream their content – TV ads are out and pre-rolls are in. 

According to research by Magna Global, in 2019 TV ad sales collapsed at a pace not seen since the Great Recession. This ties in with our own research that found people now watch an average of 16 hours of online video per week – a 52% increase in the last 2 years. 

Just like TV ads, pre-roll ads are limited to certain lengths. Here’s a quick breakdown of all the different types of pre-roll ads:

1. Bumper – these ads play before the main video content and can be up to 6 seconds in length. 

2. Non-skippable – these ads can play before, during, or after a main video and can be between 15-20 seconds in length.

3. Skippable – these ads can also play before, during, or after a main video and can be several minutes in length, but viewers can skip the ad after 5 seconds.

Note: Some of these videos can appear mid-roll and post-roll (as mentioned above), but for the rest of this article we’re only going to be talking about pre-rolls – that’s when an ad appears before a video. 

3 Benefits of pre-roll ads

We’ve already touched upon some of the benefits of pre-roll ads – they’re like the new and improved TV ad! And they help you to reach audiences with shrinking attention spans. 

But what else do pre-roll ads have to offer?

Here are 3 of the biggest benefits of using pre-roll ads…

1. Reach your target audience

One of the greatest things about pre-roll ads is the targeting capabilities. 

You have the power to target viewers based on their location, language, age, gender, and more – meaning your ad only reaches the people that you want it to. 

This is super valuable, especially because pre-rolls are charged on a pay-per-view basis. 

Of course, no marketing strategy has a 100% conversion rate. But by marketing to highly-targeted audiences, you can increase your chances of success. 

2. They’re uninterruptive 

The beauty of creating a pre-roll ad, over a mid-roll ad, is that you’re not interrupting the viewer’s content. 

Pre-rolls play before the main content video, so viewers know that after the ad they can get stuck into what they intended to watch. 

According to a 2017 study, pre-roll ads are actually 3.5x less likely to be considered interruptive by viewers, when compared with mid-rolls and post-rolls. 

3. Increase brand awareness

Pre-roll ads are what would be considered ‘top of the funnel’ content – meaning they help to raise awareness of your brand and drive traffic to your site. 

More examples of top of the funnel content include blog articles, social media posts, and eBooks.

But none are favoured as much as video. According to our recent survey, 86% of people would like to see more video from brands in 2020. And people are twice as likely to share video content with their friends than any other type of content. 

7 Ingredients of the best pre-roll ads

So, you know what they are. You know the benefits. But do you know what separates great pre-roll ads from the average ones?

Let’s find out…

1. They’re self-aware

As targeted as you make your ads, the bottom line is that they’re waiting to watch something else. You know that, and they know that – so why try to hide it? 

Some of the best-loved pre-rolls actively call out the fact that the viewer isn’t primarily here to view an ad. And that’s ok – if they can just bear with it for a few seconds, there’s a message that might really interest them!

Here’s a great example from Geico

The ad is over 60 seconds, so definitely falls into the ‘skippable’ category. BUT, Geico manages to put all of their content into the first couple of seconds (before the ‘skip’ option appears) and they even make a joke about it: “You can’t skip this Geico ad because it’s already over!

The rest of the ad is reserved purely for comic relief, which also encourages people to keep watching! 

2. They’re targeted

We’ve already mentioned that pre-rolls give you an incredible opportunity to reach your target audience. 

The targeting options, particularly on YouTube, are incredibly granular. Not only can you filter by demographics, but you can also target based on user interests – with all kinds of weird and wonderful categories available (what the heck is a ‘Beauty Maven’ anyway?)

This gives you a huge opportunity to create different pre-rolls to apply to different sections of your audience. 

Masterclass is great at this! As an online education platform across tons of different topics, they have a varied audience. So they’ve created different ads for different customers. For example, this Gordon Ramsey pre-roll to play before cooking videos:

And this Margaret Atwood ad to play before videos about writing and reading:

We live in the age of personalisation, where ‘one-size-fits-all’ doesn’t fit all anymore! The most successful campaigns are those designed to appeal to a specific target viewer, with content that is cleverly tailored to hold their interest.

Handy tip: YouTube pre-rolls are often called ‘TrueView’ campaigns. This guide will give you all the instructions you need to set up your campaign.

3. They have a hook

It doesn’t matter what type of pre-roll you make, the maximum amount of guaranteed watchtime you have is 5-6 seconds. After that, your ad could be skipped, or it could even be over (if it’s a bumper ad). 

When you only have a couple of seconds to grab someone’s attention, you need to have a hook. 

Something that will catch their attention. 

Make them stop and listen. 

Take another look at the Margaret Atwood Masterclass video, but only watch the first 5 seconds: 

THAT’s a hook! 

Atwood takes a concept we’re all familiar with and turns it on it’s head. Pair that with the dramatic sound effect and it’s a recipe for drawing viewers in. 

Hooks are not only important because of the dreaded skip button. Remember – people make decisions really fast and attention spans are at an all-time-low, so if you want viewers to pay attention then you need to grab them from the word go! 

4. They pack a punch

Imagine, just for a moment, that you’re in an elevator and the one person you want to meet most in the world has just walked in. 

You have mere seconds with them – what would you say and, perhaps more importantly, how would you say it, in order to make an impact?

We know, we know. The elevator pitch analogy has been done to death – but it works. It’s a great exercise for thinking of ways to pitch your product, service, or brand in a punchy, memorable way. 

Take a look at this Apple ad:

Apple know video marketing – so if there’s anyone to take inspiration from, it’s them. 

Their ads pack a punch with fast-paced editing, in-depth product tours, and powerful soundtracks that make their viewers feel ready to take action – in other words, to buy their products! 

5. They’re concise

With only a couple of seconds to play with, you’re never going to be able to tell potential customers everything you want to. 

Instead, you’ll have to stick to one or two USPs that you can weave into a punchy, engaging narrative – easier said than done! 

An interesting way to do this is pick one key sentence, like Oscar Health Insurance did in their pre-roll ad: 

Their key message is: ‘You never know when you’ll need health insurance.’ And then the visuals show lots of funny scenarios in which health insurance would be needed. 

Not only does this ad put a light spin on what could be seen as quite a dreary industry, it entertains viewers AND gets the message across in a clear and concise way. 

6. They’re creative

Okay, so this technically doesn’t just apply to pre-roll ads. ALL ads should be creative – if they are to be noticed among the thousands of ads that people are bombarded with every single day. 

You may think that ‘being creative’ means creating a video with lots of bells and whistles that completely drains your marketing budget – but that’s not the case. 

Here’s a pre-roll ad from recruitment company, Reed

Yes, that’s right! They used stock footage to create a funny and engaging ad! 

When it comes to creativity, it’s all about thinking outside of the box and surprising your customers with an ad that sticks in their mind – and one they actually enjoy watching! 

7. They have a call-to-action

In all the excitement that comes with creating a pre-roll ad and pushing it out to the world, it can be easy to forget that simply getting people to watch the video is not the end goal. The end goal is what you want viewers to do next. 

That’s why all of the best pre-roll ads have a strong and clear call-to-action that leads viewers on to the next step in the buyer journey. 

Here’s an example by McDonald’s:

The last 2 seconds of this 10 second ad are reserved for the call to action, which is clear: Download the app. 

This instruction, partnered with the App Store and Google Play icons, along with the McDonald’s logo and signature whistle, sends a very clear message to potential customers.  

Final thoughts

When you combine amazing video content with powerful ad targeting capabilities, you have an excellent chance of marketing your product, service, or brand to the right people, at the right time.

If you want to find out more about how you can create the perfect pre-roll ad for your business, check out our video ads page.