Pre-Roll Video Ads Get a Facelift

What is inherent to the Internet experience, lamented by consumers, and an inevitable part of most every video campaign? The answer for all is one and the same: pre-roll ads. For years, advertisers, publishers, consumers, and critics have been sounding off about this ad unit, passionately arguing whether a re-hashed :15 or :30 TV spot has a lasting place on the Web.

Some say that users “hate” them and still predict they’re here to stay. The studies are equally incongruous. New research from analytics company TubeMogul finds that 16 percent of consumers click away from pre-roll ads; that number climbs to 25 percent if the ads appear on newspaper or magazine sites. But a new report from video ad network BrightRoll finds 54 percent of advertisers plan to spend their 2010 budget on interactive pre-rolls units rather than other video advertising options like branded entertainment or webisodes.

The key word here is “interactive.” Pre-roll video has been undergoing some nips and tucks of late that, though they’re being administered by numerous different practitioners, are all designed to result in a more attractive format – one that offers more choices and a more interesting ad experience.

Interactive video is often synonymous with clickable video, and one company that’s leading the charge on this front is Innovid. By allowing advertisers to make pre-roll videos – including existing television spots – more engaging by embedding them with interactive elements, Innovid is enticing brands like Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser and Bud Light, P&G’s Tide and Charmin brands, Puma, and Infinity. All have already begun to experiment with a technique that’s been mislaid for far too long.

In a sense, pre-roll advertisers are at a disadvantage from the get-go. Users are required to sit through a video ad prior to accessing the video content they’ve come to a site to see, and this imposition can provoke feelings of resentment toward the advertising brands. Innovid’s Campaign Gallery offers a glimpse into how interactive video can improve this scenario. These ads deliver added interest that serves to differentiate from its TV counterpart, as well as invite the consumer to partake in an offer or opportunity that’s presented in an engaging way.

Instead of simply running its offline ad, for example, Tide chose to promote its “Loads of Hope” program, which provides a mobile laundry service and clean clothing to disaster areas in the U.S., by adding an overlay to the ad that included a clickable image. By clicking on the link, the user could “Join the 1,000 Load Challenge” by customizing and purchasing a vintage-style T-shirt, the proceeds of which would go toward funding the program – all within the ad itself.

Similarly, Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light drove users to its Caribbean Cruise promotion by inserting what amounts to an expandable banner ad within a pre-roll video unit. The ad generated a conversion rate of 8 percent, compared with the 1 percent that’s typical of many video ads.

Publishers, too, are doing what they can to improve pre-roll performance, and one approach that will become increasingly common is offering users a choice of ads to watch. Hulu recently launched its Ad Selector, which is being heralded as the preeminent video model after an extensive media research study by Publicis’ VivaKi found it to be most the effective. In VivaKi’s trials, user-selected long-form videos generated click-through rates that were 106 percent higher and ad-recall scores 290 percent higher than traditional pre-roll ads (it’s important to note that if the user doesn’t select an ad within a few seconds, one is chosen for them).

YouTube – which last year introduced its Google-powered pre-roll ads – recently added a skip button to some of its units with the intention of requiring advertisers to pay only when their ad is viewed in its entirety. For YouTube users, this means increased control over their relationship with pre-roll ads and the ability to circumvent any offerings they don’t feel are of interest or relevant to their lives. This is an important distinction, as irrelevance is one of the issues that has plagued the popularity of pre-rolls as run of site and run of network video buys fail to match video content to its viewers.

If these developments tell us anything, it’s that pre-roll advertising, in its most basic form, means enough to advertisers and publishers that we’re all eager to contribute to making it over until we have a unit that puts all others to shame. I’d say we’re off to an excellent start.

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