Pre-roll Video Ads: Making Them Work

Those of us fortunate enough to work with clients who produce video content to use in their online plans face the inevitable question: should money be spent on pre-roll or on rich media banners that feature video?

There should be a healthy mix of both, as long as they are considered separately. This column, the first of a two-part series, will examine the planning and behavioral considerations of pre-roll within the context of building a media plan with a moderate budget.

Take Stock of Your Pre-roll Video Assets

Chances are, unless you have an especially innovative, forward-thinking client, you’ll be stuck with standard :15 and :30 made-for-TV spots. If you’re well ahead of the planning process, ask your client if it’s possible to a shorter video of :10. The more length options at your disposal, the better.

For example, it would be a much more rewarding consumer experience if you bookend publisher video content with a :10 intro (possibly with a custom announcement, “This video on [X Publisher] is brought to you by [Your Brand]”), followed by the publisher’s video content, then followed by a standard :15 spot.

This model, :10 intro/publisher video content/:15 spot, results in a much less annoying consumer experience. (I feel like jumping out a window every time I get a :30 in front of a :35 piece of content.) The model also results in a shorter overall experience (:25) that arguably has more impact than a traditionally formatted pre-roll. This is especially true if the :10 and :15 together can tell a story. The :10 pre-roll can set up a narrative and leave the consumer with a cliffhanger, and the :15 post-roll can reward the consumer with a payoff. Doesn’t that sound much more compelling than a repurposed TV spot?

Pre-roll Considerations

Although a pre-roll experience is passive, it’s not the same as a TV commercial break. Users don’t opt in to experience a pre-roll, but unless the browsing window is cancelled the consumer has no choice but to sit through the ad to get to the desired content. The analogy between pre-roll and TV also doesn’t make sense because most consumers are intelligent enough to recognize that their content will start immediately after the :30 or :15. Because of this, they won’t get up to go to the bathroom or run to the kitchen to fix a quick snack. So although still technically passive, users are still engaged enough to be willing to endure the :30 to get to their desired content.

As a rule, pre-roll inventory is expensive. The simple fact that a pre-roll placement can cost up to five times more in terms of CPM (define) than a rich-media-capable banner placement on the same publisher causes many online planners to defer to the latter to conserve precious planning dollars. This should not necessarily be the case, as there are simple things that can be done to more efficiently serve that inventory. Ask your publishers to cap unique user exposure at one to two per user each day. This will ensure users aren’t overexposed to messaging. No one wants to see the same pre-roll between publisher video content more than three times in a row.

Conversations With Publishers

If you’re thinking of executing an unconventional pre- or post-roll, such as the :10/publisher video content/:15 model mentioned earlier, be sure to tap your potential partners near the beginning of your planning process to make sure they can accommodate your thinking.

Because complex video models are by nature unconventional, it may take some time to iron out how back-end serving and tracking will be handled. Also be prepared to negotiate how pricing is established; it wouldn’t make sense to pay for an impression if a user is only exposed to the pre-roll (:10) video and not the post-roll (:15).

Next time, I will go in depth with in-banner videos, compare its pros and cons with pre-roll, and discuss how to balance the two for an effective media plan.

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