Pre-Rolling in the Deep

Let’s be honest, most pre-roll advertisements on YouTube and other online video sites are annoying. It was around a year or two ago when they started invading our computer screens in this part of the world, and even more recently they’ve been cropping up on our mobile devices as we increasingly consume video content on the go. But the content of the ads themselves have remained rather terrible, often a simple re-purposing of a TV commercial with little or no targeting. As advertisers, it is something that we’re going to need to master as online video platforms continue to take further eyeballs away from TV and toward the “smaller small screen.”

Just because YouTube pre-roll advertising costs significantly less than TV commercials, should the quality and relevance of that content suffer as a result? It’s probably a valid argument, but as more and more media is consumed online, and much less TV programming is being consumed at its regularly scheduled timings, we should be thinking a lot harder about the video content we are creating to fill our ever-expanding inventory formats.

YouTube Is Not TV

It seems like a simple enough proposition, but if we think about it harder another question pops up: if pre-roll video ads are so disruptive and annoying, why then do we put up with TV commercials? Most of the ads on TV aren’t tailored directly to the viewer; we also are bombarded with the same content rather repetitively, and these commercials are even more inescapable than their online counterparts.

The answer is quite simple, and relates to the way we consume digital content. Currently we expect to view whatever we want, whenever we want. Different from our passive channel surfing during TV commercial breaks, our attitude toward the Internet means that we have little or no patience for even the five-second YouTube pre-roll ads that we hastily click away.

Video Ads, Not TV Ads

If you’re making pre-roll it should be designed for YouTube (or other online) audiences. To be clear, that does not mean just reformatting your TVC to fit better on the smaller small screen. It means being aware that your audience is at their desk, on the bus, at work, etc. – not just on their sofa in the living room. Here are a couple of examples of creative ways to approach YouTube pre-roll:

What’s great about these is that they recognize the viewing environment that they’re in. Using fast cuts in “Madagascar” draws the viewer away from the “skip” button, as well as having plenty of clickable links throughout the video. “Epic” on the other hand pokes fun at the mere concept of pre-roll, and keeps you engaged in that crucial first five seconds.

OK, so what if you don’t have the budget of Fox or Dreamworks? This one is a creative take that isn’t shy about taking the “skip” button head on:

“5 Seconds” – You Tube Pre Roll (English version) from MAYO Chile on Vimeo.

So what’s next? YouTube to one side, many broadcasters who are finding strong and regular online audiences are taking to bringing on one main advertiser to take over pre-, mid-, and post-roll video advertising, as well as the accompanying banner advertisements surrounding the video itself. This is often a good way to find a specific demographic, and as online TV viewing becomes more sophisticated, advertisers will be able to know more and more about the audience that’s tuning in, and tailor their ads accordingly. For YouTube advertisers, the key is going to be in the creativity, poking fun at the format of pre-roll to begin with and making sure that the first five seconds is enough to keep fingers off that skip button.

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