Pre-Roll Leads Video Ad Buys, But That Doesn't Mean It Works Effectively For Marketers

Remember that comic strip of two dogs talking, suggesting that on the Internet, no one really knows you are a dog? Well, with pre-roll video ads, no brand knows if a user is looking at content on another tab of your browser, texting a friend, or counting ceiling tiles. When CMOs go to evaluate campaigns, the campaign metrics and measurements just don’t consider the reality that consumers willfully avoid or tune-out during these ads.

eMarketer predicts that 169 million people or 71% of US Internet users will watch online video (each month) by the end of this year. So, in spite of its detractors, it isn’t all that surprising that the pre-roll format makes up a huge portion of digital video media budgets. From a metrics standpoint, we know that video ads outperform static banner ads, and pre-roll ads outperform mid-stream video. Out of all the common ad unit options on the market, pre-roll still reigns supreme from an engagement perspective. However, that doesn’t mean basic pre-roll ads are nearly as effective as we’d like them to be.

Pre-roll ads suffer from two major drawbacks.  First, the placement of pre-roll ads doesn’t account for content length. We’ve all experienced having to watch a 30-second ad in front of a 15-second video clip, and it’s not a great experience. Just take sports clips, for example. Why do you need to watch a full commercial when you just want to see five seconds of Jeremy Lin driving the lane?

Make no mistake; pre-roll completion rates are higher than in-stream video completion rates because people are already committed to watching the content by default. However, that doesn’t mean we need to make the experience painful for users. The ad-to-content ratio often makes no sense! In order for pre-roll to succeed, publishers and advertisers need to make sure that the balance tips toward the content and not the ad.

Another issue with pre-roll is short consumer attention spans. Many users view pre-roll ads as a countdown clock to zone out to until they get to view the video content they selected. Even worse, according to YouTube, 70% of users are happily skipping pre-roll ads, the participatory equivalent of clicking the “X” box to kill an interstitial.  Consumers are coming to expect skip buttons from all publishers, but there simply aren’t enough streams to go around.  Advertisers and publishers both lose in that scenario, and we just can’t pay for the Internet that way.

Advertisers and publishers need to make sure that marketing messages are heard “loud and clear.” They need to measure cognition by putting real-time mechanisms in place to gauge message comprehension. Post-campaign analysis is valuable but insufficient on a standalone basis. Giving users the power to choose a video ad or decide whether the ad is relevant only confirms that a warm body was present to make a decision -- with no guarantee that the user stayed within the browser.

It’s time for new measurement tactics for pre-roll. It’s time to ask more of the consumer, and, in turn, offer more value. Proactively soliciting consumers for proof of their attention is a reasonable strategy, if and only if the value exchange is obvious to all.



Brands and publishers should be willing to give consumers what they truly want in the video environment: faster access to their content. As an example, a consumer's willingness to participate with a static ad should effectively earn the consumer the ability to skip the pre-roll advertisement.This is one way for the industry to show consumers that their engagement is appreciated. 

2 comments about "Pre-Roll Leads Video Ad Buys, But That Doesn't Mean It Works Effectively For Marketers".
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  1. Scott Pannier from 47 Media, April 18, 2012 at 5:33 p.m.

    For some reason I seem to confuse your opinion pieces with Ari Rosenberg's columns or I think you're both the same person. What are your thoughts about SpotXchange's SkipIt initiative? Is what they're doing in-line with your opinion of why pre-roll ads don't work for advertisers and buyers of it?

  2. Walter Sabo from SABO media, April 18, 2012 at 10:38 p.m.

    Why would I buy an ad that I can "stop in 15 seconds". It's like a TV commercial only much worst because it's in my lap.

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