Beyond The Pre-Roll

Among the long list of problems threatening the planet -- civil war in Syria, economic collapse in Greece, the potential demise of the European Union, earthquakes in Japan -- it’s the world’s population of Internet users who clearly face the biggest hardships of all, having to suffer through paper towel and laundry detergent commercials before getting to watch the latest “kitten in a cardboard box” video.

Oh, the horror!

If the frustration expressed by viewers over having to wait 30 seconds to watch an online video for free is a little bit silly, then the readiness with which our entire industry empathizes with their plight is outright inane.  But be that as it may, and regardless of whether or not the anxiety over an otherwise harmless commercial is warranted, there are other (and better) advertising options for marketers to explore. 

To begin with, not all pre-roll is created equally, and some are clearly just lazier than others.  Taking a standard-issue TV spot and placing it in front of an online video doesn’t require a tremendous amount of money (at least from a production standpoint), but it also doesn’t take full advantage of the medium;



Look at this from another angle: Suppose a brand that typically markets itself through print advertising decides to run a TV spot.  To save money on scripting, casting, shooting and editing a unique production, they simply take the print ad and hold it in front of a camera for 30 seconds. It wouldn’t work, or at least, it wouldn’t work that well.  They’d be ignoring the true benefit of the medium – TV gives you the opportunity to entertain, inform, capture interest and tell a story.  Similarly, the Web gives marketers an opportunity that TV doesn’t: the power to engage, and connect with your viewers through direct interaction.  You’ve got your entire audience watching your spot with their fingers on the mouse button, just waiting for a good reason to click on something, and (apparently) bored and antsy because they have to suffer through your ad at all. So give them something to do; a reason to feel better about the delay.  Instead of running static VAST ads, invest some time and money into V-PAID ads, creating brand-associated games or interactive storylines that use the medium more effectively to interact with online consumers.

Even better, skip the pre-roll altogether and expand beyond the 30-second format.  Branded content can be a far more powerful tool, turning your marketing message into an informational, entertaining video that viewers will want to watch and benefit from, without even realizing (or at least not minding so much) that they’re being marketed to. A well-written, well-produced piece can appeal to viewers and be written around points you want to make, without it becoming a heavy-handed sales piece.  For example, an ongoing series called “Everyday Savings” that provides quick, easy to implement tips on how to save more money is content that many people would have a use for, and watch more of.  If that same series was “Presented by Some Bank,” it frames the sponsor as experts, helps build their brand, and entertains as well as informs – all without the perfunctory pre-roll.  What’s more, with many video networks and partners, brands can arrange deals so that rather than pay a flat CPM rate, they only pay when viewers watch a minimum percentage of any one video. 

Other opportunities are also available to brand interested anxious to take advantage of online video for marketing purposes.  Product placement is a growing and beneficial opportunity, in which brands may sponsor a video producer to mention their product, or include their products as part of the content.  Interactive overlays on specific videos, which collect answers given by viewers and provide a customized product offering at the end, based on those answers, are also strong but underutilized options to get closer to consumers. 

Pre-rolls, while by far the predominant method of online video-based marketing, isn’t without value.  But in a medium whose strength lies in extended storytelling and enhanced connectivity with viewers, it’s just a scratch on the surface of what can actually be accomplished. 

2 comments about "Beyond The Pre-Roll".
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  1. Scott Pannier from 47 Media, October 24, 2012 at 4:34 p.m.

    I appreciate your article Jay, so I was curious about MyPodStudios. I went there and the user experience was odd. There's an auto-play video player below-the-fold + the big video player above-the-fold. They both play at the same time. I agree with you that pre-roll has its place, but forcing a user to watch an ad before video content will never get the same response rate compared to user-initiated video ads. I'd be curious to know if your sites run any straight-up cost-per-view video ads.

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, October 26, 2012 at 5:17 a.m.

    Re: "If the frustration expressed by viewers over having to wait 30 seconds to watch an online video for free is a little bit silly". Not silly at all - I think people react very well. Why not try a little experiment: next time you're driving to work, whenever you are stopped at a traffic light and the light goes green, wait 30 seconds before driving off. Then you will see, and hear, what real frustration is.

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