How to Create Pre-Roll without the Eye Roll

June 12, 2018 Greg Costello

They’re the annoying ads you can’t wait to click through so you can see the video your aunt sent you of the cat chasing the laser pointer. Nobody likes pre-roll ads—in fact, YouTube has started killing “unskippable” 30-second ads, requiring the welcome “Skip Ad” button to come in after about five seconds. And yet, studies show that pre-roll ads can really work. Is there any way to make these ads engaging, clever, or even perhaps so great that the user doesn’t click away once their required viewing time runs out?

We’ll go through five ways to create pre-roll that works and show you some examples that really worked.

1. Give viewers a reason to stick around after it stops being mandatory.

Let’s start with the obvious—this series won the Martin Agency a few shelves worth of Lions, Clios, etc. But Geico’s “Unskippable” campaign really is the gold standard for pre-roll advertising, and it’s not just because of the “Police Squad”-style fake freeze-frame. It’s also because once the message is delivered, you can’t help but stick around to see what happens as the world keeps moving around our frozen protagonists.

2. Poke fun at the medium.

Because being forced to sit through pre-roll advertising is a universal experience for online video-watchers, some brands have taken the approach of humorously co-opting its familiar signifiers. Now, instead of rolling your eyes at the advertiser, you’re sharing a laugh at the format’s expense.

Opel Mokka wanted to let people know how this car avoids objects in the road and decided to use a very familiar object to illustrate the point.

Chipsmore, an Asian cookie purveyor, fools you (for a half second) into thinking your video is offline, eliciting a smile and reinforcing their brand’s irreverent identity.

3. A short runtime can be an advantage.

Just ask Mercedes and Bacardi. Mercedes created a remarkable 3.8 second pre-roll spot for their AMG GT series. Why such a strangely specific length of time? See for yourself.

Not quite as high-concept, but equally arresting, the ease of creating the perfect Cuba Libre shines through in just six seconds.

4. In six seconds, you can tell a quick, brand-relevant joke...

5. ...or distill your brand to its very essence.

Pre-roll ads aren’t going anywhere... in fact, the six-second spot is expanding to TV advertising, as seen with Toyota’s ads in the 2018 Winter Olympics. The best approach now is to learn how to tell stories that consumers won’t want to skip.  

About the Author

Greg Costello

Greg Costello is a copywriter, associate creative director, husband, father, Brooklynite, bounty hunter, crossword puzzle solver, and one of those is a lie. If you have any projects that will allow him to write and compose a jingle, please reach out.

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