5 Ways to Make Great Prerolls

“What are pre-rolls?”

Pre-rolls are the annoying short ads that play before the video you want to see on YouTube. You probably despise them.

 “You have no idea how much I hate them. So why would I want one?”

If they didn’t work, people wouldn’t be paying for them. We love (using) pre-rolls and have gotten great results with them — and, no, YouTube didn’t pay us to say that*. They can be excellent mass marketing devices with a myriad of strengths:

  1. They get results: Measured against their comparable (and uglier) cousins (banner ads), pre-rolls rule in terms of brand recall, favorability, and engagement.
  2. They are extremely targeted: YouTube has excellent metrics and targeting tools.  With a little work you can hone in on things like demographics, topics, interests, and location, so your content shows up in the right places.
  3. They scale to your budget: Adjusting your total spend is instantaneous, and you don’t pay for ads that are skipped. You will only ever pay to serve ads to people who are interested in them.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Like any other marketing method, your ad must be done well, or it’s money down the drain. We’ve seen a lot of bad pre-rolls (as you probably have, too). Here’s what we’ve learned.

“Okay, how do I make a good one?”

  1. Don’t make your pre-rolls a commercial:  If you forget everything else in this article, remember that the point of a pre-roll is to get a click. Nothing more, nothing less. Because most pre-rolls will be skipped as soon as possible, loading your ad with traditional commercial copy is a literal waste of time.
  2. Have content after the pre-roll: This is another big one. If the goal of a pre-roll is to get a click, you need a strong follow-up. Dumping users on your homepage isn’t enough anymore. If you’re paying for an ad, make sure you are linking it to a business goal. Do you want users to end up on a sign-up form? An interactive mini-site that explains a new product? A pre-roll is the bait. What you put behind it is the hook.
  3. Follow the 5 second rule: Viewers must watch a pre-roll for 5 seconds before they can skip it. That means that your ad has to either get its message across in 5 seconds or give viewers a reason to stick around. This ad, while simple, absolutely nails this philosophy and had an incredible 91% completion rate.
  4. Remember that your pre-roll is unwanted: Pre-rolls are disruptive. Because they get in the way of the content people actually want to see, give your audience something in return for being interrupted. That might be making your video funny, unexpected, or telling them about a promotion or discount they might actually care about.
  5. Get your targeting right:  A few years ago, I started seeing Purina dog food ads on virtually every video I clicked on. I don’t own a dog.  I don’t watch dog videos on YouTube. The ads were useless to me. This infuriated me so much that if I ever own a dog, I will refuse to buy Purina under any circumstances. You have the tools to serve the right ads to the right people. Don’t mess it up.

“I get it!”

Awesome. Now get out there and start making pre-rolls! Just don’t put them in front of videos I want to watch (unless they’re good).

Written by Joe Lee, Content Marketing Specialist

*If any YouTube employees are reading this, we certainly won’t turn down checks in the mail. Or yachts. Whatever you can spare.

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