“The pre-roll” – the video advertisement which begins the user’s experience with desired video content – has seen some major improvements in ad platform technology, along with convergence of user acceptance and marketers learning how to be much more user-friendly with video advertising. MediaPost’s Video Insider’s Joe Tartaglia argues that despite the emergence of new online advertising technologies, the pre-roll ad “still has a major role to play in the evolution of video,” and that “keeping pre-roll around for a while longer may actually prove to be one of the most innovative things we do as an industry.”

Joe’s arguments on the benefits of pre-roll video ads are as follows:

  • Integration. Pre-roll is a common thread between television, the web, and mobile. You can take an ad from television and easily repurpose it for the web and mobile. Plus they “better leverage the hundreds of thousands of dollars that would be spend producing a commercial.”
  • Easiest comprehension and synergy. Pre-roll and post-roll ads are akin to TV ads, which are the easiest for traditional advertisers and marketers to comprehend. They view it basically as being “an online commercial,” in easy-to-understand 15 second and 30 second online spots
  • Greater impact over television ads. Joe says that according to a Milward Brown C-TV study, the impact of pre-rolls has proven to be greater than that of a commercial in live and on-demand television viewing” for their brand awareness

And to offer my own correction on Joe’s article, new ad platforms actually do include some level of direct response marketing. Pre-rolls can now feature clicks right within the pre-roll ad on mouseover, or clickable display ads click appearing right new to the video ad. (See screenshots below.)

Plus there’s one new pre-roll technology I’ve seen on my own local newspaper website, an “Ad Slot” example. This is where the pre-roll video is part of am embedded larger advertisement within a web page. Often it requires a mouse-over for people to hear the audio with the video (or a mouseover creating an expansion of the video frame).

Some drawbacks with pre-rolls video ads

That is not to suggest that pre-rolls are an ideal video advertising strategy for most businesses. There’s a couple of notable obstacles that still make it unobtainable for many businesses:

  • Cost. Pre-roll inventory can be expensive, with CPMs as much as 5 times higher than a rich-media-capable banner placement on the same publisher. A good part of this is due to the heavily increased media technology that is required to run video ads, over standard display and search ads.
  • Limited behavioral targeting opportunities. Right now, there aren’t many publishers using ad platforms that can serve up pre-rolls based on visitor’s past online activity, both on the existing site network and elsewhere. So the pre-roll ad that appears could not have any initial interest from most of the people who watch them to begin with.

Pre-rolls are one of the oldest forms of online video advertising that has adapted well thanks to technology improvements and user comfort levels. That being said, marketers will need at least a moderate media budget to get into the pre-roll space.  If marketers do plan to enter the pre-roll space, they should still expand their advertising portfolio to multiple video ad formats – including overlays and stand-alone video content – and measuring both the direct response effectiveness (clicks and conversions) and branding effectiveness (total views, total users, unique user exposures, durations) for each format.