Pre-roll has become the punching bag for ad industry watchers who don’t believe the format has staying power. However, their conclusions and research—such as Tubemogul’s recent report that pre-rolls exhibit poor viewership on magazine and newspaper sites—provide a skewed perspective of the health of pre-roll video.Reports of pre-roll’s death have been greatly exaggerated—in fact, there are so many new tactics and technologies revolving around online video that it’s more accurate to say there’s been a rebirth of the medium. You can’t get around the fact that video is a hugely powerful way to tell a story about a brand or a product. Granted, the ad business can’t continue to snare eyeballs by simply running pre-roll that duplicates TV spots, which does nothing to engage online viewers. But there are plenty of signs that markets are developing shorter, interactive, and original online video ads.
First off, there’s no mistaking that the online video market is healthy and growing rapidly, according to eMarketer: 48.1 per cent growth this year, and 42.7 per cent growth in 2011. This exponential increase means that online video has become an essential part of the digital media mix for any campaign.
Advertisers are also responding to viewer preferences with new ways to view video, improving the chances that consumers will tune in and that brand messages will resonate with them. No doubt online video will follow the trend in TV towards shorter commercials: as the Nielsen Co. recently reported, the number of 15-second TV commercials has risen 70 per cent since 2005, presumably as 30-second spots fall out of favour.
Another strategy that improves the reach of pre-roll video, and makes viewers happy: interactive tools that give consumers more control over the ad experience. For example, the ASq video platform is letting viewers pick which pre-rolls they want to watch prior to viewing their desired video content. VivaKi’s research found that clickthrough rates for such videos are 204% higher than standard industry benchmarks, and brand awareness is almost 290 per cent higher. These stats offer compelling reasons to develop more such interactive options for viewers.
In fact, in our experience, this strong brand awareness can be created through video alone to launch companies and products. BBE recently teamed up with several other online ad companies to launch HoodieBuddie, a sweatshirt with machine-washable headphones embedded in the hood’s drawstrings. Introducing to market an unknown product—especially one aimed at brand-conscious teens and young adults—usually demands an ad blitz across all media channels. However, after one month, the online video-only campaign generated a 60 per cent increase in daily sales, and a 205 per cent increase in brand awareness.
The fact that the online video market is showing healthy growth, and that advertisers are coming up with innovative ways to build viewership, pokes many holes in the “pre-roll doesn’t scale” argument. Pre-roll will scale as video scales: that is, as we develop new ideas for challenging the viewer and getting them excited about seeing our videos, pre-roll’s clickthrough and viewing rates will naturally rise.
Online video is still in its infancy, just like cable TV was 30 years ago; but over time, programmers met audience demands for better content. That’s what happening, and will continue to happen, with online video. We’re also getting smarter about measuring what consumers want from video—not just impressions and clickthrough rates, but time spent watching as well as ad completion. When we look closely, we see that viewership is on the rise: FreeWheel just reported that completion rates went up from 45 per cent in Q1 2010 to 54 per cent in Q3.
So video pre-roll, far from dying a slow death, is making itself more effective and relevant to marketers. Have we seen pre-roll at its best? Certainly not yet, but we’re getting there. We’re working on making the creative better, shorter, and catchier, and we’re trying to reach a younger, more ADD-inclined audience. These are big challenges. But even given the work ahead of us, pre-roll has proven to be a workhorse for marketers and it’s more than delivered on its promise.