5 Ways to Make Your YouTube Pre-Rolls Kick Ass

Sometimes media is the message.

Lately there has been one media, which has had a sudden surge of messages: both skippable and non-skippable.

YouTube pre-rolls.

Despite annoying the hell out of users and not really making money, brand advertisers love YouTube pre-rolls. They are the new TV ads. Unfortunately that familiarity often translates to laziness. When there is lack of understanding of digital possibilities, YouTube pre-roll seems like a silver bullet. It feels easy, cosy and ticks all the right boxes (visual storytelling, digital, reach, etc.)

1. Don´t use your TV ads as a pre-roll.
There is an exception to this rule, though. If you have done genuinely funny, entertaining and effective TV ad, which works also in digital format and drives the message home in the first 5 seconds you can skip this part.
Yep, I thought so.
Although it feels tempting and easy solution, dumping your TV ad to YouTube hardly cuts the mustard.
Majority of TV ads are 30 seconds. The media buying behavior is the main reason for the duration. 30 seconds is not magical duration to tell a story. Especially in YouTube, where people watch content ranging from fraction of seconds to multiple hours.
TV ads are more passive format, as you cannot skip them as reaching for the remote is more tasking than moving your cursor on screen. You can be more boring and long-winded in TV ads and still make them work. You don´t have that luxury with YouTube pre-rolls. At its most minimum level, at least make YouTube edit of that TV ad.

2. Understand why people are watching YouTube videos
When you buy that pre-roll, you are, by default, annoying users. They want to watch some idiot eating Naga Morich, not hear about your latest anti-dandruft shampoo. You are not engaging with audience, you are interrupting them. So embrace that fact. Little contextual acknowledgement (Burger King Anti Pre-Roll) or even reward for watching the whole video (EAT: Don´t Skip Your Breakfast) will go a long way.

3. People will likely skip your ad. Make those 5 seconds count.
Depending on the source, over 94% or as little as 70% skip the pre-rolls. Nevertheless of the actual number, you can safely assume that your pre-roll is more likely to be skipped than seen or shared.
Therefore the most important part of a good story is the beginning. You have to catch the attention immediately. Like saying that you electrocute a dog if you skip the ad:

Even after this threat, only 26% watched the video in its full glory. Either there are more latent dog-haters around or people just skip the ads based on the habit. Hardest task is to make people stay and watch the first 5 seconds. After that the consumer is already committed to your content and can just hang on:

4. Don´t Sweat The Length (but make it as short as possible)
Generally non-skippable YouTube ads should be shorter than that and skippable ones could even be significantly longer. So take your time as long as your start is hard-hitting. After first five seconds everything is easier.
Only caveat is that it might be quite overkill to force user to watch 30s pre-roll when she is watching 10s video. Smart marketer would have lots of different versions of the YouTube pre-roll to suit different context (like Burger King Pre-Roll) or different lengths. The following ad from Volkswagen would work brilliantly with shorter-form video:

Doing multiple versions is more expensive from production perspective, but increased investment would also result in increased effectiveness.

 5. If you don´t have anything interesting to say or show, you are not interesting
YouTube pre-roll has certain limitations and opportunities, which are good to keep in mind. At the end of the day, it is still about good marketing communications. Great story is a great story whether it is 5 seconds or 5 hours. And on the other hand: If it looks like shit and smells like shit, you don´t need to really taste it to verify that it is shit.
If you are doing the latter, you should be ashamed of yourself. No matter what the medium. And if you are being clever and having fun with the medium you can actually expand the interest from 5 seconds to 1 minute:

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