Completion statistics for YouTube pre-roll ads are grim, to say the least. A study from research firm MetrixLab in April 2013 found 94 percent of pre-roll ads getting skipped after the first 5 seconds. UK-based agency Mirriad confirmed this number more recently in June 2016 when it found 90 percent of viewers skip pre-rolls.
But it’s not all bad news if you’re looking to create pre-roll ads for YouTube. Several brands have managed to cleverly catch the attention of viewers within the first five seconds and keep them around long enough to finish the entire ad. Here are five companies to imitate when looking to create a pre-roll your intended audience can’t help but watch:
1. Geico With its “Unskippable” pre-roll ad campaign, Geico directly addressed the issue of viewers wanting to skip ads by making their ads so short, users didn’t have time to move past them. Partnering with Virginia-based The Martin Agency, it created four ads of about 15 seconds each, where characters only drop one or two lines about insurance savings in the first five seconds of the ad before freezing mid-frame. A voice-over then claims, “You can’t skip this ad because it’s already over.”
Geico’s pre-roll campaign was successful (so much so it won AdAge’s 2016 Campaign of the Year Award) because it acknowledged YouTube viewers’ general distaste for pre-roll ads and played to that stigma instead of fighting against it. Plus, the campaign rewarded viewers who stuck around: The last ten seconds of each ad boasted comedic situations where the main characters stayed frozen while the rest of the world continued on as normal around them, such as a dog eating off the plates of its stock-still owners.
2. Burger King Burger King’s (BK) “anti-pre-roll” pre-roll campaign is a shining example of the right way to appeal to targeted audiences. The entire idea behind the fast food chain’s pre-roll ads was sympathizing with viewers’ dislike of pre-roll ads. In partnership with New Zealand agency Colenso BBDO, Burger King developed 64 ads featuring two young men poking fun at pre-rolls. Not only that, but each search-based ad spoke directly to the content the viewer was about to watch.
For example, if a viewer had just searched for “animal attack” on YouTube, BK delivered an ad where the two guys started complaining about how the viewer was just trying to watch an animal attack video. Ryan Noel, director of advertising at Dallas-based video marketing agency Vidpow, believes Burger King’s campaign was successful because of its clever use of placement targeting and relevant, humorous content.
“Being able to speak directly to what the user was trying to watch at the exact time they are trying to see it seems like something out of a Wizarding World,” Noel said, noting how this tactic convinced viewers to stick around and not skip the ad. “Following the intro with comedy relief [based on] the very relatable problem of disruptive advertising further relates to the audience. The combination of everything from targeting to content paved the way for a truly dynamic campaign that performed exceptionally well.”
3. MedExpress On the internet, going viral is a good thing. But in the medical world, virality can be harmful, even deadly. MedExpress, a chain of urgent-care clinics that helps patients with infections, decided to prove how much it hates anything that goes viral, including pre-roll ads. To do this, the health clinic tried to make the most boring ads possible, even “removing” the skip button in one of its spots to prevent the viewer from helping contribute to the following video’s virality.
The concept may be a bit of a stretch, but at the same time it’s a clever way to use pre-rolls in a way no other brand has yet attempted (i.e. comparing semantics from two very different industries). Because of this, viewers are more likely to remember MedExpress the next time they need to head to a healthcare clinic.
4. Nail Communications In the previous three examples, we’ve seen companies use YouTube pre-roll advertisements in an ingenious way to hook viewers and keep them around longer. But Nail Communications decided to take something of a risk and actually dare audiences to skip their ads, at the risk of electrocuting an innocent puppy hooked up to the Skip button via jumper cables.
This scare tactic may seem harsh, but by the end of the pre-roll campaign, Nail Communications saw a 26 percent completion rate of its ad. The ad agency also chose to donate 50 cents to the ASPCA for every completed video “to save some more puppies.” Now that’s a pre-roll example worth watching
5 Australian Federal Police Traditionally, missing persons reports are shared across broadcast news or even across social media, but these methods are often ignored by the average citizen. To try to avoid this problem, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) instead chose to use geo-targeted YouTube pre-roll ads to bring attention to local missing person cases. The AFP ads were skippable after five seconds, but the normal “skip” button was absent.
Instead, viewers were shown an image of a missing person and asked if they’d seen that person. Viewers could then choose between “Yes, I have” or “No, I haven’t” buttons. Within the first five days of the campaign being shown to over 1.2 million viewers, 238 people confirmed they’d seen missing persons to the AFP. By the end of the campaign, the AFP had over 1,600 positive leads.
“Forcing viewers to engage worked because it’s an issue of public interest,” explained Carla Marshall, editor-in-chief of video marketing publication Tubular Insights. “I’m not so sure how people would have reacted if they were being asked to decide on which type of cookie they preferred, or which travel insurance package they were going to buy. It’s a very fine line between grabbing a viewer’s attention for that split second and inducing some kind of emotion within them, and crass advertising that forces the viewers’ hand.”
Despite the success of many of these pre-roll ads, SEO-PR president and co-founder Greg Jarboe warns marketers about experimenting too much with the pre-roll format itself instead of creating excellent content for those ads. “I’d argue that you should think twice before monkeying around with the “Skip” button,” he said, noting in particular how brands need to pay attention to what resonates with their audience.
Jarboe posited, for example, how Geico’s “Hump Day” camel commercial (which wasn’t a part of the brand’s unskippable pre-roll strategy) generated 22.8 million views during the course of the campaign, according to data Jarboe pulled from Tubular Labs. Compare that to the significantly smaller view count of 7.2 million generated by Geico’s “Family: Unskippable” pre-roll ad. In this case, Jarboe believes Geico should “stop trying to have fun with ad formats” and instead focus on creating more video ads featuring animals.
That being said, marketers who are looking to create successful YouTube pre-roll ads still have plenty of high-quality examples to imitate. Once you find the right combination of content and format for your brand, your audience won’t need to skip your pre-roll ads, and isn’t that every marketer’s dream?