Pre-Roll Ads, Explained

Write Label
3 min readOct 6, 2022

by Pamela Ross

You’ve got another cute cat video queued up on YouTube, and you can’t wait to watch it. But when you press Play, an advertisement for an insurance company starts playing. You wait the requisite five seconds before you skip ahead to the kitties — but wait, the celebrity spokesperson said Insurance Company X can save you more money on your car insurance? That information could actually be useful. You mentally file it away for future reference and settle in to watch cats be adorable.

That insurance ad was a pre-roll ad — a video advertisement that plays before online short-form content. Pre-roll ads can be viewed on laptops, desktops, and mobile devices. Since they play before content a viewer sought out, it’s more likely that the ad is relevant to the viewer’s interests and will be watched for at least a few seconds if not in its entirety (some aren’t skippable). But what makes a pre-roll ad successful?

It comes down to remaining mindful of the viewer’s experience. Put yourself in viewers’ shoes — which shouldn’t be difficult, given the barrage of advertising messages we encounter every day online. Most pre-roll ads are watched on someone’s phone while they’re surfing the Internet alone, so pre-roll ads should make the viewer feel like they’re being spoken to directly. Geico’s “Unskippable High Five” is a particularly meta take on this concept — it addresses the user in the second person (“you”), and makes light of the fact that they can’t skip the ad before viewing their desired content.

https://www.ispot.tv/ad/7auL/geico-high-five-unskippable

Because digital advertisers select the specific demographic their ad will reach, the most successful pre-roll ads are hyper targeted to that demo. As in radio ads, this targeting shouldn’t be too explicit — “Hey, nurses over thirty with kids who care about pets!” — but rather take the form of the actors, settings, situations, or terminology used.

Perhaps most crucially, pre-rolls need to offer the viewer value immediately. You typically have three to six seconds before the viewer can skip ahead to other content, so get to it! Trim excessive context or language and make clear the business or product’s value in a way that’s attention-grabbing.

Finally, the ad’s call to action should be tailored to the device it’s being watched on. For example, if the objective is driving prospective customers to the company’s website, you might write “Click the link on your screen” instead of “Visit XYZ dot com.”

Overall, keep the user experience in mind when crafting pre-roll video scripts. They’re distinct from OTT/Broadcast ads and the visual aspect makes them very different from radio and podcast scripts. If you have any questions, you can refer to this resource article or e-mail us at Team@WriteLabel.com. We’re happy to help!

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