How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pre-roll Ad

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Revision3 CEO Jim Louderback contributed an interesting article to Adage.com today, expressing his distain for pre-roll ads and at the same time predicting that the format will stay around, simply because it happens to be the most effective form of advertising in the online video space to date. Louderback knows what he is talking about, because he’s been on both sides of the argument. “I once promised that there would never be a pre-roll at Revision3, but I was eating my words within a year,” he writes.

Louderback still doesn’t really like pre-rolls, and he fears that they might hinder virality and in turn kill the very same plant they’re supposed to nourish. I think those fears are valid, but it’s not fair to hold them against the format per se. Pre-rolls have not only survived because everything else failed, but because the format itself and the content it’s meant to monetize have been changing. In fact, these changes have caused me to change my mind as well: I used to hate them, but now actually prefer them over other forms of advertising.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m the first one to admit that a 30 second pre-roll for a two minute video is the wrong way to go. “I’m afraid they… depress video sharing and snacking — which is ultimately how a video goes viral,” Louderback writes, and I think he’s absolutely right, especially because virality is so very personal these days. Recommending a video to your Facebook friends that forces them to watch long and boring ads before it even starts is like inviting a salesman over to their house.

However, I do like pre-rolls if they’re done right:

  • They’re great for long-form content. My ability to tolerate pre-roll ads increases significantly with the length of the actual video I’m watching. I hate them in combination with short YouTube clips, but have no problems watching a longer pre-roll ad on Hulu. The same goes for some of the shows that Louderback’s Revision3 and other online studios are producing, especially if I’m familiar with them. Give me something I want to watch for half an hour, and I don’t mind waiting 30 seconds. Of course, online-only shows still need virality and snacking to gather an audience. That’s where excerpts come in — but without pre-rolls, please.
  • Pre-rolls work even better if they offer some choice. Hulu has been successfully experimenting with pre-roll ads that offer viewers the ability to choose between different ad options, with one being a 2:30 minute pre-roll that lets you watch the rest of the show ad-free. I don’t know about you, but I go for the long pre-roll ad every single time.
  • Pre-rolls are great if they match the context. Watching a half minute ad about breakfast rolls before an online video starts up can be somewhat annoying, but an ad that actually fits in with the content you’re about to watch is much less distracting. Take the pre-roll YouTube is serving before the We Are The World 25 For Haiti music video for example. Can anyone really be mad at Quincy Jones for plugging anything before a music video of a song he wrote, much less for asking for a donation? Of course, Google isn’t making any money with this ad, and one could argue that it is much more like a sponsorship than a traditional pre-roll. However, reload the page, and you’ll see that the ad won’t play twice. It’s in fact a pre-roll, but a very well targeted one. I suspect that Google is going to get much better at matching up contextual pre-roll ads with YouTube clips, and I’d think that others could greatly benefit from targeting like this as well.

What do you think? Do you hate pre-rolls? Have you learned to live with them? Or is it all about the context? Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy of Flickr user x-ray delta one.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: Why 2010 Still Won’t Be the Year of Mobile Advertising (subscription required)

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