Video marketing is booming - video platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, and DailyMotion are free for users, and they monetize traffic mainly with video units. The rise of digital video advertising has given birth to the type of ad that is more interactive than television commercial - a pre-roll advertisement that is a part of in-stream video ads.

Right now video advertising is the fastest-growing format of digital advertising. According to the eMarketer, the digital ad spending only in the US will climb to 19 billion and by the end of this year, in 2021 this bar will rise to 22 billion dollars.

For businesses that want to stay ahead of the curve, in this article you can find advice regarding what you need to know about in-stream advertising. Plus, you’ll find out how to do a better job of connecting with your target audience through pre-roll advertising, mid and post-roll ads.

digital video ad spend us

What are in-stream video ads?

A video ad is a commercial about a specific service or product that could include text, animations, or imagery. Such an ad is a short promotional video too, it may vary in length, content, and the amount of control a user has over it. In-stream units are divided into pre-roll, mid-roll, and post-roll commercials.

There are three types of in-stream ad units:

  • Pre-roll ads are shown to the user before the video content;
  • Mid-roll ads are inserted in the middle of the video content;
  • Post-roll ads are aired at the end of the video content.

The placement of the video unit depends on the digital marketing campaign and the ad content. Ideal for mass-market launches, in-stream ads help marketers drive brand awareness, create purchase intent, and educate consumers about the product or service.

What is a pre-roll video ad?

A pre-roll advertisement resembles a typical TV commercial. A pre-roll ad is a promotional video message that is usually played linearly before the desired content. However, pre-roll ads tend to be shorter than the average TV commercial. Due to the short attention span of viewers, a classical pre-roll same as a mid-roll ad lasts for 15 to 30 seconds.

Most commonly, you can find pre-roll ads on websites that feature videos, but they also have been increasingly adopted by online gaming websites as a condition to play a game. Like any other form of digital advertising, pre-roll video ads can be bought directly or programmatically. In-stream ads are usually sold on a CPM basis.

3 types of pre-roll ads to look for

All pre-roll ads can be differentiated by duration, this is the most important distinguishing feature that defines how they work.

  • Skippable pre-roll ads. Skippable pre-roll advertisement can be skipped by viewers after the first 5 seconds of watching. Thus, skippable ads leave the decision up to the watchers whether to skip or watch the ads till the end.
  • Not skippable pre-rolls. This pre-roll ad unit leaves no option to skip the ad for the users. Thus, the pre-roll ad commercial is watched till the end before it is allowed to resume the content watching. The duration of such an ad is 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Bumper pre-rolls. This pre-roll ad can last for 6 seconds and are also unskippable. Such a pre-roll ad unit is managed through Google ads but can also be added to Youtube's TrueView campaign.

Youtube pre-roll creatives

YouTube pre-roll ads are usually 15, 30, or 60 seconds long, they are also non-skippable so viewers must wait until the ad has played in full before they can watch the video of their choice. Some of those, however, are skippable ads that play around 5 seconds.

It is believed that such non-skippable pre-roll advertising videos ideally should last up to 6 seconds - even though the limit is 60, the user's attention span is much shorter so the more concise the message appears the more memorable it ends up to be.

What’s also particular about YouTube pre-roll ads, advertisers only pay when a user clicks on an ad. That means ads on YouTube are paid according to the cost-per-click or rather a cost-per-view model.

YouTube pre-roll advertising also has a TrueView ad showing concept - commercial videos that advertisers pay for only when their ad is viewed or interacted with in some way. This way an advertiser decides which type of ad to apply and only pays when the ad is viewed for at least 30 seconds/upon completion/when a certain action is done.

What are the benefits of a pre-roll video ad?

There are many benefits of in-stream advertising and pre-roll units in particular. Since they appear at the beginning of the video, such ads get easily memorized by users, thus, they better drive brand awareness.

According to the freshest stats, in 2020, a pre-roll commercial was considered the most effective ad format among all others on Youtube: 29% of marketers agreed on this. Let’s see the full picture to understand why they are so effective.

pre roll stats

Guaranteed video views

Pre-roll ads are played before viewers can watch the desired content. Thus, they can be potentially seen by more people when compared to post roll ads. Because they are interested in the video that follows the pre-roll ad, they have no choice but to watch the ad. For the maximum view-through rate, create shorter pre-roll creatives.


A pre-roll advertisement campaign usually includes a variety of targeting options. For instance, you can target by geolocation, demographics, online behavior, user interests, topics, and keywords. Due to the usage of real-time bidding algorithms for performance-based ad allocation, pre-roll targets the right group of people.

Interactive component

Users have a choice to click on the ad, follow the link, or share the ad via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and more. Hulu’s Ad Selector allows users to choose the ad they want to watch, presenting them with several categories and video options and making the ad highly interactive. Other platforms offer two-question surveys, animation, rich media graphics, and an additional layer of video on top of the main advertising creative.

Immediate response

Pre-roll ads are very similar to the direct-response digital marketing model in which advertisers can estimate the immediate success of the campaign based on clicks, views, subscriptions, purchases, or downloads.

Easier comprehension

Pre-roll ads tend to be brief and easier to understand than TV commercials, for instance, which can be anywhere between 36 to 45 seconds long. In any case, it shouldn’t exceed 60 seconds. Additionally, pre-roll ads are presented individually, whereas TV ads are typically followed by other commercials.

Lead attraction

These video ads can quickly elevate your brand awareness KPI since they are specifically created for campaigns that raise brand awareness and purchase intent. In video campaigns those ad pre-roll ad units are most memorable. Thus, even if the potential customer won’t make the purchase after ad watching, the image of your brand will resurface in their mind later - at the moment when they make a decision.benefits of pre roll ads

What is the perfect duration for pre-roll ads?

Pre-roll ad must be short - no more than 30 seconds and 15 seconds is considered okay per view. In case you strive for perfection, the duration of pre-roll ad should not exceed five seconds.

In any case, such an ad unit should capture the viewer's attention within five seconds because afterward, they will most certainly skip it (when the option displays). The best pre-roll ads are clickable and provide customers with a URL and call-to-action that redirects them to the website when they click on the ad.

How to structure ad content in a pre-roll ad?

There are 3 magic formulas to structure your content in pre-roll ad to make a greater impact on watchers.

Formula #1. Suits pre-roll that last up to 30 seconds. Fit the most important message in the first couple of seconds of the commercial. Give a detailed explanation during the next 20. Repeat the main message during the last second or two in the video.

Formula #2. Put the attention hook in the first several seconds of the video. The next few seconds should provide the name of the brand and feature the slogan.

Use the next 15 seconds of the video to tell how your product or service saves the problem of the viewer. Finish the video (last five seconds) by repeating the same idea or featuring the product on the screen once again.

Formula #3. Briefly feature your product or service and provide the option to skip the unit for those to whom the offer could be irrelevant.

Tell the customers about the pain points that your offer is able to address.

Mention the age of the target audience.

Showcase the results that can be achieved with your offer. Hook the people in with call-to-action - tell what they can get if they register/buy right away. Provide the link to the website/register form.

Giving the option to skip

Using pre-roll marketers must make sure they apply this ad format correctly because online consumers are much more goal-oriented and may perceive pre-roll ads as an invasion of their online experience. This could lead to negative attitudes that can eventually influence consumer behavior. For instance, a frustrated user could leave the webpage, close the video, or reload the page.

Watch or not to watch? Understanding those frustration risks, advertisers have been attempting to give viewers more freedom and choice by offering a handful of options concerning which ad they would like to watch. For example, Hulu launched selectable pre-roll ads, which led to more positive attitudes toward the brand, increased the average view rate, brand awareness and purchase intent

Make sure to eliminate the sense of intrusiveness - rethink how to make pre-roll ads more attractive to the consumer. One way to do this is to create emotionally appealing content and avoid non-skippable long ads. Additionally, interactive digital experiences are becoming popular among marketers.

Provide skipping options. A skippable pre-roll ad gives viewers a choice if they want to watch the ad until the end or to skip the commercial after the first couple seconds or less. By providing consumers with the option to manage their digital ad experience, companies can ensure a better video environment.

Customers can watch pre-roll commercials until the end, but it has to be their choice, not a forced obligation. As a rule, skippable ads are served for no longer than 15 seconds, and the publisher is responsible for setting up the duration limit. DoubleClick by Google reports that a couple of seconds is optimal. When creating your pre-roll video remember to stick to the following points.

What it takes to make a cool pre-roll ad unit:

  • Make it short and your message clear
  • Hook the viewers in during the first 5 seconds of the video
  • Avoid non-skippable ads. Better provide the option to skip the ad
  • Always provide call-to-action (give the link to the website)
  • Use targeting solutions to channel the message to the right audiences (people who can be potentially interested in your offer).

pre roll ad characteristics

Retargeting with pre-roll ads

With such advanced programmatic platforms as DSP, marketers, and advertisers should no longer worry about their ad budgets being spent in vain.

Functionalities like retargeting are specifically created to trigger the conversion of those audiences who already visited your website but didn't make a purchase. These can be also visitors who abandoned their carts or those who filled out the form and left. Retargeting them on different devices and mediums with pre-rolls, in this case, appears as a perfect occasion to remind them about your hot offers.

The average cost per view for pre-roll ads

Worth mentioning that there’s no median cost for pre-roll serving because it will depend on many factors and the content the video will be served in. On average one can expect to pay approximately from $0.02-$0.09 per one view.

With that being said, non-YouTube traditional videos and ads in social media can appear more affordable - in their strive to stay competitive, third party vendors can offer lower prices with the same high-quality video ad serving functionalities.

Why should you try pre-roll advertising?

Pre-roll ads account for a relatively small share of the available video inventory; however, it has become more popular among marketers because online publishers can guarantee the ad view before the desired content starts.

A pre-roll ad is widely used for video marketing strategies. It is nearly three times more effective than a banner ad. With the benefits of programmatic advertising, including advanced targeting, campaign measurement, and conversion optimization, marketers can engage with their consumers and successfully distribute their message to the broader target audience.

When to apply pre-roll ads?

In video marketing strategies, pre-roll ads are used for the top-of-the-funnel campaigns that aim to allure new customers, raise brand awareness, and generate leads. They are also used in order to drive more traffic to the website but that’s rather their complementary function. This way these creatives can also give specifically good shots for the brands that are new on the market and plan to position themselves and gain recognition.

Platforms for serving pre-roll ads

YouTube. YouTube is the most popular platform for serving video ads, pre-roll one including. 6 to 30-seconds long videos are the most frequent duration for the format. The ad runs in the same player where the video content is served. Since YouTube is a very popular content consumption channel placing the ad here may cost a bit higher compared to alternative video ad serving solutions.

At the same time, the platform also offers a great abundance of targeting options according to which you can personalize ad messages for every customer: gender, age, location, and behavioral targeting (interests, lifestyle) are among those.

Facebook. Another common place where you can stumble upon pre-roll ads. Facebook features a lot of content that’s actively liked and shared, that’s why it also works as an advertising platform.

If you decide to focus your efforts on this channel keep in mind that they allow only those pre-roll ads that last up to 6 seconds. More than six seconds limit is considered harmful for user experience and thus, restricted. The Facebook platform for advertisers also features various targeting options according to which you can tune up ad delivery (location, age, gender, interests, and so on).

Twitter. Just like YouTube, Twitter allows skippable pre-roll ads with a 6 to 30-second duration. The ads appear in the premium publisher videos and autoplay in the user’s timeline or in profile. If previously Twitter video ad placing was only available for U.S-based advertisers, today this option is open for almost all countries.

With Twitter ads, you can target according to the demographic characteristics (age, geo, gender) as well target a particular device type, and retarget the users on mobile.

Programmatic platforms. Just like the above-mentioned ad platforms, demand-side platforms are able to automate the process of video ad serving on behalf of advertisers.

They utilize algorithmic buying algorithms, big data, ML, AI, first and third party data sources in order to personalize the messages for every audience segment depending on their characteristics: age, geo, traffic type, device type, dayparting (time of the day when the ad should be served), browser, language, and many other criteria that you can find on SmartyAds DSP.

targeting DSP

Targeting and retargeting options for videos on SmartyAds DSP help advertisers to deliver their ads only to the right users, which, in turn, reduces the ad spend and amplifies the power of each ad message. All video campaigns also support ad tracking tags and macroses that enable advertisers to add additional tracking parameters to their videos in order to stay aware of their video unit performance.

To sum up

Video advertising opens new horizons for brands that strive to establish a meaningful connection with their customers. Pre-roll ads, mid and post-rolls that appear in the videos can complement the content offering relevant products and services to the user.

Working at the upper funnel a pre-roll ad can evoke a good brand recall that later on will transition to the purchase intent and strong loyalty to the brand. Consider building brand image and positioning your products with a pre-roll ad unit but don’t forget about targeting as this is an important factor that keeps your messaging relevant.

Grow pre-roll campaigns programmatically on SmartAds DSP!

Written by
Irina Kovalenko, CMO of SmartyAds
February 2018