Video advertising is the fastest-growing format of digital advertising. In 2011, Americans spent an average of 39 minutes a day interacting with digital video. By 2015, this number shot up to nearly 2 hours — and it’s still rising.

Video platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo and DailyMotion are free for users, but they monetize traffic through advertising. The rise of digital video as an effective advertising medium has launched a type of ad that's similar to the television commercial. Referred to as in-stream advertising, it has since migrated to other internet channels and beyond.

For businesses who want to stay ahead of the curve, here is what you need to know about in-stream video ads and how to do a better job of connecting with your audiences through pre-roll advertising.

What Are In-Stream Video Ads?

A video ad is a commercial about a specific service or a product that could include text, animations or imagery. Video ads vary in length, content and the amount of control a user has over it.

There are three types of in-stream video ads:

  • Pre-roll video 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.

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

What Is a Pre-roll Video Ad?

Pre-roll video ads resemble a typical TV commercial and are usually played linearly before the desired video 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 ad is 15 to 30 seconds long.

Most commonly, you can find pre-roll video 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.

What Are the Benefits of a Pre-roll Video Ad?

There are many benefits of in-stream advertising and pre-roll video ads in particular.

Guaranteed video views

Pre-roll ads are played before viewers can watch the desired content. 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 videos.


A pre-roll video campaign usually includes targeting 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 video 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 see, 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 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 video ads tend to be brief and easier to understand than TV commercials, for instance, which can be anywhere between 36 to 45 seconds long. Additionally, pre-roll video ads are presented individually, whereas TV ads are typically followed by other commercials.

What Is the Main Feature of Pre-roll Ads?

Pre-roll ads must be short: No more than 30 seconds and 15 seconds is considered ideal. 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. The video should immediately capture the attention of the viewer, and the message should be brief and clear.

How Can Marketers Rethink Pre-roll Ads?

Marketers must be aware of how to use the pre-roll advertising format correctly because online consumers are much more goal-oriented and may perceive pre-roll ads as an invasion into their online experience. This could lead to negative attitudes that eventually influence consumer behavior. For instance, a frustrated user could leave the webpage, closing the video or reloading the page.

Understanding that risk, 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 and increased the average view rate.

To eliminate the sense of intrusiveness, marketers have to rethink how to make their pre-roll ads more attractive to the consumer. One way to do this is to create emotionally appealing content. Additionally, interactive digital experiences are becoming popular among marketers.

Skippable pre-roll ads give viewers a choice either to watch the ad until the end or skip it after a couple of seconds. By providing consumers with the option to manage their digital ad experience, companies can ensure a better video environment. Customers can watch pre-roll video ads 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 5 seconds is optimum.

Why Should You Try Pre-roll Advertising?

Pre-roll advertising accounts 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.

Pre-roll ads are nearly three times more effective than the 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 wide audiences. 

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Written by
Irina Kovalenko, CMO of SmartyAds
March 2020