Is there anybody on the planet who actually enjoys pre-roll video advertising? Research has shown that 94% of people skip pre-roll ads, though I can't believe the number is that low (presumably the other 6% are masochists). 

Pre-roll ads are as loathed as pop-ups, which studies found to be damaging to both advertiser and publisher. I imagine that the same applies to pre-rolls. Have you ever watched one and wanted to buy the product or service that's being (badly) pitched to you?  

You have to wonder why they're so popular. Certainly the YouTube experience has considerably worsened since it started putting pre-rolls on a far wider range of ads, and I for one would pay a small fee to have them permanently removed.

Why do pre-roll ads suck so badly? Partly it's the interruption, which is often a lot longer than five seconds, and partly it's because the creative tends to be beyond stupid, but there are plenty of other reasons.  

The following quotes and videos reflect all that is wrong with the pre-roll format. If you're the kind of person who likes to snuggle up to Satan by commissioning pre-rolls then you might want to take some notes.

What kind of madness is this?

Everything's relative...

Advertisers + publishers = bad taste? 

Yep, it's broken

Ads on ads!

Misguided creative is misguided

Those dreamy opening sequences don't work

How a five second pre-roll should be done...

Volkswagen understands your pain

Even advertisers recognise that pre-roll ads annoy the hell out of people. Check out this ad from VW, which does "the most boring thing in the internet for you”.

Is there anything that can be done to improve this prevalent ad format? What do you think? 

Chris Lake

Published 22 August, 2013 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (22)

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Robert Black

Bang on, I'm in the 94% that hates them. As in the Twitter comment above, I especially don't get those that don't even mention the product in the first 5 seconds. Why?

There is no doubt that video is hugely popular and getting more so every day. You only have to look at the Youtube stats to know that's true. However I think a big part of the problem is that marketers, copywriters and ad agencies now think that video always works - at every time and in every situation. It's just laziness.

My other bugbear is that of video only sales pages. You see this more and more - usually the whiteboard type - whether the product is some keyword research tool, the latest weight loss program or a cure for tinnitus. What's wrong with mixing text and video, using video to enhance the sales copy, with a product demo for example?

I may be vaguely interested in a product but as soon as I see some Powerpoint whiteboard video and no text that will take 30 minutes from my life, I'm outta there. Could have been the greatest deal of all time but I'll never know about it...

almost 5 years ago

Christopher Smith

Christopher Smith, Marketing Consultant at Own Business

As an advertiser I've tested pre-roll on a small scale with poor results. I admit this was due to simply using a 30-second TV ad and not a made-for-pre-roll ad (hangs head in shame).

On a personal level I detest them as they are intrusive and interfere with the customer experience. I skip 100% of the time. If an advertiser is going to forcibly interrupt my viewing then they should be paying me for the privilege - not Google.

almost 5 years ago


leon bailey-green

Even when you skip the ad you have still noticed the brand which is key. Watching a short advert is a tiny price to pay for a free service. You can only hate the ads if you fail to appreciate their purpose.

almost 5 years ago

Christopher Smith

Christopher Smith, Marketing Consultant at Own Business

I appreciate their purpose - I've used them. But I still hate them ;-)

almost 5 years ago



I would have to agree with Leon.

Didn't your mothers ever teach you that nothing in life is free?

You can't buy food without money; achieve good grades without study; or maintain meaningful relationships without putting in a little bit of work. For everything that's worth anything, there must be some give-and-take.

The Internet, of course, is no exception. For a time, we were spoiled by sites like YouTube that offered quality content at no cost to the user. If we want something, in this case access to a video, we should be prepared to offer something in return, even if it's just 5 seconds of our time. Plus, I'm fairly certain that the adorable cat video on the other side of the pre-roll will STILL BE THERE in 5 seconds. Where's the fire, ya know?

So it looks like we're going to have to "buy that cow" because the milk is no longer free. lets call it attention equity, and we're going to have to get used to it.

almost 5 years ago


Mark Wilderspin

We're currently working on piloting new interactive video models where we can control the relevance and synchronisation of advertising to the main video content and also look to do more with product placement/ embedded marketing in relation to visuals, narration and music lyrics.

This requires more collaboration between the primary content owners and advertisers but in our case at last we're finding it to be a potentially interesting model.

almost 5 years ago


Maryrose Lyons, Founder at Brightspark Consulting

I agree with you @robertblack, sales sites with whiteboard video only really bug me too, especially when it takes up to 30 seconds for the pitch to get going. (Sorry if this comment is taking away from the subject of pre-rolls which I also dislike, but never watch).

almost 5 years ago


Tom Neal

Was the only person that wanted to skip the first 20 seconds of the Volkswagen video? I'd rather watch boring was that!

almost 5 years ago



You've still noticed the brand, which is indeed key, but the irritation of the pre-roll has left a negative perception of the brand, unless the brand is of particular interest to you. Relevance to the video content will develop over time and ROI will sky-rocket. Evolution....

almost 5 years ago


Nadia Saint

I've seen success in pre-roll campaigns only when the context is truly relevant to the content/product/service, and when the content actually adds some value and interactivity, e.g. offering a free trial to a service or pre-launch teaser info for a product.

These campaigns require the content to be created specifically for the medium - what's annoying and intrusive is when a standard TV-style ad is plonked as a pre-roll, in which case it's no wonder we all want to skip it!

almost 5 years ago



I don't agree with the posters who say that viewers have spotted the brand during a sponsored ad, I very rarely work out who the sponsor is, let alone what they're trying to tell me while I wait for 'Skip Ad' to appear. My suggestions are:

1) Make the Skip Ad box relate to the product. People are looking for it anyway and that's an extra couple of seconds of their time focussed.

2) Go back to event ads but with a digital spin - like the wonderful Guinness ads back in the day. Make the ad be what people click, then there's no need for a pre-roll.

3) Use Snapchat - where content is designed to disappear after 10 seconds max. Which leads to another problem, that Snapchat consumers are only slowly growing in the 20+ age range. So Snapchat needs to develop a non-mobile platform, or someone (Zuckerberg/Mayer/Huffington/Dorsey or someone new) needs to make a similar, smarter, less prurient competitor.

almost 5 years ago


Adam Murphy, Marketing Campaign Executive at Paddy Power

The worst thing about the vast majority of these ads are that they are carbon copies of their full length TV ads. Advertisers need to spend more time working on adapting their content to a medium that allows you to skip after 5 seconds. I'd say 99% of pre-roll ads haven't even told me what they're about within 5 seconds. Skipped and forgotten.

almost 5 years ago


dave c

Really liked Chris's point from Autoglass - if an advertiser wants me to look at his advert - pay me not that would be cool Chris...! :-)

Like everyone else here I actively dislike them - only thing I can think is if they were doing some really clever clever analysis and really therefore were on target in terms of timing and content (so one day they will be autogenerated "real people" like digital emily talking directly to me about my needs) then I'd feel less annoyed (initially - until the novely wore off!) till then No!


almost 5 years ago

Karl Harris

Karl Harris, Social Media Director at The Social Assembly

I think there is confusion here between the method and the execution. Is having a bolt on to some content really a bad thing?

If that content amuses me and or shows me something I'm actually interested in then I don't think so.

HOWEVER if it's just an arbitrary piece of stock advertising that doesn't understand the reason I came to that place in the first place, then I'll skip quicker than a hyperactive 8 year old girl.

So a message to all advertisers, in the theme of results week:

D- Capable of more, must try harder


almost 5 years ago


Cameron Church

I wonder how big a percentage of the viewer base would skip ads in linear TV if given the chance? Who doesn't fast forward through them using their PVR?

The article is definitely provocative and nice Friday Fodder but I'm not sure it really is hitting the nail on the head here.

As mentioned in the comment stream the problem is that linear ads created for a captivated audience have been simply carbon copied into an environment of captivated content.

The reason for this laziness are multiple but boils down to the fact that traditional TV (with emerging OTT VOD) still dominated by far any of the budgets, focus, attention and understanding.

When it comes to ad funded online video, it's still very much a small drop in a very large ocean.

Although the novelty of the vine example above is compelling I would say that if that became the normal we'd have the digital video equivalent of the animated JPEG ad.

Overall though? I'm not sure why we're complaining too much. Advertisers are spending 'enough' money to allow YouTube (and others) to remain relatively free WHILE allowing users to skip the ads. Do we really want ads to become 'better' (whatever that means) or for the skip ad to go away?

If all we want to do is consume our chosen content and the price we have to pay is just sitting for 5 seconds until the skip ad pops up is the system really broken?

-- Cameron

almost 5 years ago


Abhay Hendre

Hooray!!! I'm in the 94% that hates those ads. Good to know that I'm not alone ;)
Looks like every video site will turn into a Vid-vertising site in next few years. :)
I hope they don't start doing the same for Images :D :D

almost 5 years ago



Preroll ads on youtube are what made me finally install an adblocking browser extension. Previously I just avoided going to sites that had overly intrusive ads.

almost 5 years ago


Cody Beck, Marketing at PageFair

Great article. Is there a citation or link to the research quoted at the beginning?

over 4 years ago


Amir Azam, Manager at Interactive Video Innovations Limited

Why hate pre-rolls or unskippable adverts...just bin them.
We at Interactive Video Innovations do interactivity WITHIN the video.
The viewer has the choice of whether to interact or not whilst they are immersed in the video. Our solutions also allow for purchse of multiple products directly from WITHIN THE VIDEO. RETAIL MUSIC SPORT

Contact us now for a demonstration
+44(0)844 5678907
+44(0)7866 7777 44

over 3 years ago

Peter Liu

Peter Liu, Co-Founder at Pixmoto

Yes Yes Yes ... shoppable video like - if audiences really like the content they are watching, there are plenty of places (like in your blog or editorial content) where call-to-action can by synchronized.

over 2 years ago


Aodh McMahon, Not applicable at Not applicable

The advertisement should also be in the language YouTube is set to. If one's language setting is set to English, he should receive English adverts ONLY. Set to Spanish, Spanish ads. French, French ads. Etcetera etcetera.

about 2 years ago


Mark Zuckerman, Owner at Facebook

It's really pathetic that there is no end to the revenue they desire.
I'm sure they could minimize or stop the pre roll adds that just ruin parties by stupid appletons adds in the middle of a playlist. You tube officially sucks. Someone start a new one quick let's teach these money hungry clowns that it's easy now for us to boycott entrapment

over 1 year ago

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