What Are Pre-Roll Ads? (Definition, Uses and Benefits)

Updated June 24, 2022

Marketing professionals use a variety of advertising strategies to promote products, services or brands. With many advertisements competing for a viewer's attention, it's become more important than ever to keep viewers meaningfully engaged. Pre-roll ads are short promotional videos that play before a user's desired content, and they're a useful way to keep viewers interested in the brand. In this article, we explain what pre-roll ads are, discuss their uses, list their characteristics and benefits and answer some commonly asked questions about them.

Related: Types of Advertisements and What Makes Them Successful

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What are pre-roll ads?

Pre-roll ads are video advertisements that appear before a featured video on a mobile device or a desktop. They differ from post-roll ads, which are ads that appear after the video plays, and mid-roll ads, which play during the video. A user often directly influences the content that appears in a pre-roll ad. For example, if the user visits a certain website or performs a certain online search, there's a greater likelihood that they see a pre-roll ad that relates to their search.

The length of each ad may vary, and users can even sometimes skip them. This often depends on the platform the ad appears on and the platform's specific requirements. There are three primary types of pre-roll ads:

  • Non-skippable ads: If an ad is non-skippable, it means that users watch the entire ad without being able to skip through it. Non-skippable ads operate on a pay-per-view model, where the advertiser pays when the viewer watches the ad.

  • Skippable ads: These ads allow a user to skip right to their desired content after a few seconds. Like non-skippable ads, these ads operate on a pay-per-view model and bigger advertisers commonly use them.

  • Bumper ads: A bumper ad is usually only a few seconds in length and are unskippable. They tend to operate on a pay-per-1000-views model, where the advertiser pays per every 1000 views.

Related: The Definitive Guide to Video Marketing

Uses of pre-roll ads

Advertising is one of the most common tools of communication that organizations use to achieve their marketing objectives, and pre-roll ads can be especially useful due to their broad reach. The video format is popular on social media, and as the popularity of video platforms continues to grow, there are additional opportunities to raise awareness and promote products and services in a more unobtrusive way. Here are some of the most common uses for these ads:

To attract new customers

Pre-roll ads help quickly attract new customers by providing them with a way to access the advertiser's website and learn more about the products that appear in the ad. They can also let potential customers and current customers know about new product launches, special offers and improvements to their service. Depending on their specific market, advertisers have a variety of ways they can attract new customers and set up targeted campaigns.

To increase brand awareness

While ads alone are unlikely to create a sale, they can be an excellent way to increase awareness among potential customers and educate them about the brand and what it offers. That way, when the consumer is about to make a purchase and is considering various vendors, they might be more likely to recall the advertisement. Since pre-roll ads are so short, they're usually designed to get the viewers' attention quickly and memorably.

Related: 18 Types of Videos That Can Enhance a Marketing Campaign

To generate leads

Lead generation is the process of attracting prospects to a business with the goal of converting them into loyal customers. Advertisers can use pre-roll ads to generate leads by making them innovative and engaging while still focusing on the brand's message. Frequent pre-roll ads can increase brand recall and purchase consideration, which can also lead to additional lead generation. Leads generated from pre-role ads are also easier to track through advertising analytics.

Characteristics of pre-roll ads

Many pre-roll ads look slightly different, depending on the brand and target audience. While these ads may be of slightly different lengths, they all appear before a user's video and focus on providing value to the user. Here are some of the primary characteristics of pre-roll ads:


Most pre-roll ads are less than a minute long, and most are less than 30 seconds. On larger video platforms, these ads are typically between five and 15 seconds long and are either skippable or unskippable. The ads usually encourage viewers to watch more, even after they're able to skip through the ad and get to the main video.

Concise message

Since these ads aren't very long, their messages are simple and concise. The primary focus of these ads is to attract and keep the attention of the viewer so they either keep watching the ad or visit the advertiser's website at a later time. Most advertisers recognize that they only have about five seconds to get their message to the viewer, so they'll try to make it as convincing as possible.

Valuable, engaging content

Instead of simply promoting a product or service, pre-roll ads often focus on providing value to their audience and telling a story. Effective pre-roll ads are interesting and indirectly encourage people to keep watching to see what happens next. These ads engage the viewer in just a few seconds by focusing solely on the information that directly benefits them.

Call to action

Most pre-roll ads also contain a link to a landing page or contain some kind of call to action. This prompts viewers to interact further with the brand and helps the advertiser accomplish their goal. This link might appear at the end of the ad or right at the beginning. Many advertisers use both a landing page and a call-to-action to allow viewers to learn more about the company or the product.

Related: Your Guide to Online Marketing: What It Is and How To Use It

Benefits of pre-roll advertising

Pre-roll advertising is especially popular due to the size and scale of digital content available to the average user. There are a number of benefits to using pre-roll ads:

They guarantee views

Since pre-roll ads play before a user's desired video, they have a greater chance of being seen by more people than post-roll ads, which play after a video. Viewers who are interested in watching the video appearing after the ad rarely have an option to skip the ad. The shorter the ad, the greater the likelihood of the viewer watching the ad from start to finish and noticing the call to action.

They can be highly interactive

Users who watch pre-roll ads often have a variety of ways to interact with the ad after watching it, including clicking on the link, sharing it to social media or clicking it to see similar content. Many platforms often allow advertisers to categorize their ads based on their target audience. Some platforms even offer advertisers the ability to create short surveys and insert fun animations and graphics.

They engage the viewer and can increase brand acceptance

Pre-roll ads often focus on displaying content that directly correlates to potential customers' interests. Once an advertiser is able to create an ad that has a high engagement rate, they can adapt that ad and use it for future advertisements. An ad that's well-crafted also increases the chances of a viewer remembering the brand and informing their family and friends. This might allow the viewer to create a favorable perception of the brand.

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FAQs about pre-roll ads

Here are some commonly asked questions about using pre-roll ads:

What are some tips for creating an effective pre-roll advertising campaign?

As an advertiser, it's important to create ads that are concise yet detailed. Providing your viewers with a short, interactive ad that focuses on solving a problem can be a great way to capture their attention and keep them watching. It's also important to produce your ad with high-quality equipment. The more professional your ad appears, the greater the likelihood of the viewer watching and interacting with other ads in the future. Try to make your message as straightforward as possible, with a distinct call to action.

How do advertisers prevent viewers from skipping pre-roll ads?

Since some pre-roll ads are skippable, advertisers often end up getting creative and making their ads engaging and personalized. You can personalize your ad by conducting market research to discover more information about your audience, including their likes, dislikes and interests. Some advertisers even create campaigns that are related to the viewer's last search before clicking on the video. It's important to understand what your audience values most, so there's a greater chance of most viewers watching the full ad.

What are a few alternatives to pre-roll ads?

While pre-roll ads are an excellent way to market a product or a service, they're not the only way to use video to engage an audience. Outstream video ads automatically play in the background in a large format player, existing outside of online video content. These ads are common in text articles and typically open when the user scrolls down the page and automatically pauses once the user is out of view of the ad.

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