Six Reasons Why Pre-Roll Ads Are a Bad Idea

Original drawing by Marc Johns. Please visit him at draw.vox.com.One of the little things in life that media consumers love to complain about and advertisers love to insist on, is adding pre-roll ads before showing the main content. So for example you go to a web site to watch a news clip, but first, you have to sit through an ad. You cannot fast-forward or skip it. (Original drawing by Marc Johns (link has expired))

Think of it like this. When you are hungry, you go into the kitchen to eat. You don’t want someone to stop and make you find out why you should be driving a BMW. You just want food. But once you’ve eaten? Heck yeah, you just might like to take a moment to learn how you can get into a beamer.

I think pre-roll is a bad idea (VC Fred Wilson agrees) while post-roll can actually be a good idea. Here are my 6 reasons why.

# People come to a web page because they want to see the content. Not the ads. People are demonstrating over and over again they do not like interruption marketing. Be polite and let them have what they took the trouble to come and get. After all, even the airlines often say, Thank you for flying XYZ Airlines. We realize you have a choice when you travel.
# If you put a pre-roll ad in, BOTH the advertiser and the content producer aka web page owner will LOSE VISITORS. This is counter-productive to both of your goals. Why would you want to do that?
# If you let people view what they came for, they will be (at least temporarily) sated. They are now looking for something to give their attention to next. They are in an open, receptive state of mind. Your post-roll ad is actually in the one-up position.
# The technology lets a user click away with almost no effort. They see a pre-roll? They leave. The inverse actually works to your favor. If they are sated, they have to actually do something not to stay. People are lazy and would rather do less than more. They are far more likely to stay and catch your post-roll ad, while your pre-roll ad will just make them mad.
# If your ads are integrated into the content, meaning you have taken the time to develop an actual relationship with the content creator, w00T! Then your ads might actually be useful and more appealing -> at the end, when that relationships makes sense. Not at the beginning, when it is perceived as an interruption. (With the possible exception of something like, “Watch for three clues in this episode to help you win a free trip to Hawaii!” type of advertiser integrations.
# Pre-roll ads make advertisers look timorous. If your product or service or ad is so poor that you think people will only watch if forced? If so, then back to the drawing board.

If you want to own the entire show, which means create the content, do the production, manage the technology, build the community…then you’ve earned the right to have a pre-roll ad! Presumably at that point, people are coming at least in part because they want to know more about you.

Until then, advertisers please stop insisting on placing your ads as pre-roll spots in other people’s content. It’s unbecoming, it’s impolite, and most of all, it’s ineffective.