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6 Simple Steps to Make Engaging YouTube Pre-Roll Ads

October 31, 2019

If you’re reading this, you don’t need to be convinced that video content gets stellar engagement. As streaming services keep pumping out original content almost constantly, consumers keep cutting the cord—and YouTube has become more popular than any broadcast TV network. 

Whoa. Soak that in for a second. 

youtube trueview cord cutter targeting

People would rather watch content on YouTube than on cable TV. That’s pretty crazy—and great news for brands, especially if you’re already advertising on Google. This is the perfect spot to get in front of the right people.

But pre-roll ads can be tricky, especially if you’re a small business. You need to spread awareness of your offering, but you might not have the budget to hire an advertising agency. And how are you supposed to stuff your entire value prop into a quick video clip?!

Don’t worry, I’m here to break down planning engaging, effective pre-roll ads into just six steps—with no big budget necessary. 

But first, let’s talk about what (exactly) pre-roll ads are and how to create them. 

What are pre-roll ads?

YouTube offers different types of advertising placements and ad types, and pre-roll ads are those that appear directly before the video you want to watch. These short video ads can be up to two minutes long, but the sweet spot for most advertisers is between 15 and 25 seconds. And because pre-roll ads don’t have a defined CTA, you’ll be charged on a CPV (cost per view) basis. 

If you’re running pre-roll ads, your first goal is to hook your audience before they have the option to skip through your ad. After that, you obviously want them to remember you! Like other Google Ads offerings, you have options when it comes to targeting. Google offers the following:

  • Geography: Where does your target audience live?
  • Language: YouTube is popular in loads of countries—be sure to select which language you want your audience to be able to understand.
  • Demographics: The typical options, including gender, age range, and more.
  • Keywords: Just like Google Ads!
  • Topics: What people are watching on YouTube right now.
  • Interests: What people usually watch on YouTube.

Once you have settled on your audience targeting, it’s time to get down to business. So how can you hook that audience with an amazing pre-roll ad on YouTube?

Now, let’s get into the six steps to create engaging pre-roll ads for YouTube when you’re on a tight budget. 

1. Choose your objective

Just like any ad campaign, you should decide what you want to achieve through the YouTube pre-roll campaign. You’ve got a bunch of options here:

  • Brand awareness
  • Conversions 
  • Shares
  • Clicks to your site
  • Take a survey
  • Encourage loyalty or re-subscriptions 

Because there are no CTAs on pre-roll ads, from a performance marketing perspective, all pre-roll ads are for brand awareness. Depending on the language and messaging within the video, you can start adding layers for conversions and click throughs. 

This ad from Monday.com that emphasizes how it feels to use the tool is great for brand awareness and makes me want to try out the platform right now because who doesn’t love popping all the packing bubbles?

2. Map out your video advertising message

Once you have finalized your goal, you can choose the best way to go about creating your video advertising story. This is where it gets fun. 

Like choosing an objective, you have a few options here. 

  • One-off video: This type of video should be short and sweet, and it should highlight a singular value of your offering. If you’re just starting to do pre-roll ads for the first time, this is a good place to start. 
  • Video series: This is like what Progressive has done with Flo and the “name your price” tool. This video option is good if you have multiple, concise points to make. Just make sure that when you’re creating the videos, they all make sense together and separately. 
  • Brand story video: Bigger companies like Nike and P&G have done these types of longer-form brand stories to talk about a facet of their mission. This is the best what to talk about a unique part of your brand or the launch of a big campaign.    

Not that, however enticing these brand messages are, those commercials were created for TV, not YouTube pre-roll. For your pre-roll ads, you’ll have different length requirements and, remember, you want to engage your viewer right away.

3. Brainstorm video content

Now that you’ve decided what action you want your audience to take and what message you want to say, how exactly do you want to say it? This might be the toughest step in the process, especially for those of us who haven’t created video content before. The good news: You get to watch a lot of YouTube marketing videos.

Seriously! Start by opening up some videos that you would imagine your audience watching (based on the topics in your targeting). Check out the competition. What other video ads are airing before those YouTube videos? Find out.

Browse your own website to help with a tagline or identify good copy you can reuse. Scope out social media channels, your own and also your competition. Think of ways you can take brand ideas or values—like “customer first” or “dependable”—and turn them into visual content.

And Oscar stays in line with their brand and keeps health insurance light in this video, and it’s a funny reference to “Dumb Ways to Die.” This ad is short and gets into exactly why you’d need health insurance. 

Pro tip: Go into private browsing mode while you’re viewing videos on YouTube to get a more objective experience.

4. Make it weird 

The first rule of pre-roll advertising on YouTube: It shouldn’t feel like a commercial. The platform was developed so everyday people could upload their own content and share it, so your video should feel native to the platform. 

Don’t be afraid to get weird. Be funny. Show your true brand colors. Make it feel user generated

This ad from Burger King, for example, does a solid job acknowledging that their viewers really don’t want to watch an ad. It’s conversational (like YouTubers are) and silly, but it still shows off the great deal you can get on fast food. 

There’s a reason that YouTubers who are authentic and quirky have such huge followings: They’re relatable. For more tips on how to stay true to YouTube, check out Margot’s post here

5. Write a script to match

The easiest way to start writing video scripts is to, well … write. I recommend starting with a bullet-point list, where you can list your objective and supporting arguments. Again, there are a few options when you’re writing a script: it can be spoken by the actors/models, it can appear as text on the screen, or voiced over. Remember, because pre-roll ads are so short, your video script should also focus on one or two arguments to support your value proposition and dig in. 

For example, if you run a pizza shop and you want everyone to know how your pizza is 1. Cheesy 2. Speedy 3. Crunchy and 4. Made-to-order. Try focusing on just one of those great attributes for your pre-roll ad. Again, this video should be between six and 25 seconds. You have to get in, say your spiel, and get out before someone clicks “skip.”  

Keep in mind that writing your video script and shooting/choosing your video should happen at the same time. Maybe you find a video that helps you decide what to say or, the opposite, you have a tagline in mind that you need to shoot a visual to match. It all should work together. 

And sometimes you don’t even need a script or voiceover for the video to work! Take a look at this script-less Hefty ad:

6. Take advantage of YouTube’s partners

If you’re feeling lost and confused when it comes to taking the first steps to create the *actual* video ad, look no further than the partners on YouTube’s advertising site. They can recommend everything from full-service solutions to stock videos and subscription services. Personally, I’m a fan of Promo and Animoto, because I’m not a videographer by any means, but I love to make a satisfyingly adorable pre-roll ad.

I love this Black Cat stock video from Promo. But if I were using it for a YouTube ad, I’d tighten up the text and the timing. It’s just a bit too slow; you don’t want to bore your audience into skipping over the video.

Of course, if you’re ready to start filming yourself, we have some tips for that too

No, get pre-rolling! 

Now, you’re ready to get started. Remember to use these six simple steps as your guide to planning engaging pre-roll ads:

  1. Choose your objective
  2. Map out your video advertising message
  3. Brainstorm video content
  4. Make it weird 
  5. Write a script to match
  6. Take advantage of YouTube’s partners

Mary Lister

Mary is a content writer/strategist at Starry, Inc. and an enthusiast of all things Internet. When she's not writing words for work, you can find her eating extra-cheesy pizza while planning her next trip.

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