How To

Spotting 'Fake' Pre-Roll Ads

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The online video industry continues to experience rapid growth with increased user adoption, more content moving online and growing advertiser acceptance. With all of this growth, many media buyers have come across an unfortunate innovation that threatens to reduce video campaign performance and will likely result in angry client calls if discovered. I call this product "fake pre-roll."

Seemingly high-quality online publishers and video ad networks are ecstatic about the high CPMs that pre-roll advertising generates but struggle to find enough high-quality or cheaply priced inventory to sell to advertisers. As a result, they have cleverly packaged "fake pre-roll" offerings to charge pre-roll price to advertisers, walking out the back door with a majority of the ad budget.

The industry-accepted definition of pre-roll is a video ad that plays before the start of a user-selected video. Clear assumptions baked into this definition are: a. The user experience begins when the user selects a piece of content to watch

b. The user's incentive to watch the ad is based on the fact that s/he is waiting for the content

c. The video player is the primary content experience on the page

Six Stripes of Cat

Here are the six most common implementations of "fake pre-roll" sorted into quality buckets:

1. Gold Standard: Traditional Pre-Roll, as defined above

2. High Quality: Video ads that play in the middle of long form content (such as an ad between segments of House on

3. Medium Quality: Video ads that auto-start with sound in a publisher's video section; no user initiation

4. Low Quality: Video ads that auto-start with sound on a publisher's home page; no user initiation or attention

5. Questionable Quality: Video ads that auto-start without sound in display inventory (typically by an ad network without video technology)

6. Borderline Fraudulent: Video ads that auto-start without sound on a publisher's video player which can be embedded by users anywhere

The last category of this so-called "pre-roll implementations" are fraught with a host of problems. Performance, measured by click rates or attitudinal brand impacts, is much lower than in traditional pre-roll. Observed implementations have shown ads that are below the fold, partially cut-off or not visible at all. Such implementations exist where content is being served on social network profile pages, SEO arbitrage sites or adult sites. It is imperative that media buyers ask the right questions to avoid buying "fake pre-roll" unintentionally.

Key Queries When walking into a discussion about buying online video ad inventory, I suggest asking these questions to insure your media buy is made with 100% real pre-roll:

1. Will my video ads ever be played in the middle of content, as opposed to before content?

2. Will my video ads ever be served into an environment where video is not the main content on the page?

3. Will my video ads ever be auto-started, i.e. started without a user initiation?

4. Will my video ads ever be started with the sound off?

5. Will my video ads ever be served into display inventory?

6. Will my video ads be served into any syndicated content? (Syndication almost always means a reduction in quality.)

7. Can you provide me with a list of every URL my ads will appear on?

Other questions asked by smart video media buyers include:

—Can the user skip my ads by pressing the "next" button on the video player?

—If the user replays an ad, do you bill me again?

—Will the companion banner remain on the page after the video ad is completed?

The smartest media buyers know what type of pre-roll they are getting, where their ads will be running and make sure to get a URL list so that there is no miscommunication with the publisher or ad network. If you do your homework, you will pleased with the results: authentic pre-roll continues to be highest performing branded ad unit on the Internet.

—Tod Sacerdoti, CEO & Founder, BrightRoll BrightRoll, the Internet's largest video advertising network, enables agencies and brand advertisers to execute smart video ad campaigns across the industry's top media properties, including over half of the top 100 media properties in the United States. Prior to founding BrightRoll, Sacerdoti served as the director of revenue at Plaxo, one of the fastest growing Internet companies in history. Previously, he led business development at Spoke Software, an Internet pioneer in sales and marketing efficiency solutions and also held positions at Interscope, Geffen and A&M Records, a division of the Universal Music Group. Previously, he worked as an investment banker in the Internet marketing group at Robertson Stephens. Sacerdoti is the Amazon best-selling author of the ebooks: How to Use Google, and the expanded version How to Use Google II. He currently authors a blog that covers the span of video advertising and online monetization and can be found at: Tod Sacerdoti holds a B.A. in Economics from Yale University and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
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