The Benefits and Possibilities of Pre-Roll for Pharma

December 6, 2017


When Google bought YouTube in 2006 its main focus was figuring out how to monetize the influx of all the videos being uploaded at an ever increasing rate on the platform. One of the methods for capitalizing on video consumption was display advertising, specifically pre-roll.

Pre-roll advertising is being utilized across major video platforms spanning numerous industries including healthcare. It is likely that you have encountered and possibly skipped a pre-roll ad in the past week. Pre-roll has come a long way since its initial conception.

Pre-roll is an online advertisement that plays before a video and can be skipped after a certain amount of time has elapsed; although it’s noteworthy that some ad industry studies have shown that even skipped ads still offer some brand retention.

Benefits and Challenges

A study done by Facebook/Nielsen found there was a lift in ad recall, brand awareness, and purchase consideration immediately following exposure to a video ad, as seen in Figure 1. What does this mean for advertisers? This means that even the first impression given from the video frame is capturing audience attentions and having impact. Nielsen used 173 of their BrandEffect studies and analyzed recall, awareness and purchase intent across digital video ads on Facebook. The study saw that even 3 seconds captured a significant impact value with 47% ad recall, 32% brand awareness and 44% impact on purchase intent, as seen in Figure 2. Of course, those users who continued after 3 seconds of video content continued to see lift in the measured metrics. The main takeaway captured in the analysis was that the user did not need to view the entire video to be impacted.

Figure 1, Nielsen’s Percentage Point Lift, measured video’s impact on three ad campaign metrics: ad recall, brand awareness, and purchase consideration. (Graph from Facebook Business, The Value of Video for Brands)

(Figure 2, Nielsen’s Cumulative Campaign Impact, Graph from Facebook Business, The Value of Video for Brands)

Outside of the short form advertising advantages, marketers will be happy to know that pre-roll can be purchased like any other digital advertising. On YouTube, skippable ads are charged on a cost-per-view and non-skippable ads are charged on a cost-per-click basis.  YouTube provides targeting options such as Geography, Language, Demographic, Topics and Interests. Pre-roll is designed uniquely as it is a short form of advertising that gives a quick awareness play for brands but the format has been perceived to have some “interruptive” qualities.

Although shown to be an effective medium of advertising, pre-roll is still met with challenges. The Verge reported that Google will be removing 30 second non-skippable ads in 2018 on YouTube, as the platform is committed to providing better user experience. However, Google still plans on keeping ad formats 15-20 seconds long on YouTube, but will look to incorporate ads as short as 6 seconds to be utilized largely on mobile devices (see our POV on 6 second “bumper ads” at this link). Challenges such as ad length are not the only issues facing pre-roll. For skippable pre-roll ads completion is closely aligned to audience consumption habits and skipping can become an engrained behavior – many people choose to skip ads just because they can.

Cost and content are other major factors on the road to a successful pre-roll campaign. Brands may consider repurposing video assets to save investment. The content conversion to the short format of pre-roll may be tricky and not worth the update. Largely, the biggest challenge facing pre-roll is content, of course this challenge transcends all media platforms.  Brands will need to determine if repurposing a video asset will still get the message across or if the company/brand will need to invest in the creation of a standalone 15 second pre-roll asset to ensure the quality of the content is not compromised. This is just one of the many questions brands will need to ask themselves when looking into incorporating pre-roll in to their media campaigns.

Unbranded Case Study

A CMI/Compas client marketing to endocrinologists was looking to increase top-of-mind awareness of the client’s commitment to that specialty audience. For this unbranded campaign, we tested a 15-second, skippable pre-roll asset.

Prior to working with CMI/Compas, the client was hosting 1-2 minute unbranded videos on YouTube. CMI recommended re-working the two highest performing videos into smaller assets to be utilized as pre-roll on top endocrinology sites, where HCPs were already engaging with video content.

In the end, the pre-roll campaign averaged a 68% completion rate and 2.34% SVR. The average KPI metrics not only met but exceed benchmarks and the pre-roll assets were recommended again for 2017.

Addressing Branded Pre-roll Content in Healthcare

While the case study touched on unbranded results, branded campaigns are not out of the picture for the healthcare industry. Partners/brands will likely have video assets they want to repurpose or create with branded content and will run into trouble when it comes to including the (typically lengthy) ISI information. According to FDA guidelines it is required that the benefits and risks of prescription drugs are advertised equally on display platforms. If partners have the capability to host pre-roll and a companion banner that details the important safety information, this will satisfy the fair balance requirement and allow the pre-roll asset to meet the necessary short format. Of course, partners will need to ensure that if the companion banner fails to load that the pre-roll will not be allowed to play.


Pre-roll creation and implementation is not a one size fits all kind of solution. Decisions need to be made and audience media consumption needs to be considered. If pre-roll is a new channel you are interested in leveraging, here are some preliminary questions brand teams and creative agencies will need to consider:

Pre-roll Considerations

  • Concerns about audience’s online user experience
    • Auto-play- will the short video play once the user opens the hosting landing page
    • Will the pre-roll be skippable or non-skippable
    • Interactive video elements – will the asset contain a CTA
    • Video Length (Typically 15 or 30 seconds)
  • Creating good content
    • Choosing Branded or Unbranded Content:
      • Branded content will require the creation of a companion banner that communicates the brands important safety information
      • Unbranded content will need to define clear message strategies that do not rely on brand information and can be clearly interpreted
        • CMI recommends identifying the key initiative of the campaign and determining whether or not it can be accomplished with unbranded content. Creating content with or without a branded message depends on the need of the brand/partner and if they have the backing to support the investment needed to create a companion banner
      • Conveying the brand/organizations’ message, short time to make a good impression- make it count!
      • Decision to repurpose a video asset or to create new content specific for pre-roll
      • Ensuring that the video is compliant with IAB standards

Although pre-roll is used across various industries and many digital marketers have embraced the initiative, it is still an underutilized asset.  Pre-roll is a potentially a great marketing opportunity for brands who can overcome the initial barriers to entry and can leverage the space that their competitors are missing out on.