Colenso BBDO admits pre-roll ads suck in new campaign

Although infomercials and Pete Campbell are worthy competitors, the most hated thing in advertising might just be the pre-roll ad. These 15- to 30-second enthusiasm sappers almost always coincide with a frustrated groan from the group of friends huddled around a laptop eagerly wanting to see a cat playing a piano.

So, when Colenso BBDO was told by its media researchers on the Burger King account that online video ads were the best way to target the youth, the creative team gave a uniform pre-roll sigh.         

“This left us with a challenge, because of the frustration we all feel at the thought of pre-roll YouTube ads. We thus tried to turn that disadvantage into something positive that people wouldn’t despise,” says Simon Vicars, the copywriter assigned to the task.

Colenso’s solution, which Vicars credits to his co-creative Brett Colliver, was to create an ad campaign featuring 64 unique videos that called out pre-roll ads for being a nuisance.  

“The strongest thing in advertising is the truth. Everyone hates pre-roll ads on YouTube. That’s the truth. We just pointed it out. If you’re going to interrupt someone, you’d better have something good to say. [And these videos offer] the best stuff we could think of to say,” explains Vicars.

Each ad is linked to the video that the viewer originally searched for and comes with a customised line that mentions the desired content.

While some of the videos are broader, like movie trailers or animal attack videos, there are also some specific wild card entries for ‘North Korean baby playing a guitar’ and ‘screaming goats.’

“Our research team has confirmed that these 64 videos can target as many as 450,000 searches, which is great considering that we’re taking the piss out of pre-rolls,” says Vicars.

This is however not the first time that advertisers have taken a unique angle on YouTube advertising. Previously, Old Spice toyed with the platform by having a bare-chested Isaiah Mustafa answer questions sent in by viewers. His responses were scripted on the spot, filmed and posted on the Old Spice YouTube channel.

Not only did this approach advertise the deodorant range, but it also increased engagement among viewers who were drawn to the innovative and entertaining concept.

Vicars says that Old Spice set an appealing precedent that could inspire Colenso to engage with customers in a similar way in the future.

“The Old Spice approach worked well because it was minimalist in that it had one actor talking to the camera. Our ad is similar in this sense, and it wouldn’t be a huge production hassle to record two guys at a table talking to fans,” he says.

But innovation hasn’t only been limited to advertisers. YouTube has also experimented with different ways to make its ads more palatable to site visitors. Several years ago, the online video host launched ‘In Slate’ TrueView, an ad application that gave viewers the option to choose between three different ads. In theory, this was intended to give viewers more control while simultaneously making it more appealing to advertisers, who would only have to pay on a per-click basis.

The problem with this was that it overlooked the fact that YouTubers don’t care what’s being advertised. They don’t visit the site to watch one of three equally annoying pre-rolls; they go there to get a daily viral fix of whatever’s cool at the time.

In June of this year, YouTube canned the ‘In Slate’ TrueView feature, opting only to keep the ‘In Stream,’ ‘In Search’ and ‘In Display’ advertising options. 

Also, instead of only charging on a strictly per-click basis, YouTube has also introduced a billing structure that charges advertisers when pre-roll ads aren’t skipped.

In this sense, YouTube has handed the baton over to the advertisers, who must now find creative ways to keep the target market from hitting the ‘skip this ad’ button in the bottom right corner of the viewing window.


Agency: Colenso BBDO
Client: Burger King
Brand: Burger King
Campaign: Anti pre-roll

Burger King marketing: James Woodbridge and Rachel Morriss-Jarvis
Creative director: Levi Slavin
Creative team: Simon Vicars, Brett Colliver
Group account director: Victoria Graves
Senior account manager: Anna Holloway
Director: Helena Brooks
Producer: Fraser Brown
Agency producer: Katie Knight
Production company: Flying Fish
Media agency: Y&R NZ

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