The Five Second Rule

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You can skip this ad in 5… 4… 3…

YouTube pre-roll ads: what we all love to hate. Pretty much every one tries to skip them as soon as possible, so why haven’t they gone the way of the door to door salesmen? Clearly, companies still see the value of this 5 seconds exposure. But to make it really count, great ads go a step beyond the 5 seconds. Done right, you can capture attention, inform your viewer, and get them to engage with your company. And you can do this in ways that take advantage of the Five Second Rule, not despite it.

The Benefits

Only select partners of Google are allowed to buy the full ‘non-skip’ 15 to 20 second slots; everyone else has to settle with the option to be skipped. But this isn’t so bad after all. When viewers are forbidden to skip, they’ll probably tune out until the whole ad ends. On the other hand, given the freedom to skip, there’s a chance they’ll watch for five seconds just to skip immediately after.

Now, five seconds may not seem like a lot of time, but for attention spans tuned to online video, you’ve actually got a chance to pull someone in and get your message out.

Missing The Point

The following examples try really hard to keep you from skipping, but can you sense how it’s just not enough?

One YouTube ad that made waves was from NAIL Communications. When the ad begins, viewers are told that skipping will electrocute a puppy. True, this video was highly successful in getting people to watch the whole video, but the end results were nothing more than self-promotion for NAIL communications and their demonstration of how they do clever pre-roll ads, which was already accomplished during those first five seconds.

Another example was the “Don’t Skip” ad for the 2013 Apocalyptic comedy This Is The End, where the main characters immediately start begging the viewer to stick with them, bribing them with offers to see James Franco’s nipples. After which, we were served up just another movie trailer.

The problem with these examples is the emphasis on negative reinforcement—that is, not that one should watch these videos, just that one shouldn’t skip them. So how can you use positive reinforcement in synthesizing an attention-grabbing first five seconds with the rest of your content?

Give Them Offers

Maybe it’s a discount or a voucher that will come at the end, or more access to exclusive content. A promise at the beginning with a concrete payoff at the end will keep people watching, let them feel rewarded for doing so, and most importantly, get them to engage with your company’s product, service, or medium after the video ends.

Give Them Answers

Show viewers something amazing, difficult, or seemingly impossible. The idea is for people to say “how did they do that?” Again, watching the rest of the video gives viewers something they can take away with them. In the meantime, you demonstrate through your content the usefulness of what your company has to offer.


A good example of this was Burger King’s pre-roll bits by BBDO and Flying Fish, where the pre-roll ads directly addressed the video viewers were searching for. But it didn’t go far enough; it was funny and clever, but still an ad for a burger joint nonetheless. However, if you’re careful to show that you’re less interested in pushing ads at people across the board, and instead more concerned with connecting with people’s specific interests to pull them into your own content, there’s a greater chance they’ll stick with you.

5 –second pre-roll videos could truly be a win-win-win for everyone if done right: from the advertiser, to the video producer, and especially to viewers. Advertisers only end up paying for the ad time when people actually watch the whole video, meaning less money wasted on non-interested viewers. Video production companies are faced with new challenges to make immediately-recognizable great content that isn’t blatant ‘in-your-face’ and inescapable shilling. Viewers win because they have the freedom to avoid being the targets of pushy advertisement, but also have the power to connect with the brands they feel are offering them useful, informative, or even entertaining content.