Cannes Lions case study: Geico wins top prize for ‘unskippable’ pre-roll ads

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All too often, YouTube ads are not tailored to pre-roll, meaning that viewers are likely to skip because they are given little incentive to continue watching. The case study looks at how US car insurance firm Geico generated 725,000 unaided YouTube views in one day by playing on the format, winning the 2015 Canes Lions Grand Prix in the process.

Case study summary

• 95% skip YouTube pre-rolls- so Geico played with the format to keep viewers hooked
• Series of four videos feature people ‘frozen’ in awkward situations with funny results
• At launch, the ad generated 725,000 unaided YouTube views in one day

The challenge

YouTube pre-roll ads often neglect the first ‘unskippable’ 5 seconds of the video, meaning they fail to hook people before they get a chance to press the skip button. Research from 2013 indicated that 94% of people skip pre-roll ads.

Geico understood this, and the ‘Unstoppable’ series from The Martin Agency really put the emphasis on those first five seconds in a humorous way that mimics the classic ‘Police Squad’ end credits sight gags of old.

The solution

The first ad, “Family,” has logged more than 725,000 unaided YouTube views in one day. It features a dog — a Saint Bernard mix — that utterly takes over the ad. The ad begins with a family at the dinner table. An off-screen narrator notes, “You can’t skip this Geico ad because it’s already over.”

Then, the Geico logo appears and the frame appears to freeze along with the four actors at the dinner table — mother, father, daughter and son. The giant logo that typically signals the end of the commercial, however, actually signals the beginning of this one. And it stays on the screen until the bitter end.

Even as the family desperately tries to remain frozen mimes, the dog awkwardly leaps up on the table and eats its way through the next 45 seconds of the commercial.

“We call these unskippable,” says Joe Alexander, chief creative officer at The Martin Agency, which has also created three other mock freeze-frame Geico spots besides this one. “Our goal is to bring attention to Geico in a space that is often hated.”

For viewers, it feels like must-see TV because folks can’t help but wonder who is going to crack a smile — or what the dog will do next.

The results

At launch, the ad generated 725,000 unaided YouTube views in one day by playing on the format.

With Geico, the Cannes Lions jury chose something “that breaks every single rule of filmmaking,” said Jury President and Global Chief Creative Officer of Grey Worldwide Tor Myhren . “Instead of begging you to watch this ad, it challenges you not to watch it. Instead of a long story with a tenuous link to the brand at the end, there is a gigantic logo of the brand in middle of screen the entire time. To us it’s a deceptively simple piece of communication and really showed us how film can reinvent the way we look at media, even the least-sexy media in the world, which is pre-roll.”

The ad series features 3 more ‘unskippable’ ads, featured below:

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