The world of ad creatives and creative optimization

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The world of ad creatives and creative optimization

Intermediate | 13 minutes

There’s one fundamental part of your UA strategy that we haven’t covered in detail yet – creatives. In this class, we dive deep into the world of ad creatives, explaining what they are, how to think of a great concept, tips for designing them, and best practices for creative optimization.

Hey guys, my name’s Eyal and I’m really excited to share with you some insight into the world of creatives.

Like we mentioned in previous episodes, there are two parts that make up a great UA strategy – the right creatives and the right bid. This episode we’re going to talk all about creatives – what they are, how to think of a great concept, tips for designing them, and then tips for optimizing them.

The impact of creatives

First – let’s understand, why are creatives SO important? Long story short, UA is being gradually taken over by robots … in a good way. What I mean by that is … optimizing campaigns isn’t as labor intensive as it used to be, since there’s a lot of automation tools for us to use now.

But one thing most machines CAN’T replicate just yet is the human element in creatives. Meaning researching and creating a concept that will resonate with users, and then thinking of how to improve that concept even more. This “human element” is the one of the most important levers when it comes to gaining an edge on your competitors. And it can only be done in the world of creatives. Which is what makes this part so exciting.

Before we go deeper, there’s an important distinction I want to make first … between creatives … and ad units. Think of ad units as the containers, and creatives as what goes inside the containers. For example, interstitials are an ad unit – it’s a full screen system-initiated one. But inside that ad unit container you can put in any kind of creative you want – like a static image or a video or a playable. Same for rewarded video, which is an ad unit – like we talked about before, it’s an ad unit that users can opt-into watching in exchange for a reward. But inside that ad unit you can put a video or a playable ad.

Creative types

Ok, now that we’ve got that down, let’s talk about the actual creatives you can run when you’re marketing your game to potential users. We’ll be focusing on three of them: video ads, playable ads, and end cards. You also have static ads, but we’re not going to cover these because videos and interactive ads give the most scope for creative innovation and optimization.

Generally, video ads are the easiest creatives to make, which is why they’re also the most common.

There are lots of ways to use video ads in your UA strategy. Here are a few of the most popular strategies:

First, you can just record 15 or 30 seconds of gameplay as a way to show users what the game is all about. Gameplay video ads usually perform really well because they’re super straightforward and users get to understand what your game will actually look and act like once they download it.

Just make sure the 30 seconds of gameplay you’re recording are the most exciting 30 seconds of the game! You can show an easy level, or a really challenging one, or just a really fun one. We’ll talk more about this later, but it’s always a good idea to test lots of videos and then see which ones the market likes the most.

Besides gameplay, you can also show an actual person playing your game, filming them over the shoulder, just as they’re completing a really exciting challenge. These kinds of videos work well too.

Now playable ads. Playable ads are like “mini-games” that users can actually play – except in the context of an ad. They tend to perform super well – because they’re engaging, interactive and have lots of room for optimization.

The great thing about playable ads, besides the fact that they have really high IPMs – installs per thousand impressions – is that the users who end up downloading the game can have high retention rates. That’s because playables give you, the advertiser, lots of room for creativity: you can show users exactly what they’re going to get when they download, letting them “try out” a level of the game and see if they like playing it…

…and you can think out-of-the-box, and take one concept or theme from the game and place it in a quirky, creative scenario that doesn’t actually take place in the game itself. If you want to try this approach, just make sure you keep some kind of connection to the actual game, be it the motivations it appeals to, the missions it has, or the characters and art style. That way, you increase the likelihood that users who enjoyed the ad and downloaded your game will stick around.

This whole process can also end up saving you money, since by only converting users who are actually interested in your game, it filters out users who wouldn’t enjoy the game – saving you from potentially wasting ad spend on acquiring irrelevant users. So even if your CPI for a playable ad is higher than a video ad, the ROAS can be higher.

In terms of actually making playable ads, there are a few strategies: partner with an ad network and get them to make the playables for you, like ironSource’s Playworks Studio … or outsource a company to produce the playable … or code it yourself as an HTML5 game. It all depends on the kind of resources you have.

End cards
End cards are exactly what they sound like – they’re just end cards that you add to the end of another creative, like a video. The only difference is the end card is generally interactive, kind of like a really mini playable or sometimes a GIF. Their role is to complement the video ad with a short but fun interactive layer, to entice the user to install the game. These are great to add at the end of interstitial video ads and rewarded video ads to spice it up a bit and add some interactivity without investing in producing an entire playable.

Thinking of a concept for your creatives

Now – how do you actually think of a great concept that’s going to get many users to download your game?

The first step is not assuming that creativity is inherent and you either have it or you don’t. It’s a muscle in your brain and you just need to exercise it. Everyone has ideas, but the good ones come to those who know how to ask the right questions and pay attention to the world around them.

To think of a good concept for your creative, you need to be a “creative sponge” and get inspired by everything around you.

To help the brainstorming process, make sure to do your research. App Annie and Sensor Tower can give you good insight into what’s going on in the gaming world and what kind of creatives are popular at the moment. You can get inspired by other apps just by watching their videos or playable ads.

Social media is also a powerful tool. If you go to Instagram and type in a hashtag with the name of an app, you’ll be exposed to thousands of ideas. TikTok is another great place to get inspired – if something’s trending on TikTok and fits your game, it’s a good bet it might form the germ of a creative idea that will help you frame your game’s appeal to a wide e.

And don’t forget about fan art from people who have already downloaded your game, installed it, and enjoyed it. There are creative people out there who have already created some themes and ideas that you can model after.

Designing playables

Concepts for playables tend to be the most difficult so we’re going to focus on those.
Here are a few tips about designing creatives that convert:

First, don’t replicate your game

When it comes to your ad creatives, less is usually more. That means your playables shouldn’t be an exact replica of your game – but instead a simplified version. The rationale behind this simplified approach is ensuring that you capture the user’s attention immediately – you only have a few seconds to do this so the ad must be instantly intuitive.

Strip your game to one core element – Let’s say, for example, you have a complex word game and want to create a playable ad. You wouldn’t replicate the app’s gameplay to a tee. You’d probably create another, much simpler word game and use that in your playable ad instead, knowing that if someone enjoyed a simple word game, chances are they’d enjoy the more complex version too.

That way, you’re still going after the right target audience, but you’re not getting bogged down by complicated mechanics or taking too long to capture the user’s attention.

Tip two. Lower the learning curve

This leads us nicely into my next tip – lower the learning curve. It might take a while before users get the hang of your actual gameplay. But in a 30 second ad, you don’t have much time to teach your users how to play. For playable ads, the user has to understand what you want them to do in the first 3 to 4 seconds.

That means making it easy by displaying “pointers” that show the user where to swipe, highlighting key buttons, offering hints, and providing concise and explicit instructions that are impossible to miss. If not, users won’t understand quickly enough how to engage with the playable ad, and may x-out.

Tip number three. Keep your best features

You don’t want to leave out the features that make your game unique. In every game, there are special features, animations, characters, or other elements that make your gameplay stand out from the crowd. Be sure to keep two or three of these in your creatives.

If, for example, users only get to access a certain weapon in Level 3, but you know that the weapon excites your users, then you should use it in the creative. Feel free to pull special features from a range of levels. You want to make the best first impression possible.

Tip four. A/B test to set the right difficulty level

Level design is an art. Just like in a game, if a playable ad is too difficult, users will grow frustrated and move on. But if a playable ad is too easy, it’s not challenging the player, and users might not feel like installing the app is worth their time.

What’s the perfect sweet spot? There’s no one-size-fits all answer, as it differs game to game, genre to genre. The key is to A/B test with different variations of difficulty levels and let the data guide you.

Lastly, tease users with the “next level”

In between the creative and the end card, quickly flash a screenshot of the next level so users get a look before being prompted to continue playing by downloading the app. It’s a simple teaser that will encourage users to install the app by creating a strong sense of anticipation.

Optimizing creatives

Now let’s say you have a handful of creatives and they’re out in the wild bringing in users for your campaign. That doesn’t mean your work is done. You should continue testing new creatives as much as possible to see if they perform better than your current ones.

At the same time, think about iterating your existing creatives, even if they’re doing well. There’s always room for improvement and the great thing about interactive ads like playables is it that they give you a ton of data to analyze.

You can see how many seconds it takes before users engage, at what point in the playable they drop off, the elements they’re interacting with and the elements they’re not … you get it. We call this in-ad data.

There’s a bunch of different in-ad data points to analyze but the main ones are: time to engage, engagement rate, time to complete, completion rate, and click to store rate.

So for example if you see that your time to engage – which is the amount of seconds it takes until the user starts actually playing the playable ad – is above 4 or 5 seconds, or your engagement rate – the percentage of users who interacted with your ad- is below your genre’s benchmarks – something’s probably wrong with your pla nd it’s an interactive ad or how to play it. Try adding a pointer and removing any unnecessary words.

If your IPM is low, it could be that the gameplay is too long and users are not reaching the end of the ad. In this case, consider shortening the playable.
Also, we often see higher IPMs for creatives when users lose the game, so play around with the win-lose ratio of your playable ad. Or, you can try switching out a character with another one from your game, or changing the meta of the playable. By meta I mean additional gameplay that doesn’t consist of your core loop.

If your completion rate is low, users are dropping off somewhere. Find where they’re dropping off and focus your optimization on that part specifically. Maybe at that specific point, it’s not clear what they’re meant to do, or it’s too hard…so tinker with it and test out what works best.

As you can see, what you do with your ad creatives has a big impact on the success of your user acquisition strategy – and by now you should understand how to get started with creative optimization.

We’ll leave a few blogs in the notes for you to learn more.