There are a few ways to produce playable ads - outsource production, do it all in-house, or experiment with a mix of both. How do you know which approach is best for you? We sat down with Thiemo Schubert, Head of Marketing Creatives at Sunday and Tim Shepherd, Creative Director Playable Ads at Wooga to learn a bit more about how their creative teams approach playable production, and see what works and what doesn't. Keep reading for the full Q&A.
What is the “ideal” creative process in your perspective?
Thiemo Schubert, Sunday: "We, at Sunday, see every creative as a hypothesis. Naturally, our assumptions need to be evaluated by their test results on the market. This entire creative testing process usually starts with our production department delivering the first creative prototypes. As we believe in a data-driven and analytical approach, we involve test campaigns as early as possible. Oftentimes, we test an initial bigger batch of creatives whereas the winners (determined by IPM) are matched against each other in a follow-up test campaign. By employing this method we can be certain that the best performers are strong enough to serve as fundamental pillars for the success of our products.
Once we are aware of an early direction, our driving creative department explores new opportunities based on the previously collected data. Therefore, we are looking at different sources for inspiration such as social media trends, seasonality (Halloween, etc.), or internal brainstorming sessions.
After testing the newly generated creatives and benchmarking those against our previous data, the creative cycle starts over again - of course incorporating foregoing experiences as well as new market trends."
Tim Shepherd, Wooga: "For the concept stage - ideally - an efficient process to gather as many ideas, references, inspiration, and past data as possible, to analyze all this information against future audience and campaign goals, then be able to make conclusions about which new concepts stand the best chance of success.
Practically, this involves analysis of our own creatives & campaigns performances, competitor creative research, and brainstorming.
As a collaborative organization, we encourage anyone to pitch ideas and references which might make their way to a concept ideation meeting. This enables us to have opinions and ideas from individuals who are both experts in our brand and marketing languages, as well as those bringing fresh and (occasionally) out-there ideas.
During production, we want to execute quickly, so a combination of pro designers working with a series of tools to streamline as much as possible is ideal. We invest in a variety of tools and processes to optimize common bottlenecks like localization, formatting and producing iterations of top-performers.
During both ideation and production, I try to balance if whether I am creating the quickest version of a new idea - so I spend the minimum amount of effort should it fail to gain traction - against creating something that is both scalable and with enough headroom for meaningful iterations and reusability if it does show promise.
The target end result is a beautifully produced, fresh creative which resonates with a target audience, is a ‘big enough’ idea that it can enjoy longevity, is fun and on-brand, and of course, delivers positive business results."
How does your current organizational structure for creatives look?
Tim Shepherd: "Whilst each stage of the creative production and publishing process has a clear owner, Wooga aims to be inclusive and collaborative in all its activities throughout the company. Input for ideation can come from any source, and typically the creatives team will gather feedback and ideas from games teams, user acquisition, brand management, marketing research, and player feedback - to name a few.
Representatives from each discipline will determine which concepts are the strongest, and a marketing designer will then execute the vision - be it a playable, video, or another medium. Project management tools track progress, and after feedback rounds, the finished creative is published via the UA team who will monitor its performance at creative and campaign levels. Creative Review sessions are held weekly to review which campaigns are most successful, in terms of campaign metrics as well as cohort behaviors. All this information is used to inform a new round of iterations and/or ideation.
I often think the process is like product management for a game, though highly accelerated."
Thiemo Schubert: "As marketing creatives are of vital importance for Sunday, we decided to establish our own department. Overall, this division is responsible for tapping into the user’s emotions by displaying the most engaging moments of the respective products. Clearly, the end goal for all of our creatives is the conversion to an install. Since there are different ways to achieve this conversion we split the department into two segments:
- Playable ads: Creation of playable advertisements which represent the core of the most intriguing levels/scenes of the actual product. This segment has contributed significantly to the success of our first hit game: Cat Escape
- Video creatives: Design of short but highly engaging videos which display interest-creating, emotional situations
This separation allows us to employ people with different technical skills which are tailored to the respective requirements.
In general, this department maintains interfaces with practically all other divisions. Still, of utmost importance is the connection to user acquisition as we sustain a very close collaboration based on data, reporting, and exchange of market knowledge."
How does in-house creative achievement contribute to the growth and success of your studio/titles?
Thiemo Schubert: "The data-driven approach our creative department is employing allows Sunday to stay on top of the market. By fully relying on hard KPIs we are able to optimize our creative funnel and set ourselves up to eventually find the golden needle in the hypercasual creative haystack.
Simply put: one “killer creative” can decide the fate of an entire product. Hence, we believe that the long-term success of our titles fully depends on fresh and interesting creatives. After realizing that creatives can have such an impact on our business, we decided to build a full-time, highly skilled team around this topic in order to secure future success."
How do you see creative production evolving for the rest of 2021 and beyond?
Tim Shepherd: "In addition to taking a more product manager-like approach to creative production and optimization, I believe publishers doing these two things, in particular, will be winning in creative production:
Closing the loop when it comes to knowledge sharing between games and marketing teams. Whether in-house or outsourced, marketing can sometimes be seen as a service provided to a game project, not as the essential part of the business it is. Companies that encourage their games’ teams to learn from their marketing and CRM activities as much as they expect their marketers to be familiar with the games they are promoting will make better choices for the players.
This idea of ‘closing the loop’ can also apply to how campaign results are communicated from UA managers back to the creative production teams, enabling them to double down on winning concepts and discard proven losers.
Secondly, I believe tooling and engineering skills, in general, are under-utilized by most marketing teams. Beyond my personal focus on playable ads, I see many opportunities for improvements to creative production in general through technical solutions. Beyond simple things like creating a coherent asset management system or standardized naming conventions, engineering resources for marketing teams could almost entirely remove common bottlenecks such as localization or formatting.
Most exciting though is how engineering resources can help create, optimize, and manage modular - or even entirely machine-generated - creative which hits all those aforementioned goals for successful concepts."
Thiemo Schubert: "One future trend that we are starting to observe is the increasing complexity of creatives. Some SDK networks are already experimenting with the combination of video creatives, playable advertisements, and end cards. We expect this to be a continuous trend.
Another topic that is increasingly gaining relevance is creative automation tools. Whenever manual effort can be saved, smart automation tools such as Luna Replay are definitely helpful in order to create multiple variations of top-performing creatives. This allows us to further optimize our creative output which results in better marketing KPIs.
In general, a future challenge that we believe creative teams should become really good at handling is the ability to process huge amounts of creative videos as well as define the top-performing ones. Our extremely data-driven approach paired with well-founded market knowledge is one the keys for Sunday to become one of the leading hypercasual game publishers."