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As competition increases, advertising has become more aggressive and has often favored elevated short term results at the expense of long term metrics. But it's not all gray. Creative innovation has taken a central position in an industry where automation is becoming more prevalent and differentiation more difficult.

This is due to UA being gradually taken over by robots — in a good way. The once laborious task of optimizing your campaigns is now done by a machine, backed by rich data science. Then there’s the creative asset itself. In the world of advertising, it’s traditionally been hard to understand the nuances that turn someone from being ambivalent into interested in your game. But the rise of in-ad data has profoundly changed that reality. Today, marketers can leverage data on every small interaction inside of an interactive ad — such as the correlation between winning or losing in a playable ad to the likelihood of install — using it to optimize every creative for greater performance and impact.

These advancements in optimization and automation have resulted in a resurgence of the importance of the human element in creative. It’s the human factor in developing the creative concept and iterating on the ad, which is one of the most important (and last available) levers in gaining an edge when it comes to game growth.

Generating the kind of creatives which drive that differentiation is a challenge that demands 360 degree thinking. Below I cover some of the most critical elements to consider in building a winning creative strategy.

Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark

It’s important to start by looking at creative performance benchmarks for your category, to get a rough sense of what the maximum achievable IPM (installs per thousand impressions) is. Looking at your category’s benchmarks in the context of the wider game industry can also help. For example, if your genre’s benchmark is on the low end, you can shift your creative concept and adapt it with mechanics from games in categories with higher benchmarks.

Go beyond your game

It’s also important to extract as many marketing themes as you can from the game. At the start, delve into the game and find different characters, metagame and special features than can be incorporated into unique themes for different creatives. With each one, check the size of the addressable market that the theme attracts. If it’s limiting then switch it out for one which might be further from the game’s core creative but has a wider appeal. It’s also key to know which emotion you want to trigger. Do you want someone to feel challenged, elated, disgusted? It’s worth bearing in mind that negative emotions (fear for example), can elicit much stronger reactions from users.

In 2019 we saw a bold move away from creatives that perfectly mimicked a game’s gameplay, to creatives that took the right combination of the above strategies to attract a wider audience to their game. Sometimes seen as a negative move, I see this as a hugely positive step. Adapting an ad to make it as varied and engaging as possible, unbound by mimetic limitations, can result in a huge uptick in performance and conversion (as well as potentially generate an incredibly honest feedback loop for potential iterations in the gameplay itself).

…But not too far

While this practice can increase scale, it can impact user quality and user trust if taken too far. If an ad goes too far and ‘tricks’ users into engaging with a playable or installing a game which bears no relation to the game itself, it’s unlikely those users will stick around to play a game they had no intention of downloading. Further, while average engagement rates with playable ads are around 70%, we have seen a decline in this number over time, as users become increasingly suspicious of ads.

Launch small, win big

A creative soft launch is key to better understanding your potential audience and in perfecting your marketing strategy. At ironSource, we have used this method with many games and it’s continued to prove itself as a critical step in a game’s launch plan. For example, if your new game has a few different game modes, deploying an interactive video can be used as a tool to understand, before launch, which mode resonates with a larger audience. Creative soft launch is also an ideal time to find your top performing creatives and localize them in time for the global launch, infinitely supercharging the power of your global launch.

Where next?

As developers increasingly understand the value and importance of creative for a game’s UA, we expect to see many more game companies bring playable ad creation and production in-house. Sourcing the right creative and development talent, as well as building a strong, cohesive team is best done in layers, starting with a creative manager, before moving on to a video editor, designer, Javascript developer and building up to a full creative team. Keep in mind that in the new age of creative, you will need designers who are able to understand and utilize the data of third-party companies in order to achieve the winning formula of in-house expertise and external resources.

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