Section 2: Creative Strategy Best Practices

 

Let’s recap what we’ve covered so far:

  • The algorithms at Facebook and Google can now do many user acquisition social advertising tasks better than a human can… 
  • …but the algorithms still can’t develop high-performing, original creative. 
  • Because the algorithms have streamlined user acquisition media buying, the advertising playing field has been leveled, and so many of the advantages companies used to enjoy via adtech have diminished (excluding cross-networking reporting and asset uploading). 
  • Creative is KING! Developing high-performing creative is the best advantage for all social advertisers.

So if you want to succeed in 2020 – either as a user acquisition manager or as a social advertiser in a ferociously competitive market – creative is your best bet. 

But here’s why creative is so tricky to get right:

 

Most Ads Fail

 

High-performance, control-beating creative is a rare thing. In our experience, after spending over $3 billion dollars in user acquisition advertising, usually only one out of twenty ads can beat the “best performing control” (the top ad). If ad piece of creative doesn’t outperform the best video, you lose money running it. Losers are killed quickly and winners are scaled to the moon.

The reality is, most ads fail. The chart below shows the results of +17,000 different ads. Spend was distributed based on performance. As you can see, out of those +17,000 ads, only a handful drives a majority of the spend. 

The extremely high failure rate of most creative shapes advertising budgets and advertising testing. Because 95% of creative fails, if you can’t test ads quickly and affordably, your campaign performance will suffer substantially.

But testing alone isn’t enough. You also have to generate enough original creative concepts for fuel testing. 

Because 19 out of 20 ads fail, you don’t just need one new piece of creative: You need 20 new original ideas.

And you need all that new creative fast. Because creative fatigues so quickly, you don’t need 20 new creatives every year or so. You need 20 new creative concepts every month, or possibly even every week. 

The rate at which you’ll need new creative depends on your ad spend and how your app or game monetize (IAA or IAP). The more ad spend you run through each ad, the faster its performance declines. The table below outlines an estimate on how much creative is required to maintain the type of ROAS most advertisers want

So because 95% of new ads fail, the best way to find a high-performance ad is to test a lot of original creative concepts.

But if you want to get that new creative fast enough to stay ahead of creative fatigue, your testing system has to be as efficient as possible. If you don’t have a strategic, efficient system for testing, it’s easy to blow way too much time and way too much money on testing creative and still not have a winner. 

This is the lynchpin of successful user acquisition advertising right now. Whoever builds the best creative machine to develop and test high-performance creative will dominate UA advertising in 2020. 

Because this is so critical, we’ve developed a methodology for developing and testing creative as efficiently as possible. The next section outlines how we work.

 

Creative Audit

 

We hate duplicating work, and we hate duplicating mistakes even more. So before we create new ads or develop a new strategy, we’ll dig deep into the prior performance of a user acquisition advertising account, with particular focus on the creative assets. 

Doing an audit like this helps us avoid repeating the same tests and mistakes an advertiser has made before. It gives us valuable information about what has worked and what might work going forward. 

The end result of a creative audit is to analyze, document, and share what has worked and failed in the past six months. We focus on videos and images, ad copy, and which concepts and variations have performed best and worst. 

What we’re particularly looking for are the key performance drivers. Which creative attributes are really making a difference? Once you know that, you can prioritize your creative tests far more effectively.

Competitive Audit

 

Competitors’ ads are a bank vault of creative insights – if you know what to look for. As Picasso said, “Good artists copy and great artists steal!” If you can properly analyze your competitor’s ads they can provide you with a nearly endless supply of tested concepts. The bad news is 95% of your competitors’ ads fail, too. 

Facebook’s new Ads Library is a great way to see which ads your competitors have been running. It will not tell you how well those ads are performing, but if they’re running the same ad for more than a week, or in a variety of sizes that is a solid signal it’s probably working well for them. 

Because the Ads Library lacks conversion data, impressions, and interaction data – all metrics essential to evaluating ads, we also use tools like Sensor Tower, SocialPeta or AppAnnie to gather proxy performance data. 

 

Effectively evaluating competitors’ creative is a valuable skill. But it’s usually not ideal to have either a true creative or a true quant do it. Ideally, you want someone with a balance of both right and left brain thinking.

Someone with a psychology background and good math skills might fit the profile. They need to be able to interpret the metrics on competitors’ ads but also be able to see the psychology behind why certain ads are working. If they have a model of the player profiles of the user base, they need to be integrating that data into their competitive analysis as well. 

A good creative evaluator will be able to see trends in both creative and data. They’ll come up with a hypothesis about why winning ads work, and then incorporate that hypothesis into a client’s creative strategy and testing protocol. This is a job for someone who can synthesize many different types of information, and gel that knowledge into an actionable strategy. 

Doing competitive audits like this can make a huge difference in long-term performance. This is a high-value activity UA managers would do well to put more time into. 

A good competitive audit will include:

  • An analysis of competitors ad concepts based on spend, conversions, engagements, and any other meaningful metrics you’re especially interested in. 
  • Player profiles of competitors’ apps (even if this information is as much a guestimate as anything else), and a comparison of how competitors’ player profiles differ from the client’s current player profiles.
  • Documentation of how competitors have used the following elements:
      • Ad copy
      • Buttons
      • End/start cards
      • Calls to action
      • Messaging
      • Offers
      • Use of animation/motion
      • Colors
      • Backgrounds
      • Text placement
      • Characters
      • Logos and/or stickers
      • New elements
      • Old elements used in a new way

The final competitive analysis document will include screenshots of all these elements. It’s usually best to organize them into a spreadsheet so you can sort the data by:

  • Competitor
  • The ads they’re running
  • What you’ve noticed about those ads
  • What test ideas you’ve gotten by reviewing their ads

If you’re in need of a few truly “out of the box” ideas for new ads, look to other industries or niches. Find breakaway, ads and then analyze them like you would a competitor’s ads. This is especially effective if you can find an industry or niche your highest value audience has a particular affinity for. 

Asset Folders For Winning Ads

 

If you’re planning on working with an external company, it will save a lot of time if you put assets into well-organized Dropbox or Google drive folders. Export your characters on transparent backgrounds. Save your key environments and music files so they can be easily shared.  The more assets you have to share, the more creative an external company can be.

On our side, whenever we find a winner, all the files – the videos after effects files, Sketch files, Illustrator files, Photoshop files, music files, all of it – get dumped into a cloud storage folder. So when we create variations we will use the elements from the winning ads folder, not the files from other variation tests. 

This may seem like a small thing, but tiny differences can have big effects and significantly reduce revision requests.

We don’t get sloppy with file naming conventions, either. This allows both internal and external teams to easily access the files they need without having to waste time looking for the right file. 

 

Player Profiles

 

The concept of horizontal segmentation remade the food industry a few years ago, and we think it’s about to remake UA advertising and gaming soon. According to some research we’ve done in house, about 10% of advertisers are employing horizontal segmentation, aka “player profiles” in their creative development. 

The idea behind player profiles is basically that there is no perfect game or perfect ad. But there can be perfect games and ads. In other words, if we can take customer data and crunch it so that we find dominant preferences, and then design games and ads around those preferences, we can create significantly more compelling games and ads… and, as a result, dramatically increase sales. 

The idea of pleasing different user groups could remake how we test ads and design games, but it’s also positioned to remake creative development and competitive analysis. 

Here’s an example of how information about player personas and player motivations might fit into a creative brief for developing creative and creative strategy. Note how the left column in the graphic shows what this particular player profile most cares about in the game.

 

Here is a way to cluster player profile motivations:

 

If we can take the motivations from these different player clusters and look at what’s unique about them, we can also see which other titles they’re playing. This helps us come up with new creative ideas and a new list of competitors, which in turn lets us do better competitive analyses.

Armed with information about player personas and motivations, almost any designer would immediately understand that they can craft different ads for different player profiles. These are different people that are motivated by different calls to action and benefits. Even if the ads are meant to sell the same game to different profiles, ads tailored to each profile are going to perform better than one ad designed generically to please them all.

So whenever we can, we try to understand player profiles from our advertisers while we do creative audits. This gives us critical information about what’s motivating the different people in the user base to play. Armed with that information, we can then develop ads that speak directly to the primary profile. In other words, we can create more tailored, targeted (and thus more profitable) ads for the users that matter the most.

 

Creative Strategy

 

Once we’ve completed our creative audit to uncover what has worked / not worked and evaluated ads from competitors and we understand the quality and depth of the assets we have access to, we can not develop fresh ideas to explore.  The first step in that process is a creative strategy. Our goal is to layout our learnings, assumptions, competitors’ impressions into a document and solicit feedback from the client/advertiser, after all, they are the product expert.

Here is a working example of a creative strategy designed to share a format for how we share ideas and conduct internal/external conversations.

 

Creative Strategy – Client “Generic”

 

Overview:

 

  • Test new video concepts to find new winners
  • Test concepts based on the research of competitive ads
  • Adjust as needed based on ad performance

What has worked creatively for Game TBD:

 

  • Noob Vs Pro videos
  • Videos with Gameplay
  • Videos with character intros

Competitors:

 

  • AFK Arena
    • They have 3D videos showing actions and character design. Heavily focused on big hits with lots of vfx and armies of enemies getting obliterated. This is not in-game footage.
    • Top video
    • Big Action Ad 1
    • Big Action Ad 2
    • Story Telling action Ad
    • Multi-Choice
  • Idle Heroes
    • Top Video
    • Level Up Ad 1
    • Level Up Ad 2
    • Tap Titans 2
    • Noob vs Pro
  • Hero Wars
    • Lock and Gate
  • Empires & Puzzles Epic Match 3
    • Character customization 
    • Story and Gameplay
  • Legendary Game of Heroes
    • Tap Tap Heroes
    • Almost a Hero
    • Clicker Heroes

Target Audience:

 

  • Male RPG Player
  • Motivated by 
    • playing idle games
    • RPG games
    • Competition: Arena, Guild Wars, etc.
    • Collecting items, heroes, etc. 

What we should test:

 

  • Videos combining story and gameplay
  • Videos that include a visual evolution (character upgrading, armor upgrading, leveling up etc)
  • Variations on Noob vs pro
  • A single character facing off against many foes

Characters that seem to be working well in ads:

 

  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD

Client requests: 

 

  • Aspect ratio:  4:5 & 1:1 

 

Mini Creative Briefs

 

Working with a new Facebook marketing partner, agency or advertising company certainly has challenges. Neither side may be comfortable with nomenclature, branding rules, logo guidelines, etc.   The goal with a mini creative brief is simple, share creative concepts with enough detail to convey the idea without derailing the creative team with an onerous creative process that may be rejected.  

Here is a working example of a mini creative brief designed to illustrate how we communicate fresh creative concepts without storyboarding.

 

Sample Mini Creative Brief

 

Mini Brief 1: “Booster Reward”

 

  • App Title: ABC
  • Header: No Header
  • Specs:
    • Sizes: 4:5 Portrait
    • Length: 15 Seconds
  • Brief Description:
    • HAND/FINGER selects a BOOSTER REWARD which is then used in GAMEPLAY.
  • Reference:
    • Put the reference link here.
  • Beat list:
    • Open on a grid of TREASURE CHESTS.
    • Ad copy: “Choose your reward”
    • HAND/FINGER selects the middle chest revealing BOOSTER.
    • BOOSTER spins and transitions into GAMEPLAY BOARD.
    • GAMEPLAY quickly finishes on a BIG WIN.
    • Transition Into END CARD. Logo and CTA “PLAY NOW”
  • Hypothesis: Ex: New Concept based on competitor

 

What Creative Do I Really Need?

The needs of advertisers vary depending on their advertising goal, KPIs and more importantly, assets.  Below are designations for creative services we have uncovered through industry-wide interviews and conversations.

Creative Definitions:

  • 2D animation: rigged and animated characters in 2D, no 3D animation is provided.
  • New Concept: new and original ideas, not derivative of existing videos
  • Iterations: Concept Optimization, New Footage / Elements
  • Modifications: Re-size, Header Designs, Music
  • Simple Changes: Localizations, CTAs, End/Start Card Text Changes

Winner Variation Testing

Once we have a winning ad, we’ll test every element it’s made of. This allows us to figure out which elements or combinations of elements are making the ad work. 

It takes quite a lot of tests and a fair amount of money to break up and test an ad like this, which is why we don’t do it for every ad – only the best ads, breakout winning control ads get analyzed like this. The information we learn from the analysis is vital to developing break-out ads going forward. It’s also fantastic for something called a “concept refresh.”

 

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