We have all seen the ads on TV — ads designed to shock, disrupt, or entertain. What can mobile app commerce marketers learn from fake gameplay ads?
Think irreverent brand ads from the likes of GEICO, Skittles, and Budweiser. A bit funny, weird, strange, and entertaining, and not always seemingly matched to the very product they are intended to promote.
What do these mobile app commerce marketers know that every other marketer who simply espouses their product, game, or app does not?
Think back now to every movie trailer that blew you out of your chair and got your butt into the seat of the movie theater. Did the movie and the 2-minute movie trailer line up exactly to the plotline as you would expect? Did it even come close? But moreover, when you were watching the movie, did you care, or were you so engrossed in the experience that the trailer had little to do with your end satisfaction with the movie?
So, why are trailers not always a short version of the film?
The answer is that to get “butts in seats” and ensure that the trailer you saw was enough to compel you to allocate your time and money to the movie, marketers focus on these three things:
- Interrupt your thought stream so you take notice. Which nowadays means marketers must focus on interrupting your casual scroll through your social feed.
- Create a reason, any reason, to follow the call-to-action. Even if that reason is only loosely tied to the product
- Create enough attachment to the actual product to ensure that the product feels familiar and customers feel comfortable when they are actually exposed to the product
Game advertising has surprising parallels to this approach.
What are Fake Gameplay Ads?
Game developers and mobile app commerce marketers often use alternative gameplay, more commonly called “fake gameplay” in their ad creative. The reason is that for mobile game developers, the stakes are incredibly high.
As the name implies, typically, 100% of a mobile game’s revenue is derived from their mobile app, as opposed to the commerce world where revenue can be split amongst app, eCommerce, and retail storefronts.
Game trends can also change on a dime. Users are incredibly fickle. With a limited barrier to entry to install an app, apps can launch with a great deal of success. But then fatigue very quickly (and see performance shift just as fast) if a new trend or competitor emerges.
Mobile games are incredibly complex with large budgets and deep gameplay, and game developers cannot always alter gameplay to match fast-changing trends, nor should they if they have a quality product that users love once they start playing.
As a result, some apps never even make it out of the soft launch period, especially if they are not supported by strong paid user acquisition before word-of-mouth can support their growth. For those that do launch, many marketers are turning to alternative gameplay in ads to catch user attention. In fact, if you spend enough time viewing your social feeds, you will start to see similarities in ads for games. Common themes such as pickers, puzzles, hidden objects, matching, and success/fail, seem to come in waves before it almost feels like that is all that you see.
There are reasons for seeing so much copycat advertising. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Game developers are widely known for their adherence to test and learn internally and from peers in order to drive users to install their games and then also to drive deeper monetization.
Innovative game developers are experts in the “getting butts in seats” strategy by:
- Introducing alternative gameplay in ads to create engagement and ultimately drive users to install and play their game
- Identifying trending games or ad themes from other games and adding that gameplay to their ads to create the desired effect
- Testing all kinds of alternative gameplay creative and doing it on a recurring basis to drive positive marketing performance
As game developers are some of the most performance-minded marketers around, it is clear that the strategy of alternative gameplay simply works. Meaning, it drives financial performance. As a matter of fact, beyond alternative gameplay ads outperforming on scale, we have seen alternative gameplay outperform the nearest competitive ad on Day 7 Return on Ad Spend by 200%.
What you may not know is that to be successful with this strategy and to ensure that as a marketer, you avoid dissatisfied users, there is a playbook that can deliver success time and time again. And it goes like this:
Step 1: Do The Research
Make sure you have the ability and take the time to identify trends. Also, know where creative impressions in your competitive set (both broadly and narrowly) are heading. You can always check out our guide for creative research and testing best practices: 2020 Definitive Guide Of Facebook Ads Creative Strategy, Creative Testing and Launching New Games
- The amount and weighting of impressions against a certain theme will provide you with tremendous insights as to what users are responding to.
- We pride ourselves on creating tools and data sets to provide our clients with an objective view of the marketplace and the data to support creative strategies and creative learning agendas.
Step 2: Define the Strategy and Learning Agenda
- Design the strategy based on the trends. The key element is understanding the user motivation behind the themes. As that will unlock a greater understanding of the boundaries of your creative strategy. Concept something completely new that will attach to the same user motivation. This will put you in the first-mover position on a new creative concept.
- Remembering that every impression you burn on lower-performing ads results in a lower direct ROI. So you need to test as efficiently and as methodically as possible.
- Our proprietary methodology for creative testing empowers our clients to test and learn at scale in order to find creative winners as efficiently as possible.
- Let data be your objective guide to what works and what does not.
Step 3: Create The Familiar
This is where art and science merge and storytelling talent is paramount. Make users feel comfortable once they install and start playing the game. Do this by ensuring that there are enough creative assets to make the experience familiar:
- Think about characters from the game or settings from the game in completely new experiences within ads.
It is a fine line between staying too close to your gameplay to where your ads miss a trend. Also, when you do not have a compelling reason to try the game. Or, you are not using enough game assets to make a user’s experience with a game feel familiar.
Key Learnings for App Commerce Marketers
So, what can commerce brands learn from this 101 on alternative gameplay for game developers?
Commerce brands often hesitate in letting go of the “let the product be the hero” mindset and embracing test and learn at scale.
Mobile app commerce marketers will often feature beautiful products in creative that do not compel you to stop scrolling. Countless commerce ads miss the mark on captivating the user at that moment and compelling them to care. Marketers need to test all variables of ads at scale as opposed to simply offer and call to action testing.
So, what can app commerce marketers do to change the paradigm?
Step 1: Do The Research
- Identify the trends that garner impression volume.
- It is okay to see what larger commerce brands are doing. But, we recommend looking at disruptive, upstart brands because:
- They have more to lose by running unsuccessful ads.
- They do not have the benefit of media weight to hide the effect of lower-performing ads or overall return.
Step 2: Define the Strategy and Learning Agenda
- Within the trends, understand the motivations, including:
- Practicality, status, utility, and self-reward.
- Understanding motivation yields a wider range of creative possibilities.
- Define the learning agenda:
- This tends to be a hang-up for commerce brands because they are limited in creative assets. And those limitations are increased in the COVID era due to the logistical challenges of live production.
- Solution: create new narratives through animation and aftereffects of existing creative assets:
Step 3: Create The Familiar
What makes Consumer Acquisition unique is that our creative storytellers use data for every aspect of decision making and strategy. To change your team’s mindset:
- Your creative team needs to be comfortable leveraging data to inform how successful they are at walking that fine line between taking new creative risks and staying familiar.
- When you are taking risks, you are creating improved engagement and action on your ads.
- If you are staying familiar, your sell-through does not suffer once users land on your app, your website, or your store.
- When you are doing this at scale, you are not only improving your overall digital marketing performance but you are also adding new benefits to existing creative assets. Thereby improving your return on creative production costs.
Consumer Acquisition as Your Strategic Partner in Adding New Life to Your Creative Assets
Our Creative Studio, combined with our marketing services teams, has developed a unique approach to scaling creative. It is tested and proven with our clients both large and small. Also, we execute creative testing through a combination of art and science. As a result, this ensures that we help clients find that “creative sweet spot”. And by combining data, trends, and breakthrough concepts, we find that winning creative.
We are 100% focused on business outcomes and financial performance in service to our customers. Also, we are transparent in our strategies and communications to ensure all teams are aligned towards the same goals.
Maximizing your creative asset return and improving your digital marketing performance is more important now than ever. We are here to partner with you on this new challenge as we head into 2021.