Playable ads

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Juliane Besler. Juliane is a Marketing Manager At Kolibri Games. She has been in the industry for three years, and was able to scale up UA efforts on our main title Idle Miner Tycoon to over 100 million downloads, also in part thanks to Playable Ads.

In the mobile app industry, marketers have always had to find new ways to innovate to advertise successfully. The recent success of The Social Dilemma is no coincidence: although heavily overdramatized, the documentary explains the core mechanics of the ongoing attempts to buy users’ attention quite well. Advertising is always on the back of everyone’s mind, and finding the right way to do it is always a challenge. 

Showing all different kinds of “clickbaity” ads that don’t have anything to do with the product you’re advertising—or ads with fake buttons and automatic store redirects, let alone “fake ads” themselves—has also tainted the terrain of ad campaigns. With several channels now a bit fatigued, mobile marketers are always seeking new ways to be creative. In short, mobile marketers are always trying to find the new winning ad that improves conversion rates and brings down the CPI to a new low.

But then came the advent of playable ads. Playable ads are interactive ads that let users try out the core functionality of an app or a game, allowing them to experience your product before they download it. For some apps, playable ads worked right off the bat. For other apps, mostly non-gaming apps, they weren’t as successful.  In the beginning, there were only a few companies building playables, so they were expensive and there was not a lot of inventory at first to run them in. Their use was also questioned with regards to bringing value.

However, I think playable ads should be in the creative mix of mobile marketers. Playable ads work successfully because they reach users who already have a higher affinity to your app and therefore have higher value. Across my work, I’ve definitely seen higher LTVs from playable ads compared to image/video creatives. 

In this article, I’d like to explain the following five tips on how to use playable ads successfully for your app. If you can make them work, they’ll most certainly benefit your app’s overall performance. 

5 tips to get the most out of your playable ads

  1. Find your app’s USP

Always start at square one: by asking the right questions. What core mechanic does your game have?  What is the most fun or satisfying part of using your app? These are questions that should be answered in the first 30 seconds within a playable ad. You want to give potential customers the best experience of your product within this time frame. 

That means that before even trying to build a playable ad, you first need to understand user behavior within your app. How many people are playing through the tutorial? Which in-app events lead to good user retention? What is the user journey like before a purchase happens? Collecting and analyzing this type of data is crucial in building and iterating on playable ads. Otherwise, you’re flying blind.

You might then even be lucky in your first attempt to run a playable ad. But even then, you still won’t know why the ad may be successful; you won’t be able to iterate on it. Since inventory is more limited—not all placements are suitable or even possible for playable ads—playable ads have higher fatigue. That’s why understanding your USP is essential. 

  1. Simplify the steps to success

Since you only have a very limited time of around 20-30 seconds to convince people to want to use your app, it’s important to break down your core message, and simplify the steps the user has to take to both understand what your product is about and engage with the ad. The more content your app offers, the harder it will probably be to break down the steps to an easy and engaging playable ad content. That is one reason why the casual game genre is so successful with this ad format: games like Empires and Puzzles and Archero offer great gaming experience within a very small time frame. 

But remember: you only need to showcase just one part—ideally the USP as defined in step one—of your app to get the users’ attention. You don’t need to present and explain all of the app’s content. If your product’s complexity demands more explanation, a combination of video and playable ads can be your winning creative format. However, it’s still important to make sure your playable ad is easily understandable and engaging.

  1. Engagement is key

So why would you want a playable over a creative/playable ad? You’d think that a creative ad with a direct-to-download CTA could probably do the trick. If your user acquisition knowledge is based on image and video creatives, there’s really nothing else to do other than trying to increase the click-through rate by making your ads interesting (and maybe even a bit clickbait-y) enough to make people want to check out your app store page. 

But with playable ads, you’re reaching users who will be more likely to download your app after engaging because they already understand how your product works. The 30-second tutorial can extend the point before the install is happening. Doing so can ensure a lower drop-off rate after the install. That means that engagement is key, because—as always in our line of work—data is key. And the more engagement data points you and your advertising platforms are able to collect, the more suitable audience you’ll be able to target. 

  1. Test, test, test

When it comes to ad formats, it should be no surprise that testing is one of the main parts of making a successful creative. The same goes for playable ads, of course. With this part, given how many different colors and themes can be used with the same game mechanic, gaming apps might have an advantage here. But testing and finding out what works is always important. For instance, a playable ad for a utility app with a Halloween theme might feel a bit off. It’s up to you to test seasonality depending on your app, and find out which theme performs better across different markets. Overall—game or app, video or playable—testing all kinds of creatives for different audiences and expectations is absolutely king (or queen).

  1. Make smart investments

As important as testing is, it’s also costly—and even more so with playable ads. They’re more expensive to produce than a standard video cut of in-app footage and engaging text and music. As with producing a regular ad, you need developers and designers—but downsized, so to speak. That means you need to decide to either build an in-house team, which is expensive and time-consuming but gives you flexibility, or find a suitable external partner agency to build playable ads for you.

As with video production, quality and prices range from low to high, and you need to make the decision for yourself what you are willing to pay. (A word of advice: do not pay more than $5k for a playable ad. At that point, it’s worth considering what other options there are.) Playable production companies range from small businesses to larger scale partners; big ad networks even have their own in-house playable production now for paying customers. 

Having worked with multiple agencies to try to find the next winning playable ad, I can say from experience that it’s not an easy undertaking. But with increased competition on every end, rising CPIs, and new formats coming our way, playable ads should be taken as more than one time hype. They need to be seen as the future of creative advertising.