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Ad creatives: Tips and best practices

by Maria Golcz on Sep 18, 2017

Coauthored by Alice Guillaume, Manager of Business Operations at AppLovin.

Today, strong creatives are fundamental to success in the mobile market. Ad quality has improved dramatically over the past couple of years, and poorly crafted ads just don’t cut it anymore. Banner and interstitial ads dominated in the past, but they now have to make room for interactive ads. Creatives have also honed their skills to focus on engaging users, rather than purely on aesthetic appeal.

A great ad allows you to create a connection between the app and the user—curiosity, engagement, and interest in exploring more are all the reactions you want your potential customer to have after viewing your ad. The challenge? They need to feel it all within the first few seconds.

As users get used to ads, they also become very picky about what they want to watch. Short attention spans and the option for users to skip your ad after the first five seconds presents an even bigger challenge. If a potential customer has a bad impression and skips your ad the first time, they’ll remember your brand negatively and continue to skip your ads even if you’ve switched creatives. Conversely, engaging ads not only lure valuable audiences to your app, but they can also significantly boost your organic user acquisition.

Our partners often ask us how to get started designing successful and engaging video ads. In short, good ads should be specific, have a clear storyline, and focus on a positive user experience. Here are some tips and best practices to get you started making your own successful ads.

Creative best practices

There are many things that make up a good ad, but here are some key elements you should focus on when making a strong and impactful creative:

  • Hook your audience in the first 1-5 seconds.
  • Showcase gameplay (if you’re advertising a game) or “gamify” the experience by showing how your app works.
  • Tell a compelling story clearly.
  • Be specific in speaking to a target audience.
  • Be focused: Avoid showing too much in a short timeframe.
  • Have a lot to say about your app? Try making several ads.
  • Focus on quality. You’ve made a great app so make sure it comes across in your marketing. Use high quality assets and clear, engaging messaging.

Users watch, you learn

While your creative team may have a good idea of what makes a strong ad creative, you need to test your ads’ performance to verify if their intuitions are correct. A/B testing will give you the data to back up your business decisions instead of relying on a gut feeling.

One easy way to think about testing is that you can never have too much information when figuring out which creatives to use when promoting your app. In this case, TMI is a good thing—it’s how we choose which ads are our best performers:

  • Test: Explore different ideas and ad elements that are key to the app and user experience to find the combination that resonates with your target audience the most.
  • Measure: Trust the numbers and the masses. Back up your strategic decisions with significant test runs in your key markets to ensure the success of your future campaigns.
  • Invest: If you haven’t already, add “Creative Tests” as a line item in your marketing budget. Don’t be afraid to allocate resources to good ads—they have the ability to exponentially grow your business.

How to optimize your tests and ads

To get the best results from your A/B tests, run a handful of them, and refresh your creatives every two to three weeks. Change only one variable at a time so you can easily tell what’s working and what’s not. It’s really important to be able to accurately attribute performance results to that specific variable. While some variables may seem minor, like changing the color of your call-to-action (CTA), but they can actually have a huge impact on the performance of your ad. Other variables that you could also test include:

  • CTA size and format
  • Different engagement points (levels, character types, etc.)
  • Showcasing various app features, special effects, and boosters
  • Changing up duration of interaction points
  • Different types of motion graphics (e.g. gameplay, trailer, cinematic)
  • Music variations

To measure initial ad performance, analyze install volumes, click-through rates, and conversion rates in order to identify and improve inefficiencies in different aspects of your creative design. Once you have a winner, you can invest more resources to iterate on it with the confidence that your ad can deliver results against your goals.

While testing is absolutely necessary, you should test with constraint—there are infinite tests to run and projects to work on. Keep in mind that not all ideas need to be tested. Instead, focus on those with the potential to really move the needle for your business and then invest the resources to produce those ads that stand out from the crowd.

Whether you’re using your in-house creative department or an external creative agency, make sure to share your data with them so they can optimize your video ads.

Follow the data

In mobile, various trends quickly become new standards, and successful ads from previous years might not hit your performance goals today. An ad could fulfill all of the best practices mentioned above but still fail. The point is that you won’t know until you test. Innovating on new ideas and gathering data through testing should always be the first step when putting any new ads out on the market. It does take time to build out the optimal framework for your creatives, But with more practice and experience, ad testing will become second nature. The results will also amplify all of your marketing efforts because you’ll have more relevant data to drive your strategic decisions.

Creatives will continue to be fundamental to your success in the in-app space, so they should be treated as an investment and be the focal point of your marketing strategy. Whilst always driven by data, allow yourself some creative freedom—unconventional ideas have delivered interesting results for our partners. But naturally, we’ve tested them first!

Maria Golcz is Manager of Growth Partnerships in EMEA at AppLovin.

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