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Simple Creative Tweaks to Make in Your Ads for Big Wins

by Claire Tak on Feb 26, 2021

Small creative changes to your ads can make a big difference in engagement, sales, and the growth of your games or apps. To understand what drives deeper engagement from a creative standpoint, we spoke with SparkLabs’ Senior Design Manager Jessica Dolan, who leads a team of designers in creating immersive, engaging, and relevant ads. 

SparkLabs is AppLovin’s in-house powerhouse team of data-driven designers, developers, and gamers who provide creative expertise and help game studios create engaging ads. The team solves complex problems by testing new ideas to improve engagement and overall ad experience. A big part of the process involves understanding how design and creative elements influence and motivate people to take action. 

Here are some of Jessica’s insights around simple creative tweaks for big wins:

1. Make it easy for players to engage

Trends show that well-crafted, compelling playable content is a powerful online advertising tool. Playable ads, which demo your gameplay, are top-performing ads that can increase the rate of installs by 200 percent and make it easy for people to engage. Twenty-eight percent of professional marketers believe playables are the most effective ad format. 

Creating high-impact playable ads take some work to produce, as it requires research, scripts, storyboards, and prototyping. 

Playable ads should be relevant, interactive—and users can engage with a part of the game. When creating your playable ad, Jessica suggests keeping it simple and avoiding overly complex information or interactions, noting, “If players are presented with a complex, text-heavy tutorial, for example, they will likely be searching for a way to exit from the ad. Ensure users have a satisfying interaction early on.”

Consider using icons and intuitive visual cues to easily show the player what they’re supposed to do. This helps players understand the action they’re supposed to take.

Keeping a pulse on the types of innovation happening in the market is important in order to take creative risks and stay competitive. Pin-puzzle ads, where a player is prompted to help a character through different obstacles by manipulating pins, were trending last year. 

Jessica said the team took the pin-puzzle concept and ran with it, saying, “We created an ad using a similar mechanic but incorporated the characters and environment from the game itself, and added a dramatic scenario to the intro.”

Another tweak studios can make is to advertise special content, such as limited-time events, or seasonal-themed ads like winter or snow. 

“We found a lot of success with seasonal ads. These may have a shorter lifespan, but they can also resonate strongly with users and help boost engagement,” Jessica pointed out.  

3. Create ads that feel native to the channel

If you have ads that run on social media, create ads that feel like it’s a part of their channel by exploring the content on those platforms. 

“If the ad runs on TikTok, for example, browse the current TikTok trends and try implementing something similar into the ad. This can be as simple as a custom filter or text overlay.”

Also, following trends on social is one way to discover new ideas for themes and to be on the lookout for eye-catching designs and imagery. 

4. Consider testing live footage

Live footage in ads is becoming increasingly popular. Rather than showing only the gameplay in the ad, for example, you’re now seeing the game being played by an actual person. 

Jessica explained, “Showing a real person in the ad boosts the feeling of human connection, which can help with user engagement.” 

She noted a few best practices to consider when testing live user footage, saying, “One is to understand the target audience and choose footage that shows a similar demographic. For example, when we use live footage for a bingo game, we take into account that most users are middle-aged females. Another best practice is to use footage that looks relatable, as opposed to obvious stock footage, which can look generic or corporate.” 

A successful example is with Clipwire’s game, Bingo Story. Jessica explained, “We tested a couple of live introductions with our top video. One showed a variety of users on their phone, and the other showed a single woman on her phone. Both of these videos performed better than had we just shown gameplay.”

5. Keep the ads relevant

No matter what, the focus should be on creating high-quality, engaging ads regardless of the placement. Making an ad relevant to the game means relevant to the app’s in-app gameplay or experience, brand, and core demographics.

This results in a satisfying transition from video or playable to the app store and ultimately ideally an install.

Jessica noted, “I’ve sometimes come across ads that are way irrelevant to a game, which can be a mistake for user engagement. If the user engages and downloads the game from the ad, only to find a completely different mechanic and art style, that can be a frustrating experience.”

6. Get inspired by activities outside of your industry

Jessica also emphasized the importance of getting inspiration from other aspects of your daily life, saying, “Recently, I worked on a creative for a cooking game with a simple mechanic—to find five hidden objects in a French-style kitchen. I was inspired by the beautiful imagery and cute rats in the Pixar movie, ‘Ratatouille.’ I’m happy to say that this became a top-performing ad!”

Other members of the SparkLabs team use forums and websites centered around art to get their creative juices flowing. Rudy Baez, 3D Lead Designer for SparkLabs, said his go-to websites include DeviantArt and CGSociety. “I can see the latest up-and-coming programs, new data, and 3D trends.”

Senior Design Manager, Samantha Pena, added, “Both Pinterest and Instagram allow me to find new influences and ideas that serve as a launchpad for new concepts.”

In implementing these creative tweaks, it’s also important to A/B test your changes. Set a goal and a clear hypothesis or question you want to answer with each test.  

Also, take a look at your sample size in your tests and what kind of percentage increase you’d like to see. Ideally, you want to discover big wins or big losses, small lifts or no lifts in either direction are less valuable learnings. When you create consistent setups for testing, you will eventually better understand the impact of your creatives and figure out what resonates with users.

Learn more about SparkLabs.

Claire Tak is Marketing Manager, Content at AppLovin.