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Storytelling in video ads: 3 steps to engage potential users

by Crystal Witten on Feb 14, 2017

Successful marketing often relies on good storytelling. It is the key to making an emotional connection with audiences and getting them to engage with your content, no matter what it is. As a designer at AppLovin my job consists of designing video ads for mobile games, and with each and every one of them, storytelling is foremost in my mind, even though they’re relatively short (typically around 30 seconds).

Here are the steps I take to ensure that the ads I create tell stories that capture the attention of viewers:

Step 1: Understand the game intimately. I can’t even begin to think about creating a story arc until I have a sound understanding of the game I’m working on. I sit down with it, often for an hour or more, to determine why its players are drawn to it and what particular satisfaction it offers. Do players get a charge out of defeating other players or from solving a complex puzzle? Then I analyze the brand: is it cutesy, or is it dark and serious? It’s imperative that I thoroughly understand the game and brand as a player and be able to speak the player’s language visually and otherwise in order for my video ad to resonate. Only when I have the answers to these questions can I begin to imagine a story arc for the ad.

Nothing like a cute character to draw users in!

Step 2: If there are mascots or characters, figure out how to leverage them. When a game has mascots or characters, using them as part of the video ad is a must. People are naturally drawn to faces and appealing characters will draw empathy from viewers, engaging them in the ad. Even a bingo game that has no story within it can have a cute animal mascot I can use to create a narrative. Maybe I’ll animate it to sneakily pop behind game footage, or I’ll deploy a “Tom and Jerry” approach to have it run around the screen as if it’s being chased. The point is, with a character, I can generate fondness in the user for the character and the brand — and even generate some laughs (always a good thing!).  

Step 3: Plot a narrative arc. With or without mascots or characters, the final step is to figure out what the narrative is, and that means hitting several key points within a story. Here’s how I think of each point:

The beginning: This should always quickly communicate the feel of the game via proper music, animation, and styling. Those first few seconds have be engaging enough that they capture the viewer’s attention and make them want to know what happens next. In an ad for an action-filled strategy game, for example, the logo might burst into flames with arrows flying across the screen.

The middle: This is where the conflict or goal of the character (and the player of the game) is made clear. What are the obstacles that they must overcome on their journey? With every game I work with, I find inspiration in Frodo Baggins’ journey to destroy the ring in Mount Doom — specifically in the many obstacles that face him. An example of a goal and obstacle in a mobile game could be a complex puzzle for the player to solve. In an RPG game, it could be the desire to level up their character to be the strongest and defeat powerful monsters. Once the goal of the game has been established, we can show the many ways the player can work towards achieving those goals, aided by power-ups and combos.

The climax: At this point, the player/character achieves their goal — to win that epic battle or solve that puzzle. Replicating a little bit of a sense of accomplishment and excitement in the ad makes the user more likely to want to play the game in order to generate that feeling for themselves.

The conclusion: The game logo is displayed, creating an easy way for users to continue the story by downloading the game.

Good storytelling is one of the best ways to engage potential users and generate interest in your game. If you’ve achieved an understanding of the game and used its mascots and characters to create a story arc to appeal to the viewer, the game just might end up with another loyal player.

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