A Non-Gaming Brand’s Guide to Playable Ads

June 14, 2019

By Beatrice Olivas

chokkicx/Getty Images

For years, gaming developers have used playable ads to stand out in a competitive space by allowing users to "safely" demo a game before downloading it, no strings attached. Now, non-gaming developers are looking to leverage playable ads to highlight their own app features and differentiators, and to engage with consumers in a gamified, memorable way.

Playable ads are the most effective in-app ad format, with 28 percent of US agency professionals giving playable ads top marks, according to recent research cited in eMarketer. But playable ads are a new territory for most brands, and marketers have questions about how to best use them. Here's a look at how mobile advertisers across verticals — from Coca-Cola to PayPal — can, and do, utilize the format.

 

The What and The Why

Gaming developers have a long history of being first to market with new mobile technologies and tactics. They have been using playable ads — an interactive ad format — for the last five years. Now, a growing number of non-gaming brands are interested in the format, in part as an antidote to the mounting challenge of app discovery. With millions of apps in the app stores, standing out is hard. Playable ads can help.

By using playable ads to highlight an app's unique differentiators in a playful, engaging way, marketers attract users' attention while respecting their time. In a sense, you are giving people back their screen time, and their freedom, as they can choose whether or not they engage with the game. This is in stark contrast to formats like non-skippable video ads.

This isn't just good for the user — it's good for the marketer, as well. Since players test-drive the app before downloading it, playable ad campaigns filter out non-committed users. This drives higher intent app installs, higher quality users and higher return on ad spend (ROAS).

Mobile marketers most commonly use playable ads to drive app installs. But, the ad format can be used for other objectives, too, such as driving sign-ups, website visits, app reengagement and retention amongst existing users, as well as brand building. For example, Reese's generated brand awareness for Reese's Pieces with a Pac-Man-style playable ad, in which players gobble up Reese's Pieces, rather than the traditional pellets and ghosts. The campaign generated high engagement and repeat plays.

To evaluate campaigns, performance marketers track app installs, as well as post-install behavior and lifetime value (LTV). For branding campaigns, marketers track a number of engagement metrics, including how often a user taps, how long they engage and how many times they repeat play.

 

The Who and The How

Playable ads are more engaging and generate a higher conversion rate than other mobile ad formats. Thus, all verticals can benefit from the format, but it is taking off the quickest in categories with fierce mobile app competition, such as quick service restaurant (QSR) brands.

As QSR brands work to increase their mobile ordering business, a growing number are considering interactive ads to drive user acquisition. In fact, Burger King was one of the first non-gaming companies to try playable ads, with the launch of its Angriest Whopper game in 2015. In the game, players tried to collect 20 jalapeños in under 20 seconds. Their prize? An exclusive Burger King discount coupon. After just 14 days, the game generated 336,700 plays and an average click through-rate (CTR) of 40.25 percent.

Other fast casual restaurants should consider playable ads, too. McDonald's, for example, could create games that align with Happy Meal themes. Right now, Happy Meal toys are characters from the new movie, "Avengers: Endgame." Imagine an Avengers-themed match-three format game in which players win Happy Meal coupons. Because many users will be motivated to collect all the action figures — for themselves or for their children — campaign ROAS have the potential to be pretty high.

For any advertisers, creating effective playable ads comes down to designing relevant, fun experiences that tie to a clear objective. Let's use PayPal as another hypothetical example. It recently announced a new instant transfer feature. In order to promote this feature, the company could create a playable experience to educate existing users about the new functionality, and to entice new users to give the service a try. Creating a playable experience would help PayPal engage new and current users in a creative way.

 

The Hurdles, Real and Imagined

So, what holds non-gaming brands back from launching playable campaigns? For starters, some assume they are always costly and time-consuming. While complex custom builds range upwards of $10K, agencies can launch templated playable ads for a fraction of the cost, often within 48 hours, by working with creative studios. By leveraging templates, these studios can create branded quizzes, slot machine-style games and other popular ad styles quickly.

As the format is still new, lack of standardization can pose a challenge. Some marketers don't realize there is a certain amount of coding required to ensure a playable ad can work in every mobile ecosystem. You can't just take a playable ad you created with Facebook and use it on Google — you need to rebuild it. But this challenge is certainly surmountable by planning accordingly and working with the right partners.

Why should mobile's most engaging ad format be reserved for game developers? It took a few years, but brands across verticals are taking a hard look at interactive ads as a win-win for marketers and users alike.

Beatrice Olivas is chief revenue officer at Motive.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


You must be logged in to submit a comment.