The global ad-blocking boom has prompted the advertising industry to rethink its strategy - users are tired of intrusive, irrelevant and boring ads. In response, we are slowly seeing a shift in mobile advertising to ad formats and creative that both take advantage of mobile media and create a value exchange between users and advertisers.
Choosing the right ad format requires marketers to examine each available option and how each configuration meets their needs. The good news is that 78% of consumers are happy to be exposed to ads that are relevant to their interests. The best ad format for your app will not only drive conversions, but your users will also benefit from engaging ads that provide valuable content.
Next came rewarded video ads (or RV), which offer users in-app currency in exchange for watching video ads - and finally an ad format that engages users and improves the user experience. Today, playable ads are pushing the boundaries even further.
Playable ads are a great example of how ads can be highly engaging for users and beneficial for advertisers. eMarketer found that U.S. agency professionals consider playable ads to be the most effective in-app ad format, followed by interactive ads and bonus videos. This guide covers everything you need to know about playable ads, from defining terms to sharing best practices.
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What are playable ads?
A playable ad is an interactive ad format that allows users to experience core app features or brand experiences within a limited range of ad display locations. This format is most commonly used to promote mobile games - hence the term "playable" - that provide users with a short gaming experience.
For example, a marketer looking to promote a word puzzle game might deploy a playable game with a partially completed puzzle and prompt the user to solve it by tapping and dragging the last few letters to win the round.
Playable ads are often associated with the marketing of mobile games, where users can try the game, get hooked and decide to install it. However, other verticals are also finding innovative ways to benefit from highly engaging playable ads. For example, Lendi, an Australian fintech company, used playable ads on Facebook in its brand awareness campaign. By developing a playable refinancing calculator, the company increased incremental leads by 30% and reduced its cost per lead by 66%.
Regardless of genre or application category, playable ads are typically full-screen and last anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute. Once users have completed the ad content, they are presented with an end card and CTA that directs them to install the full version of the app.
How to make playable ads?
In addition to staying true to the spirit of the app, playable ads offer users multiple engagement opportunities and touchpoints - unlike any other type of app ad unit. They consist of three parts: the tutorial, the gameplay, and the end card.
Playable Ads Tutorial
The tutorial introduces the player to the minigame and is short and to the point. Within 3 seconds, the tutorial effectively immerses the user in the game and explains how to play. It should be clearly interactive with an intuitive design that doesn't require much clicking. Most importantly, users need to know from the start that this is an ad they can interact with.
Next comes the real gameplay. Despite being a quick, simplified version of the game, this section still gives the user a proper understanding of how the game is played. Within 10 to 20 seconds, the user should be able to know if they want to install the app and continue playing. In the game, users can play an exciting starting level. In the camera app, the user can take a picture and cover it with a funky filter.
Finally, there is the end card. Here, the playable ad displays a clear call-to-action (CTA) asking the user to install the app, or asking them to perform some other steps. If it is an app install ad and they choose to install it, the user will be redirected to the app store to download it.
Throughout the playable ad, there should always be an x-out option to ensure that the user feels in control and that the experience remains positive.
What are the advantages of playable ads?
In the US, playable ads generate $11.00 to $25.00 per 1,000 displays placed, but these numbers vary by app category and target audience. Casual and ultra-casual publishers tend to drive the highest performance from playable ads because their players are often looking for new gaming experiences.
Notably, these audiences also embrace low-cost, high-reward ad formats such as bonus videos, making display placement styles that support playable games an important part of any game publisher's monetization strategy.
Try before you buy
Playable ads serve as a "try-before-you-buy" type of ad unit, allowing users to interact with the app's key features before installing it. Users who play a fun game for a few seconds and then eventually install the app are more likely to open the app later and continue to engage with it over time, creating more high Lifetime Value (LTV) players.
This is also because playable mobile ads are inherently interesting and fun to play. Like the Super Bowl ads viewers look forward to watching, playable ads are the ad format users actually want to encounter.
Reduce app uninstallation rate and increase retention rate
Allowing users to "try before they buy" is a great way to engage them. In addition, playable ads give users a clear idea of what the app will offer before they download it, which helps reduce uninstallation rates. Users who download an app based on a playable ad are more likely to stay engaged than those who find the app randomly in the app store. This is because the former know what to expect from the app, resulting in more high lifecycle (LTV) users who are also more likely to make subsequent in-app purchases.
This helps advertisers improve their ROI by filtering out users who don't like the app and reducing ad spend that would otherwise be wasted on acquiring low LTV users. While the cost per install may be slightly higher than standard banner ads, playable ads are perfect for acquiring quality users.
A Facebook case study showed that playable ads helped on a 50% return on ad spend, and mobile game company Me2Zen increased returns by generating X3 as many in-app purchases as possible and 9% lower cost per unit installed (CPI).
Gain valuable data insights
Sophisticated playable ad creators can provide advertisers with a wealth of in-ad data, giving them real-time insight into the types of users interacting with their ads. Compared to other ad formats, which act like black boxes and don't tell us why users like the ad or why users installed the app, playable ads provide developers with more transparency. Why? Because there are more moving parts in playable ads - which means there are more variables to manipulate and optimize.
Best practices for creating and optimizing playable ads
● Keep it simple
● Optimize your app store entry
● Include the basics of your game
● Timing is the key to success
● Reward players to encourage them to convert
● Demonstrate the interactivity of your adsKeep it simple
: You should expect users to be unfamiliar with your game and not have prior knowledge of how the game mechanics work. Therefore, it's critical to keep your playable ads simple. Making your ads easy to enjoy is a smart way to achieve results. As a general rule, users should understand how to play immediately after your short tutorial. Your CTAs also need to be quick and easy to understand.Optimize your app store entry
: Even if your playable ads are optimized and successful in encouraging high value users to install from the app store. Practicing App Store Optimization (ASO) will help increase conversions - this includes changing your app title, app description, and including helpful screenshots and videos.Include the basics of your game
: treat your playable ads as highlights. While you only need to create a simplified version of your app's gameplay for playable ads, you should define and include the essential features that encourage users to convert. In addition, your game may have animations and characters that make your app unique. Include these elements to make your game as memorable as possible.Timing is the key to success
: Trial ads are fun, but they can't compete with the full experience of your app. However, even the most engaging ads won't lead to conversions if you don't introduce CTAs before users move on. Your CTA timing must be tested and optimized to deliver better results over time.Reward players to encourage them to convert
: Users may be more likely to convert if you reward them for their gameplay. For example, if users collect coins in your playable ads, you can offer them a bonus boost so they start your mobile game with an advantage. Rewards provide them with a clear incentive to install your mobile app and claim the revenue they deserve during gameplay. The rewards you offer to your users are another component that can be A/B tested for the best results.Demonstrate the interactivity of your ads
: Since most ad formats are not interactive, users need to know that they can interact with your trial ads. If this doesn't come across immediately, you may lose high-value users who would otherwise install your app. Avoid using static images within the first few seconds of the ad, and instead choose engaging visuals to indicate the interactive nature of the ad.
Go beyond games
Currently, playable ads are largely confined to the world of gaming. But given their appeal and interactivity, we can expect them to expand into more non-game application categories.
An example is fast food restaurant (QSR) brands. Burger King, for example, was one of the first non-gaming companies to try them out, launching the Angriest Whopper game in 2015. We have also seen playable ads in the gambling industry, as well as the creation of social casino games with different "rooms" showcasing different styles of slot machines. Some examples are Jackpot Party, which used Zeus, a famous and popular theme in Vegas, in their playable games, or House of Fun, which decided to adopt the Egyptian theme, which is only available in the advanced levels of the game.
Typically, game advertisers and publishers will be the first to use the latest innovative mobile ad formats. It's the real offerwall, interstitial and bonus video, after all. As with other ads, once playable ads are successful on gaming apps, non-gaming apps will be the next to join the trend and retool the format to meet their unique needs.