Playable ads: things you should know

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Users are tired of intrusive, boring and irrelevant ads. The tide is turning to creative formats that can take full advantage of mobile platforms.

The year 2014 saw the rise of the rewarded video, which offered users in-app currency, extra lives, perks and even discounts in exchange for viewing an ad. At last, an ad offered something of value not just to the app owner and advertiser, but also to the audience, which resulted in quite high CPM (USD 1.05–2.33) and retention rate.

Another emerging format – playable ads – takes this concept even further. As the name implies, it's an ad that can be played. It provides a snippet of gameplay where players can do what they want. The minigame is usually around a minute long, letting users get a clear idea of what the app is and go to the download page if they like it.

These ads are completely opt-in, and the average time to decision is 15 seconds. Since the person is in full control, this ad format is considered non-intrusive. It doesn't distract the user and actually varies up the app experience. Unlike most other types of advertising, minigames leave a pleasant impression and don't hurt retention rates.

Playable ads are all about interactivity, so they are best suited for mobile apps.

myTracker can help calculate and even predict ad revenue for this format.

Creating an effective playable ad

Playable ads not only let people get to know the app, but also provide a lot of touchpoints for advertisers. A good minigame should have three components: instructions, gameplay and call to action (CTA). All of them can be calibrated for best results (i.e. maximum views and click-through).

1. Instructions

Explanation of how to play the game: where to press, what to do and how to win. The playables format is fairly new, and many people may be unaware of its interactivity, so having instructions is essential. They are best done visually – with a pointer or a finger showing where to tap so users can grasp the idea in about three seconds. Basically, it's just a much shorter version of the tutorial. A couple of instructions is usually all it takes to get people started.

2. Gameplay

This is a simplified version of the actual app experience. Go ahead and show off the best version of the game with every item purchased and skill unlocked. In the span of just 20 to 30 seconds, the user should learn enough to decide whether or not to get the app and continue using it. The ad should also have music and showcase the app's visual style. No point in false advertising – it would only increase the disengagement rate.

Just because games lend themselves to playable ads exceptionally well doesn't mean this format can't work for other apps. For example, an ad for a camera app may let users take a picture and play around with snazzy filters, while a dating app ad may show some top profiles.

3. Call to action

Any ad should end with a clear call to action. If the user likes what they've seen, they should be able to go to the app store for download with a single click (or to the advertiser’s website, if it's some other product). The classic way to do CTA is with two buttons. Once the user finishes playing (beats the boss or closes the minigame), two options pop up – go to the app store or proceed with the current app.

Users should have the option to X-out during the entire play time. Playable ads are usually no more than 2–5 MB in size. A good way to achieve this­­ is to forego background music in favour of high-quality sound effects (if available). Leverage "social proof" – display a celebrity endorsement or a high store rating on the end card, or quote a couple of glowing five-star reviews.

Why playable ads?

Nowadays, advertisers are looking for active users that would stay engag­­ed, with quality slowly taking precedence over scale. LTV, ARPU and retention are becoming the cornerstone metrics of effective marketing, and interactive formats such as playable ads help to home in on exactly that. While their CPM is definitely much higher, these ads bring in people who've already bought into the app and are going to keep using it.

  • Try before you buy

Any salesman will tell you that having an opportunity to test a gadget or any other product leads to a drastic increase in sales. A pig in a poke is a tough sell, but if it's something a person has tried and formed some kind of connection with, conversion becomes much easier. Bringing it back to playable ads, if the user likes the gameplay and functions of the minigame, then the install is almost guaranteed. Plus, such users demonstrate high LTV as they are more likely to use the app and spend money in it going forward.

  • Better retention, lower uninstall rates

Even for great and working apps, the uninstall rate during the first hour can be as high as 25%, and in the first month it jumps to 64%. These are users who realised that the app doesn't fit their needs. The playable ad format makes it possible to attract mainly high LTV users with better retention and uninstall rates down the line. According to ironSource, playable ads increase the retention rate by 30–40%.

In the end, this is a win-win for all: the owner of the app housing the ad gets high CPM because it yields active and involved users, while the advertiser saves money on irrelevant accounts who would've uninstalled the app anyway. This may partially be due to the format's novelty and the fun factor, but users acquired via playable ads display very high LTV and ROI.

  • Freedom to optimise

Playable ads have a lot of moving parts – much more than standard formats. This means there are more variables to manipulate for the best possible result. You are not confined to just a resizeable area with a picture and text. With playable ads, you get to experiment with the tutorial duration and depth, gameplay features, and call-to-action timing, all of which affect the outcome.

For instance, you can adjust the minigame difficulty. If the players are losing too often, just make it easier. Ideally, the game should be easy enough for most people to win, but difficult enough to require at least some skill to beat and give players a sense of accomplishment.

Setting up custom events through myTracker can provide enough data to precisely determine what works and what needs improvement.

Beyond games

According to an AdColony survey, 71% of advertisers find playables to be effective, and 45% are more excited about them than any other format. So far, these interactive ads have received limited funding in the US (around 8% in 2018), but the figure has more than doubled compared to around 3.5% the previous year.

This solution is primarily used for games, but it can be deployed in other apps too. And not just apps – Burger King once advertised its new burger using a minigame where players had to catch ingredients (tomatoes, cheese, bacon) with buns. Those who successfully built a burger got an exclusive discount and could actually order their creation on Burger King's website or app. The game attracted 300,000 people over the first two weeks and reached an impressive CTR of 40.25%. And that’s just burgers!

myTracker lets you monitor key monetisation metrics (LTV, ARPPU, etc.) for a range of formats, including playable ads. You can track revenue by user and see its drivers. All metrics are measured separately for ads, subscriptions and in-app payments. As a bonus, myTracker can also predict your future ad revenue.

The indicators become available in the Report Constructor once you synchronise your myTracker account with the account of your advertising or monetising partner (e.g. ironSource). For more details on ad monetisation strategies and myTracker, click here.