Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Playable in-app advertising: It’s ‘game on’ for brands

By Si Crowhurst, Vice President of Vungle Creative Labs

As more people are playing mobile games than ever, especially as lockdown restrictions ebb and flow, brand marketers are starting to work up an appetite for gaming audiences. From peeling off a facemask in a cosmetics company’s playable ad or virtually assembling a cake to develop an appetite for a kitchen appliance, the market is there, and the possibilities for brands to use in-app ads in gaming environments to get their products or services across to wide audiences are endless.

Dissecting gaming audiences

Data shows that every fifth app in the Apple App Store is a game – way above any other category such as productivity or lifestyle apps – and in the UK, Deloitte data shows 21 million adults play games on their phones, some from the moment they wake up, all the way to bedtime. The same study revealed older generations tend to be more ‘glued to their screens’ when it comes to games than younger ones, and despite the differences in interest – women favour puzzles, men strategy games – both sexes play on their phones in equal amounts.

Clearly, this is not the same audience that turned computer-based multiplayer games into world championship tournaments. The world of mobile games is much less intense than that. In fact, in 2019, 78 percent of all games downloaded were ‘hyper-casual games’, which are characterised by simple gameplay and graphics, while casual video games – a similar genre – were scientifically proven to help users reduce stress levels and improve their moods. Gaming audiences are used to spending long periods of time in these apps and consume a vast amount of advertising content. This is especially true for players who want to avoid having to pay for in-app purchases, with some apps rewarding those who watch ads with in-game currency, or additional “lives.”

There is a golden opportunity for brands to reach new audiences and grab their attention for longer periods of time. Mobile game advertisers have already realised this, which is why traditionally, these in-game ad spots are filled with other apps, and usually, other games. These gaming ads are often immersive, or playable, which means they take the viewing experience and flip it into a highly effective, interactive ‘teaser’ to offer the player a taste of the game.

Take a leaf out of app marketers’ playbook

While playable ads are an obvious fit with products which are themselves playable, brand marketers may question whether playable ads are effective when it comes to advertising a non-playable product, service, or the brand itself. This perhaps explains why brands are only now beginning to realise the full potential of in-game advertising.

The key here is creativity. Whatever problem your brand solves, there’s a way to make it interactive. Even instructional information such as “wash your hands for 20 seconds” can be turned into immersive experiences users will remember, as Vungle’s playable ads designed to communicate public health messages to help fight Covid demonstrated.

Balancing effective in-app advertising with a great user experience is a fine art, but brands can get creative with their audience targeting, ad placement and content. And creativity is becoming a watchword in the mobile advertising industry, not just due to the opportunities it presents, but out of necessity as well, given the upcoming changes to iOS that will require every app to get explicit permission from users before accessing their device’s advertising identifier to personalise ads.

Why Apple’s privacy move is a gamechanger

Given that Apple’s latest, iOS 14 update saw a record 26 percent of users upgrade within just five days, and iOS 13 was reported to run on 81 percent of devices nine months after its launch, the change to the new privacy feature will be swift and pervasive, and the industry will need to think on its feet.
While creativity has always been a key driver of success in the mobile advertising industry, as we now head towards 2021, its impact on financial return will be even more pronounced. This is because the newer iOS ecosystems are moving away from tracking through a user’s unique identifier for advertisers (IDFA), throwing traditional campaign tactics up in the air. Before, advertisers knew enough about the user through their IDFA to hit performance goals – now, this will be a more nuanced play.

Brand marketers should not, however, take these developments as discouragement from exploring in-game advertising. Not only do other methods help predict ad relevance – such as probabilistic attribution, which matches ads using personal attributes and behaviour, and contextual targeting, which uses keywords or topics –, the overall industry shakeup will likely result in a greater need for creativity as well. This could even open new doors for brands that have not, or not yet fully, taken advantage of the new opportunities available to them to advertise via playable ads in the thriving market of mobile games. As we witness Apple’s opening gambit, brands should be assured that they can keep step by fine-tuning their tactics to win the attention of their mobile gaming audiences.

The marriage of ad creative and context solves the riddle

Taking on board the anticipated changes to the way ad spend and user engagement will be tracked and measured post IDFA, brands will have to be more present and sensitive to their audiences than ever before. Cleverly combining creative content and context will be their best move to maximise campaign performance.

Like fine wine, the next generation of immersive ads will have to provide a good pairing with the apps in which they are viewed to evoke the same sentiments or behaviours from the user that gripped them to engage with the game in the first place. What does the context of an ad request signal about the user’s preferences? What content are they most likely to engage with in their current state? Brands can easily find answers to these questions with the help of mobile advertising experts who have the experience and creative-specific data to advise them.

This is especially true for nimble monetisation partners that will have the same restrictions as the likes of Facebook and Google in the post-IDFA age. In the past, having access to vast amounts of audience behavioural data has meant these technology giants were able to run successful campaigns based purely on previous user interactions and preferences. Now, the iOS privacy change is levelling the playing field, giving a chance to monetisation partners to demonstrate that they have a better grasp on user context and what that means for authentically speaking to users. Leveraging creative, contextually aware ad campaigns, these companies can give brand marketers a better understanding of their target audiences – allowing them to optimise, and maximise, advertising budgets without relying on IDFA.

Winning with mobile app advertising

The mobile advertising industry is seeing steady interest in immersive user experiences and is now on the fast track to more contextually relevant campaign tactics. Brands already understand the importance of creative in building connection and brand recognition with customers. In this new age, brands that can combine exceptional creative with the right context are poised to successfully engage consumers on this new channel, in fresh and captivating ways.