WHEN ADVERTISING AND GAMING COINCIDE
Just within the past few years, a growing amount of mobile advertisers have embraced playable ads to combat the passive experience of static ads. Playable ads allow users to interact with a part of an app game immediately, giving them a more realistic understanding of an app so they're more likely to install and engage once they're in the game.
I designed dozens of playables for top advertisers and spearheaded the effort of scaling playables to a Fire tablet ad product called Interactive Wakescreens at Amazon.
The information on this page is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of Amazon.
Interactive playable ads give advertisers more performance data and higher-quality users with the ability to measure true engagement of their ad. Playables are a significant driver of user acquisition with high conversion and retention rates.
INTERACTIVE VS. STATIC
Interactive ads have higher engagement and brand recognition than static ads.
INTERACTIVE VS. VIDEO
Interactive ads can measure much more than just time-elapsed engagement.
PLAYABLES EXCITE ADVERTISERS
In 2017, AdColony found that 71% of advertisers find playable ads to be effective, but 6% of budgets went to playables. At the same time, 46% of mobile app advertisers said they were looking forward to the developments of playables in 2018. The market was small, but promising.
Mobile App Advertisers Survey
Source: AdColony App Install Marketing Survey, Fall 2017
Advertisers that find
playables to be effective
Advertiser's budgets that
went to playables in 2017
Advertisers excited about
playables for 2018
CUSTOMERS EXPECT AN EXPERIENCE
The forces of digital disruption and having an "always on" society is empowering customers to get what they want, when they want it. Increasingly, this means customers don't want to be interrupted by advertising that isn't good, relevant, or helpful. Earning customers' time and attention means creating advertising content that’s legitimately entertaining, valuable, and not disruptive. As low-tier advertising gets blocked by more ad-blockers, high-tier executions need creative thinking to give customers valuable experiences.
WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT
Consider the following. A recent study into those using ad-blockers found that the best way to improve the advertising experience for them is to build "engaging creative."
Time Inc. surveyed over 17,000 people across three major age demographics (Gen X, millennials and Gen Z). Their results found that "about 90 percent of respondents like the idea of custom content as a way for brands to engage with them, and 89 percent of people believe that type of content is a great way for brands to break through the rest of the clutter online."
Looking at mobile specifically, 40% of customers say that they wish mobile advertising were more creative. That number increases to 51% when focusing on the much sought after 16-34-year-old range.
Customers have a need for something outside display advertising. They are looking for new creative ideas from brands that won't interrupt them. In short, they need innovative solutions.
Another advertising innovation may strike one day, something that captures the attention of customers, decreasing the value of existing ad products. Display advertising has been around since 1994 (24 years)—this long-term provider of online media revenue is ripe for disruption. The product that replaces it could well begin life as a new experiential product. We must uncover new products that: (1) are not blocked by software, (2) ignored/disliked/distrusted by customers, (3) offer advertisers a new way to deliver their message, and (4) become a scalable, high-earning product.
THE NEED FOR SCALE
Innovation is great by itself, but at Amazon it can never be a "one-and-done" scenario. With the amount of brands investing in Amazon advertising, what one brand does with Amazon can be—and should be—considered for another. If one unique experience had a positive reception from customers, then the experience must be repeatable to meet customers' needs. Developing innovative solutions for customers today, should evolve into scalable offerings tomorrow.
THERE’S HIGH VALUE IN EXPERIENTIAL ADVERTISING
Experiential advertising is about intimacy at scale. The key is to establish an emotional connection between the customer and the experience. Immersive technology (AR and VR, for example) that engages multiple senses is expanding the creative space, providing more intense and memorable experiences. It also taps into customers’ intellectual engagement which enhances their purchasing decisions. Advertisers can no longer ignore the huge opportunity experiential advertising presents for brand growth.
Emotionally-connected customers are more valuable than satisfied customers.
Experiences that appeal to multiple senses are more memorable.
Involving a customer’s mental facilities enhances their purchasing decisions.
A LITTLE BACKSTORY: MY AMAZON ROLE
I joined Amazon as an Interactive Designer straight out of college into the Advertising Design & User Experience (ADX) team which is Amazon Media Group’s internal creative agency. Besides my regular tasks of producing customer-focused display advertising and tackling goals in process efficiency, I reserved innovation for some of my long-term projects. The more I grew in my role and earned the trust of my peers, the more I took on stronger leadership roles inside and outside of my team to bring more value to advertisers and Amazon customers.
By my second year, I became the first ADX designer to align with a specific advertising category of mobile apps advertising, taking on a role of an art director and working closely with the account team. This was a proactive move in order to find a niche in Amazon's advertising business that would expand my opportunities. (My nerdy gamer self was also excited to represent this part of the business, supporting over 50 app game advertisers.) By making this move, it opened up the doors to connect with its top advertisers, stretch my motion design skills, pitch creative ideas, and execute innovative advertising campaigns.
Pitching ideas to advertisers and partnering with them closer, lead to innovations on the creative-side. Starting in 2016, the unique custom interactive Fire tablet ideas I pitched were starting to turn into real campaigns. I designed dozens of custom executions in partnership with design technologists. Having professional experience with front-end web development allows me to understand the perspective of a design technologist to better nurture the collaboration of designer and developer.
Establishing connections across teams, I pushed the capabilities of Fire tablet advertising and created many first-to-market executions, including the first interactive 3D experience, first gyroscope hidden object game, and first 360° video campaign. But the most notable innovation was the launch of our first custom playable ad on the Fire tablet wake screen.
“Shayne is a hybrid unicorn and owns the entire Mobile Apps category including relationships with Platinum advertisers and presenting to clients. She's created many bar-raising custom experiences, animated wakescreens and innovative presales with a quiet confidence. She thinks big to bring new ideas while considering how they will scale and how we can push our device limitations.”
– ADX Creative Director
As time went on, playables were catching on fast. Dozens more playables were launched for many advertisers. I realized scaling this ad product was the most important thing we could do to better serve our advertisers and create more engaging advertising for Amazon customers.
"DISMISSING THE POTENTIAL GROWTH OF PLAYABLES WOULD BE A MISSED OPPORTUNITY FOR AMAZON AND OUR CUSTOMERS."
SCALING PLAYABLE ADVERTISING AT AMAZON
In response to the high demand and shifts in the industry towards playables, I made it my mission to come up with ways to scale Fire tablet playable advertising at Amazon. In order to make this a standard product, I brought various teams together to work towards a long-term goal of fulfilling the growing expectations of our advertisers who have embraced playables for better ad performance and to attract higher-value users.
“Many app developers see playables as a form of campaign optimization. Therefore, it is imperative that we enable a system where we can generate playables as quickly as possible.” – UA apps sales specialist
HOW ARE CUSTOM PLAYABLE ADS CREATED?
As a custom product, Fire tablet playables require a high budget and a long SLA, including development from design technologists. This dependence on custom coding causes a workload strain on design technologists who support all types of advertisers.
Playable wake screens may be one of the most challenging concepts to productize. Each playable is uniquely designed and developed based on the mobile app being advertised. For example, a Candy Crush match-3 playable will not have the same gameplay mechanics as a Mobile Strike build-your-base playable. At their core, they use the same functionality: animated hot spots that are tappable. But the way the hot spots look, where they are placed, what happens after they are tapped, and when they can be tapped are all variables within the experience.
The goal was to increase speed to market and provide greater access to playables for all advertisers. We needed to rely less on design technologists in the production of playable ads, which would reduce SLA and price.
In order to reduce the price and time it takes to develop playables, the approach that I explored was interactive video. With interactive video, users are be able to tap on hot spots at breakpoints in a video. This solution simplifies the process by eliminating the need for development support when the product is implemented in Amazon's internal creative ad builder tool. Doing some independent analysis on past playables, I found that 80% of them could've been built using an interactive video approach, while 20% would've remained custom due to their complexity. We later re-named the interactive video product to Interactive Wakescreens.
After many months collaborating with senior product managers, product designers, engineers and design technologists, we were ready to test Interactive Wakescreens. I assisted in conducting a UAT and prepped for launch by creating documentation and visuals for Account Executives. At this point we had dozens of examples from mobile game advertisers, but AEs needed examples of other Interactive Wakescreens. I created 2 other videos for AEs to help them sell the new product (One / Two).
Interactive Wakescreens launched on June 1, 2018 as a standard ad product available for all locales and for all types of advertisers. Today, they are mainly used for playable ads for mobile games, but other advertisers have used Interactive Wakescreens to improve customer engagement.
PIXEL FEDERATION: DIGGY’S ADVENTURE
Pixel Federation launched their mobile app game, Diggy’s Adventure, globally in early 2017. After running many standard campaigns and one custom playable wake screen, they were interested in new ways to increase performance and acquire new users. Pixel Federation introduced more budget for custom—this time asking us to think big.
Customers are getting smarter and know when they are being served an ad however if the ad is interactive, entertaining or even playable, the experience becomes enjoyable. Adding interaction to an ad gives customers a more realistic understanding of the game and are more likely to engage once downloaded. A growing amount of app developers have embraced playable ads to combat the issue of passive user experience, and many have witnessed significantly improved retention rates among users.
I proposed creating the first interactive video wake screen. This idea would allow customers to tap a hot spot on the screen and continue play-through of a video background, simulating a game-like experience – rather than coding a custom playable from scratch.
After an A/B test using the same assets for animated wake screen vs. playable interactive video, we saw a better CPI with the interactive experience. Adding an extra level of interaction indeed drew customers into the ad and increased interest to play the app game.
KING: CANDY CRUSH & BUBBLE WITCH
After being acquired by Activision Blizzard in 2016 for $5.9 billion, King has grown their brand into multiple app game sagas and a CBS Candy Crush TV show. Four years since its release, Candy Crush continues to be the most played mobile game ever with a brand that is synonymous with gaming on the go. King continues to develop new games for their sagas.
It wasn't until late March 2017 when King expressed interest in expanding past running standard wake screens to something interactive in order to attract new active users to their two newest app games: Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Candy Crush Soda Saga.
I proposed creating a custom playable wake screen for each. The Bubble Witch 3 Saga playable combines a bubble shooter mini-game with a background-swap, showing off the various locations Stella can travel to within the game. The Candy Crush Soda Saga playable is a match-3 mini-game that gives customers a lightweight demo of the game.
Both wake screens had CTRs 2x over the benchmark and proved to be a good move for King to acquire new active users due to the playable feature on the wake screens.
G5 ENTERTAINMENT: HIDDEN CITY GYROSCOPE
In 2016, G5 Entertainment ran their first custom gyroscope playable with Amazon. It had a high CTR that was 2x the benchmark for Fire tablet. Pleased with the creative and results of last year's campaign, they requested an iteration on the experience to increase performance.
Studies continue to show that interactive ads have higher engagement than static ads. But figuring out the right amount of interaction to include in an ad can be a balancing act. Making a playable ad more fun than the actual game is a risk, but with the right amount of gameplay the ad can draw in new users that are willing to commit more time to the game.
I pitched a "Scene Select" gyroscope idea which featured three hidden object games in one, tripling the amount of gameplay than last year's campaign. From three different animated wake screens, customers were taken to a custom landing page. By tilting the Fire tablet device on the landing page, customers explored three unique scenes to find hidden objects.
By increasing the amount of gameplay on the landing page, it resulted in higher engagement with the ad. The average CTR was 3x the benchmark for Fire tablet; a higher CTR than last year’s gyroscope playable.