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It’s time to play – What marketers need to know about playable ads in 2023

By Einav Mor-Samuels
Playable ads featured OG

Mobile users are spending four to five hours a day in apps, and gaming makes up a big part of that: in 2022, there were 55.6 billion game downloads. 

That’s a huge opportunity for app developers, but also makes for a competitive landscape. Meanwhile, advertisers want a piece of the action too, seizing the chance to meet customers where they are through in-app ads. 

But users are becoming increasingly intolerant of mobile ads, citing frustration at the quantity and quality as well as privacy concerns, and the use of ad blocking software is on the rise. 

The solution? Playable ads. 

These interactive “mini games” grab attention and build engagement — they’ve been shown to achieve up to seven times the conversion of standard ads. 

If that sounds like something you should have in your digital marketing toolkit, read on. We’ve got all the info and tips you need to take your playable ad game to the next level.  

What are playable ads?

Playable ads are an interactive way to demonstrate  gameplay or the in-app experience

They’re sold as single-premium ad units designed to capture consumer attention and generate high-converting leads. Playables typically appear as in-app full-screen interstitials within leading social media platforms, mobile gaming apps, and entertainment or media apps. 

Because users opt in to take part, they’re already demonstrating engagement and trust in your brand.  From the user perspective, they get a taste of the app before they commit to installation, and playing a mini-game is arguably a better way to pass a micro-moment than passively waiting for the ad to expire. 

A relatively low-stakes interaction for the user has the potential to convert into high-value user acquisition for the brand.

Initially a “try before you buy” strategy for game developers, playables now extend to all types of brand experiences. One of the first non-gaming companies to reap the benefits was Burger King, whose 2015’s Angriest Whopper game generated 336,700 plays and an average click-through rate of 40.25% in just 14 days — all for the reward of a Burger King coupon.

Types of playable ads

There are two main types of playable ads: 

  • HTML playable ads use HTML code and assets from the game itself to create a sample that gives a flavor of the real thing. 
  • Interactive videos use footage from the game along with HTML elements to make it playable. 

While the video format is generally easier to produce, HTML offers a better representation of the game, making it arguably more engaging. 

Why should you use playable ads?

Playable ads benefits

Playable ads are valuable to both marketers and publishers who have had to rethink their strategies for advertising campaigns, due to ad-blocking technologies and restrictions on data tracking. 

But playables offer much more than just a legal workaround. Let’s take a look at some more of the benefits. 

  • Playables offer a range of in-ad interaction points, each of which can be individually analyzed for performance and behavioral data. So, advertisers can finetune their creative and targeting, without relying on traditional tracking measures for valuable first-party data.
  • Playables attract highly engaged users who stay engaged for longer, and are more likely to convert. This dials up customer lifetime value, making the ads more profitable in the long term. 
  • Playables help filter out non-committed users. We can’t stress enough how much an active opt-in measurably boosts conversion and retention rates, reduces uninstalls, and delivers a higher eCPM to ad publishers.
  • Playables don’t require a download to engage, providing a frictionless experience that keeps users in a state of flow of their activities.
  • Playables bring a moment of delight to users. Especially on mobile devices, users are either focused on a single task or looking for a fun distraction to kill some time. Short gameplay perfectly combines these two states of attention.
  • Playables are lightweight and load quickly, minimizing disruption to the customer experience.
  • Playables can include more rich content elements such as video trailers, couponing, sweepstakes, and ticketing. This presents opportunities to offer more messaging and invitations for deeper interaction.

Still need more convincing? 

Here are a few more reasons why you should be using playable ads as part of your digital marketing plan:

  • Playables help filter out non-committed users. We can’t stress enough how much an active opt-in measurably boosts conversion and retention rates, reduces uninstalls, and delivers a higher eCPM to ad publishers.
  • Playables don’t require a download to engage, providing a frictionless experience that keeps users in a state of flow of their activities.
  • Playables bring a moment of delight to users. Especially on mobile devices, users are either focused on a single task or looking for a delightful distraction to kill some time. Short gameplay perfectly combines these two states of attention.
  • Playables are lightweight and load quickly, minimizing disruption to the customer experience.
  • Playables can include more rich content elements such as video trailers, couponing, sweepstakes, ticketing, and more. This presents opportunities to offer more messaging and invitations for deeper interaction.

The main elements of playable ads

Playable ads can be broken down into three main parts. As well as offering scope for creativity and engagement, each one provides valuable data to measure the success of your campaign. 

Tutorial or opening card

This is your “hook”, where you entice players into your game. As well as grabbing attention, this section needs to be short and sweet, showing people immediately how to get started with play. 

Measure it: Your opener can provide data on upfront click-to-play/start, plus impressions and viewing times. 

Gameplay experience

This is your chance to showcase your game, so don’t waste it. Include as many game features and functionalities as possible to give users a true taste of the experience, but don’t overcomplicate things – you want them to be able to jump right in. With ads typically lasting between 15 and 60 seconds, every second counts!

Measure it: Gameplay can provide engagement data on time spent, CTAs, and click-throughs. 

Closing sequence

It’s crunch time – getting users to actually download your app. Be sure to close with a strong call to action, taking users directly to the store to download and install.

Measure it: This final section can provide data on replay or share rates.

How to create a successful playable ad

To make a winning playable ad you need to consider four key aspects: 

  • Creative elements 
  • Technical execution 
  • Ad placement and optimization
  • Performance measurement 

Let’s explore these in more detail.

Designing attention-grabbing creatives

Attention grabbing creatives for playable ads

As mentioned earlier, you have no more than a minute to grab attention and get people hooked on your game ready to download it, so every stage of your creative needs to be on point. Here’s how: 

Your tutorial or opener has to makea great first impression. Keep it snappy and demo only the most attractive and essential aspects of your game — don’t forget to use familiar game mechanics so users can jump right in and play.

  1. The core play experience needs to be simple but dazzling. Use all of the creative resources you have available to create richness: music, animations, visual effects. Embed messaging that reinforces and drives toward a clear call to action (CTA).
  2. End with a specific, actionable next step that users can’t miss. Each playable should be laser-focused on a singular goal — a download, a sign-up, a click-through — and every interaction and message needs to get users there.

Developing according to technical standards

As we’ve already mentioned, playables have the advantage of being lightweight and fast-loading. And the flexibility of HTML5 creates seamless experiences across mobile and desktop platforms. 

Here are a few technical terms you’ll want to understand on a basic level when working with playable ad developers:

  • Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions (MRAID) are “the common API (Application Programming Interface) for mobile rich media ads that will run in mobile apps.” 
    Developed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), MRAID helps to standardize the display requirements across different ad publishing apps and platforms, saving time and money you’d spend on developing multiple rich media assets.
Playable ads: technical terms for developers
  • The Open Measurement Software Development Kit (OM SDK) is  an industry-wide effort to facilitate third-party ad verification and viewability measurement without requiring multiple SDKs from different service providers. 

This allows all measurement partners in the ad ecosystem to tap into an ad’s viewability data from a single location on iOS and Android devices, giving marketers clearer insights into their campaign impressions and reducing reporting inconsistencies.

Optimize through testing and iteration

Each of the three main creative elements in a playable ad is trackable. Therefore, it can provide valuable measures of user engagement through their interactive behaviors: swiping, clicking, and tapping. 

Here are some of the elements you can look to optimize:

Creative

Analyzing interaction data can help you finetune your creative at a granular level, like making adjustments to character features or tweaking the game’s level of difficulty.

End screen/CTA

Playable ads testing

You might also consider A/B testing different variations of your end screen – relative to whether a user wins or loses a round – to see which CTAs are most effective at driving user engagement.

Placement

There are two main options for the placement of your playable ad: 

  • Playables are often sold directly into the major social media and entertainment platforms. This creates “brand safety” by limiting the possibility an ad will be served up alongside something distracting or contradictory, and keeps the user immersed in your brand experience.
  • Placements bought through programmatic automations offer the opportunity for real-time campaign optimization, whether through dynamic bidding strategies to reach target audiences or swapping in dynamic creative to test different interaction patterns.
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Best practices for playable ads

As playable ads have expanded beyond the gaming world, some best practices have emerged. The key thing to remember is that this is a customer-first medium, so tune into what motivates your target audience and pay keen attention to user experience (UX).

  • Focus on a key theme and a singular, persistent CTA with a clear and measurable campaign objective in mind.
  • Create an intuitive, recognizable experience. Users should immediately understand how to interact with the ad.
  • Keep the experience brief; typically, 15 seconds to one minute, maximum.
  • Include your most essential and unique features to make it memorable.
  • Reward consumers for their engagement to give them an incentive to convert.
  • Remember to test and measure user behavior at every stage so you can improve the experience. 

Key takeaways

  • Playable ads are an interactive way to demonstrate game experience and encourage downloads, initiated by the user.  
  • They offer marketers an opportunity to drive growth and connect with audiences in an engaging, user-led way that complies with data privacy rules. 
  • Playable ads may be created in HTML or interactive video format. As full-screen interstitials lasting from 15 seconds to a minute, they have three parts: an opening card or tutorial, the gameplay experience, and a closing CTA.
  • The opt-in nature of playable ads means users are engaged and trust your brand. They offer users a moment of delight, resulting in high conversion rates. In addition, they’re fast-loading and enable rich content. 
  • A successful playable ad showcases your game with dazzling creative, while still adhering to technical standards. As each element of the ad is trackable and measurable, there’s plenty of opportunity to test, learn, and optimize. 
  • Playable ads are all about user experience: make yours as clear, memorable, and intuitive as possible to drive conversions. 

Einav Mor-Samuels

With extensive experience in digital marketing, Einav is a Content Writer at AppsFlyer. Over the course of the past 15 years, she has gained ample experience in the mobile marketing landscape, researching market trends, and offering tailored solutions to customers' digital problems. Einav fuels her content with data-driven insights, making even the most complex of topics accessible and clear.
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