Making Ad Creative the Core of Your Mobile Marketing Strategy

By Danika Wilkinson | November 15, 2021

Danika Wilkinson is Product Manager at Socialpoint. Originally from Australia, Danika started out as a journalist in Sydney before moving to Seville, Spain in 2014. She “fell” into mobile game marketing in 2016. Since then, she worked on a variety of titles from casual to mid-core that gained several million downloads. She relocated to Barcelona in 2019. Danika currently works at Socialpoint overseeing the high-level marketing strategy for their app Word Life. 

Learn more about Mobile Hero Danika.

Ask a mobile marketer what the most important part of their strategy is, and they’ll likely answer “creative.” It’s easy to see why. Better creatives mean better conversion, and better conversion equals lower costs. Excellent creatives can also level the playing field. With the right assets, marketers on a tight budget can compete with high rollers by reaching the same users at a more effective cost.

But even though creatives are at the core of a successful strategy, it takes work to ensure marketing artists are an integral part of the team. Are you really empowering your creative team to do their best work?

When Creative and Media Buying Teams March to Different Beats

Six months ago, my team found itself in a position that will seem familiar to many mobile marketers—the dreaded creative rut. For over a year, we were unable to beat a rapidly fatiguing creative winner.

We continued to employ the same production and testing process that helped us find the winner. Some of our new creatives were influenced by competitors or what was already working. Mostly, we relied on original ideas based on our assumptions about what the target audience would like to see.

The marketing team would take these, test them, and report vague, jargon-filled learnings back to the creative team (think; “this failed, this passed”). The creative team would then go back to the drawing board. The cycle would start again.

Our teams were interdependent, yes—but interconnected? Not at all. While UA managers pulled the levers of creative testing, the creative team operated as a separate machine.

Applying Process Changes to Break a Creative Drought

The first step we took to address the problem was to bring the creative team up to speed on the ins and outs of creative marketing. Where were their assets being displayed to users? What do the main creative metrics mean? And how does that translate into auction efficiency?

We then developed a one-stop, custom dashboard on our internal business intelligence tool. This was a simple solution that made data more accessible to marketing artists. We wanted to empower the creative team to develop their own creative learnings—not just take reporting from user acquisition managers at face value.

Finally, one simple change had the biggest impact—we combined creativity, production and testing processes into one. We carved out specific times of the week for creative testing, reporting, analysis, and lastly, reactive realignment of our roadmap.

The result? We went from having one central creative concept a year to having six new, high-performance ideas in the following three months. On top of that, our return on investment increased by 30%.

Crucially, the new changes also improved team morale. User acquisition specialists found motivation in their newfound good results, and artists understood why we say creatives are at the core of our strategy.

Turning the Tables on Product to Put Marketing Creative First

Over the past year, we learned that the simpler an idea is, the better. This is nothing new. But the appeal of simplicity is also why marketers are so tempted to rely on misleading creatives. Sometimes, the “real” gameplay is simply too complex to portray in the three seconds it takes to grab a user’s attention.

But misalignment between what a user sees and what a user gets inevitably impacts in-game metrics. When early retention rates plummet, product teams often struggle to understand why marketers can’t show the game as is. Marketing teams, however, see this as a necessary evil. Higher conversion rates create a higher profitability margin, which more often than not, can outweigh a higher churn.

Most of our creative successes came from “gameplay-adjacent” creatives. We weren’t showing the exact mechanics of our game, but we were giving the audience something similar. We wanted to condition users by sliding real gameplay elements into our ads, but we struggled to strike a perfect balance between IPM and retention. “True” gameplay just did not draw clicks the same way the oversimplified version did.

Our solution? Turn the tables on the product team. The burden was no longer on the marketers to present the game to new users in a digestible way. Instead, it was on the product team to make the game more digestible for new users.

We took the mechanics from our marketing creatives and incorporated it into the game. We focused heavily on the first-time user experience and later stages—without changing the core gameplay. We then streamlined the funnel by displaying elements of both gameplays—simple and complex—throughout our store page assets. This way, we conditioned the users to what they would experience in-game while maintaining good conversion rates on the marketing side.

The impact was immediately noticeable. Our day one retention increased by 25%, and our LTV jumped 30%. More importantly, we were empowering creatives to drive our strategy—not just for marketing but also for product.

How Your Team Can Start Putting Creative First, Too

Putting creatives at the heart of your mobile game strategy is no easy feat. Any sweeping changes to existing processes is bound to get pushback from artists, developers, and marketers—but the devil is in the data.

My advice is to start small. For example, begin with one network, geo and operating system and set up a rigorous creative production and testing workflow. Make sure every stakeholder (including your product team) is aware of the process and its results.

Pinpoint each stakeholder’s contribution to positive metric shifts and empower them to impact strategy. It’s not enough to tell an artist that their creative has increased IPM. Explain the flow-on effects. Show them how the IPM enhanced buying power, lowered costs and enabled the team to acquire more users with higher profitability.

Remember, the creative team is the heart that keeps your marketing strategy pumping and the key to driving performance.

Danika features as a Mobile Hero duo with Lidia Perez from Socialpoint. To learn more, check out Lidia’s article on the core pillars of creative testing and how best to approach them. You can read it here.