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Are seasonal creatives worth it?

AppLovin's Alice Guillaume looks into how holiday-themed mobile creatives can drive UA and engagement

Creation doesn't appear from thin air. It's innovating and iterating on what already exists to come up with new versions, and as the mobile market becomes increasingly sophisticated, continuous fresh content is crucial to stay relevant and increase business impact.

One new strategy AppLovin's in-house creative studio, SparkLabs, decided to test this year involved more holiday event-specific seasonal creative ads, specifically around Halloween.

In previous years, SparkLabs focused on broader themed holiday creatives such as fall or winter to drive a lift in install volume and user engagement. But, because the theme was broader, it meant our creatives had a longer run-time. For example, this winter gameplay the team created for PeopleFun's game Wordscapes was the top volume driver for at least six months.

This year, we experimented with themes around Halloween to test what the impact would be, even though we knew the UA cycle would be short. These creatives would only live for about a week, which posed the challenge of whether it would be worth our time and effort in the future. Spoiler alert: it was totally worth it.

A performance boost

Halloween creative for Sweet Escapes

We tested Halloween-themed creatives with a number of our partners and games, starting with Clipwire Games, a Toronto-based studio known for their hit Bingo Story. Once we launched, we were pleasantly surprised to see the work and resources yielded significant performance lifts.

The Clipwire team was pleased with the outcome, highlighting the eye-popping Halloween elements in Bingo Story. From the characters to the themed game boards, the Halloween concept highlighted the game's originality while creating excitement and anticipation for users.

The new mix of playable ads and changing up the Bingo Story app icon proved to have positive results. Here are specific results from Halloween creatives made for the title:

  • Video: a 300% installs per mille lift
  • Playable: a 344% IPM lift
  • App icon: a 5% lift

We also tested new Halloween creatives with Redemption Games' match three puzzle and bakery decoration game, Sweet Escapes. The ad featured Halloween-themed cake designs and colors, and quickly became a top performer on Facebook.

A holistic way to approach a themed design

The performance data from the creatives gave our team the confidence to plan for more holiday-centric ads.

From a design standpoint, we learned that a holistic approach to these types of creatives worked extremely well. Rather than implementing quick and simple changes -- for example, replacing the skin to orange and black, and throwing in a few pumpkins and bats -- our team took it a few steps further. These details made a huge difference in driving top performance.

Here are a few tangible takeaways from our holistic design approach that your creative teams can implement. The best part is you can apply these tips all year round. It's a great way to think differently about themes in your design and ways to elevate your existing creatives.

Eight seasonal design tips for stronger user engagement

  • 1. Play with font

Play with font, typeface and color schemes. Consider adding effects to the copy to make it feel like the season. For Bingo Story's creatives, for example, we added a gooey green effect to the copy to convey that 'spooky,eerie' vibe.

  • 2. Create seasonal UI elements

Just because an element doesn't exist in the game doesn't mean you can't create and innovate. For Bingo Story, instead of using regular daubs and making them orange, we turned the daubs into pumpkins.

  • 3. Stylize key characters

Consider turning your existing characters into ones that speak to the theme. For instance, you can turn the main character into a ghost or witch.

Don't have a character in your game? That's okay too! We made a generic Santa for example for this Wordscapes winter-themed video.

  • 4. Contextualize backgrounds and environments

If the game team doesn't have seasonal-themed assets, create them. Use a fall background like a haunted house, a pumpkin patch, haystack or crows. The idea is to incorporate that theme throughout your creatives.

  • 5. Align your branding message

If you use copy in your creatives, consider tweaking it to be more relevant to the season. For example, we used the following copy in a few of our ads: "Spooktastic!" and "Bewitched!" as attaboys instead of the default "Fantastic!" or "Great Job!".

  • 6. Make your audio relevant

Sound is a key part of an experience because it can transport a player to a specific time and place. Examples of making sounds relevant include:

  • Fall: the rustle of orange and brown leaves
  • Halloween: terrifying screams
  • Winter: comforting wind blowing sounds or soft jingle bells
  • 7. Special effects
AppLovin's Alice Guillaume

Consider adding an extra touch with special effects. Examples include:

  • Bats flying across the screen
  • Snowflakes falling down
  • Leaves blowing in the wind
  • Stars or lights twinkling
  • 8. Custom gameplay

This requires a bit more work but can be worth doing.

For PeopleFun's Wordscapes Search game we created a winter-themed video where we had the user find words such as:

  • Winter
  • Gloves
  • Frostbite

Including the theme into the actual gameplay put the user in a seasonal mindset and made the game extra fun. This video yielded strong user retention on Facebook.

Engagement takeaways around seasons and markets

In testing creatives that are season- and event-specific, our team discovered the following, which may be helpful for your teams as well.

  • Out of all seasons, winter and spring-themed creatives tend to perform best and have the longest shelf life.

Keep the target location in mind when making seasonal creatives

  • Keep the target location in mind when making seasonal creatives. In other words, certain holidays aren't celebrated anywhere except in the US. Alternatively, some non-US holidays are very popular in other regions and if those places are a strong volume driver for your game, it's important to consider making creatives themed to those events. This means you need to critically think through your creative strategy and events at a global-level.
  • Pay attention to timing. For example, Thanksgiving is celebrated earlier in Canada than the US. If Canada is a target market, consider moving production up earlier, which can help increase your runway for that creative.

Use these design methods all year

This mindset doesn't just apply to seasonal creatives, they can apply to any theme or event for your games. For Bingo Story, we ran an event with Little Red Riding Hood and optimized the app store screenshots (which resulted in a 10.3 percent lift) and made a video (which was a top performer on iOS).

A solid user acquisition strategy encompasses creative design approaches, along with proven tools and technology. As you plan out the holidays and upcoming new year, test fresh ideas, try different themes, and definitely take advantage of seasonal opportunities.

Alice Guillaume is a senior director of marketing operations at AppLovin where she also leads the in-house creative team as head of SparkLabs. Before AppLovin, Guillaune was an analyst at Morgan Stanley. AppLovin is a mobile marketing platform headquartered in Palo Alto, California, and a game publisher.

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