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Five best practices for making high-performing creatives

AppLovin's Alice Guillaume explores how to make mobile game ads that stand out

As humans, we tend to gravitate towards things that are beautifully designed, functional, and tailored to our needs. When you translate that same concept to ads, it means making an eye-catching creative that grabs the attention of a user and engages them.

50% of companies say that design plays a critical component in achieving success. A well-thought-out design is a powerful way to convey a message and deliver a strong first impression for your brand.

At SparkLabs, the in-house creative team at AppLovin, we've tested, measured, and set benchmarks to continuously improve our creatives. This dictates how we set our design strategy and ensures we hit our benchmarks every time.

Over the years, we've learned that high-performing creatives are rooted in five principles and best practices.

1. Remove 'noisy' design

You have about three seconds to capture the user's attention, so it's important to reduce cognitive overload as fast as possible, and to keep your design simple. Just like any other human experience, information overload may cause users to check out.

You have about three seconds to capture the user's attention, so it's important to reduce cognitive overload

We focus on creating ads that are clean and cognitively easy to follow. We spend time finding the best footage, solely showcasing the key features of the game to help users understand what makes the game appealing. We use simple, clear messaging that is logical so users don't have to put in extra work to understand the point.

We also ensure mechanics and concepts have fluidity. If the user feels they need to stumble through a flow, we've lost them. The ads we create are clean -- we design them so they are simple, polished, and easy for the user's eye to be drawn to it. For example, in order to hold the user's attention on a specific line of copy or gameplay, we'll use a white background so the user can clearly see the images or text.

These efforts hone in on the users' eyes to just the core gameplay and allow us to market the best aspects of the game. When there's less overload, people are more likely to engage with the creative because it helps them feel a certain way, such as clarity, enthusiasm, or accomplishment.

2. Tell a clear story

Many years ago, you could just capture a demo of gameplay to create an ad and it would yield relatively high performing results. Nowadays, the creative market is more saturated and sophisticated, so there are many different flavors of the same genre or mechanic. Just marketing gameplay is not enough to make a game stand out.

Going back to the human element -- you need to spark emotional engagement in your creatives. Add a pop of personality to your creative to help your users identify with your ad. This can be done through character development or storytelling.

Fruit Clinic, a hyper-casual game from Lion Studios

Fruit Clinic, a hyper-casual game from Lion Studios, is a great example of how we did this. Traditionally, hyper-casual games offer a simple game mechanic and there are no complex themes, character development, or storylines.

We brought the game to life by humanizing personalizing the characters in the game and telling a story to emotionally engage potential players. We created an ad that featured an eggplant couple about to give birth to an eggplant baby. We added some drama by showing the pregnant eggplant going to the hospital, but instead of giving birth to a baby eggplant, the baby was a pea. The unfolding drama engaged users to wonder who the real daddy was, so they clicked to download the game.

3. Establish a human connection or connect emotionally

Do you ever notice video ads showing a human hand playing the game, or featuring real users doing voice-overs, or reacting to gameplay? This is to make it relatable -- that real humans use and benefit from the product. It's a way to draw you into the game and make you feel like you too can play.

To successfully establish a human connection in your creatives, it's important to spend time critically thinking through your games' player motivations. Why do players play your game? Is it to feel smart? Is it to just take a mental, happy break from the day?

Creating ads with an emotional connection can be done in subtle ways, such as voice-overs or you can even build anticipation through showing a person's reaction on the corner of the screen, for example.

Watch on YouTube

The team at SparkLabs came up with this creative with real people in the ad. These were actual SparkLabs staff members showcasing Wordscapes, a popular game from one of AppLovin's studios, PeopleFun.

4. Create a 'wow factor' with art and design

Have you ever noticed a beautiful piece of clothing, furniture, or some other day-to-day item that just inexplicably catches your eye, because has that "extra something" about it?

Maybe it's the presence-commanding shape of a beautiful rustic farmhouse style dining table or the powerful yet subtly elegant curves of a Scandinavian statement chair. You can't help but notice there's something truly unique and special about them and you imagine it in your living room and how you'd style it. This is the power of great design -- it inspires and pushes you to envision possibilities. That same concept applies to creative marketing.

AppLovin's Alice Guillaume

As users play mobile games to be entertained and enter another world, communicating an immersive experience through creatives, with sophisticated art and design techniques, is critical for high performance. Art and graphics make a huge difference. A high-quality ad that captures the beauty of the game will compel users so strongly they need to click the ad and check out the game.

In addition to practicing good "design restraint" and maintaining clean creatives, you can add touches that create a wow experience. A few examples include:

  • High-quality animation effects and sound effects
  • Well-timed gameplay with audio
  • Subtle character expressions
  • Camera movements and zooms to draw the users attention to key points
  • Good pacing to create vibrant energy and evoke feelings from the user

We also think about the value of the design and experiment with different art styles -- some styles are more approachable than others. You can create two ads of the exact same concept: one with embellishments and polishing touches, while the other is more basic. Once you test the two, you'll immediately notice a huge difference in feeling and engagement.

This is why we sometimes do marketability testing for games using different art styles before they launch. The input we get back from users is invaluable in driving the direction for a game's art direction.

Watch on YouTube

5. Spark positive energy

Players want to feel successful, so rewards-based creatives are a great way to support positive energy. This can be through a visual, attaboy text that simply says "Great job" for instance.

When creating playable ads, it's important to strike a balance of how difficult or easy it is to "win." If an ad is too complicated or hard to win, users may give up and close out. If it's too easy, it may not be motivating enough.

Finding that sweet spot between motivating and easy barriers to entry provides people with a sense of accomplishment. We want the user to think: I know this isn't rocket science, but it's just challenging enough where I feel good solving it.

Here's an example of an ad in which users are prompted to complete a quote (see video above).

Other methods of sparking positive energy involve:

  • Incorporating bright colors
  • Showcasing beautiful characters with positive, smiling facial expressions
  • Using positive messaging
  • Utilizing uplifting visual effects and audio (i.e., confetti, positive sounds)
  • Faster pacing and timing to create a higher energy

Finally, take a step back to assess how you're applying these principles with your existing ads. Rally team members to include these five principles when they bring fresh ideas to the table. Continue to test your creatives and examine what works or doesn't resonate.

Smart and well-thought-out design, paired with understanding who your users are and what they crave, can help you improve your creative craft.

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

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