Why Creative Matters in Mobile Advertising


In the highly competitive mobile apps market, growth is largely driven by continually acquiring a steady stream of new users to your app.

In order to survive, it is critical to continue achieving profitable user acquisition. However, mobile advertising is a constantly changing landscape. What works for you today may not work for you tomorrow. Further, 95% of your direct response creative advertising fails to outperform the best-performing assets in your portfolio. Therefore, you are constantly working to find those 5% of successful creatives.

Over the past few years, machine learning on platforms like Facebook and Google has reduced the level of effort by advertisers to manage their ad targeting, bids, and budgets. Automation has leveled the playing field for advertisers, such that creative has now become the key differentiator in campaign performance.

The following are the latest creative techniques and best practices to keep your ad creative performing, and continuing to drive profitable user acquisition and growth:

Creative Questions to Consider Before Testing

  • Do you have a creative brand bible?
  • How strict are you with that bible?
  • What’s your tone?
  • Who’s your audience?

It is surprising how few companies have thought through these questions that really set the stage for creative development. The following graphic identifies key areas that will help guide you in those creative conversations:

Brand vs. Direct Marketing

Are you a brand or are you doing direct response advertising? Often, CMOs want to run brand campaigns and adhere to their brand bible with guidelines and restrictions. On the other hand, the UA team is incentivized by performance and will lean toward direct response. However, there is a way to meet in the middle and get the best of both worlds. It is important to consider that most of the videos and images in your creative will die in less than 10,000 impressions. Therefore, relative exposure of assets that your CMO dislikes is already very limited. If the winning creative happens to be one of the 5% of successful creatives, you can always revisit the creative and iterate to make it brand compliant. Through this process, you will also see the impact of making your ad creative brand compliant. If the performance were to drop 30%, your CMO can potentially look to adjust the brand.

Types of Assets to Test

There’s a known approach to asset development of concepts versus variations and why you need one or the other. Concepts are brand new ideas, out-of-the-box thinking to develop something that hasn’t been tried before. It’s very difficult to develop fresh, new concepts. While the sky is the limit, we’re also constrained by the assets that we have. Mobile app assets are often limited to what’s in our app, and in an engine like Unity. So it can be restrictive in developing totally new ideas. With variations, we’re taking that one in 5% successful create winner. We know the creative is going to work, so instead, you will tear it apart like Legos and develop new creative assets, which often have a higher propensity to be successful.

Extend the Life of Your Ads

There’s a lot that you can do to extend the shelf life of your creative. Here are just some of the ways you can keep your creative fresh through testing variations:

  • Image Formats and Layouts: Showcase your product or service in several layouts like side-by-side, split-screen, grid (2×2, 3×3, 4×4), split screen (½ & ½), split screen variation ⅓ or ¼.
  • Video Length and CTAs: Your video ads need to be in the rage of eight seconds or less. Your call to action should be in the first three seconds and it needs to be strong. Remember to tell a story – what is your app and why do people care?
  • Types of Images: The vast majority of pictures and videos you see on Facebook are user-generated, or shared by family and friends. Professional photos or stock photography can look too perfect and tend to stick out on Facebook. Consider taking your own photos or degrading the quality of the images and videos to make them appear user-generated.
  • Color Uses in Images and Headers: Test simple and plain backgrounds with soft or blurred out colors or gradients. Allow the viewer’s eyes to focus on bright vibrant foreground colors. Test soft background colors vs bold colors, strong texture vs muted texture, and simple vs clean vs busy and cluttered backgrounds.

Stills to Video

All of these ads fall into four different categories; basic in motion, brand in motion, benefit in motion and demo in motion. These videos can be created with limited assets as they consist of still images and simple animations of different elements. Here’s an overview of each type of video ad:

  1. Basics in Motion: A simple video or an animation. You can start with a still image and animate one or two elements of the image such as a character. You can also use music to add excitement.
  2. Brand In Motion: Videos that emphasize your brand. Start with a still, and add excitement by animating an aspect of your brand, i.e. your logo.
  3. Benefit in Motion: Videos that emphasize your products’ benefits. Start with a still, and add excitement by animating your product’s benefits with typography. Use short copy to make your video effective
  4. Demo In Motion: Videos that emphasize how your product works. For mobile games, you can screen capture gameplay and place it inside a phone. Not a mobile game? Show a demonstration of your product.

Managing your UA campaigns with the right approach is crucial. These techniques will keep your acquisition team aligned to a formula for continuous, iterative success. Creative is the key in UA profitability today. It might be time now to review how you’re driving your campaigns and make a change.

About Brian Bowman

Brian Bowman is the Founder & CEO of ConsumerAcquisition.com. He has profitably managed over $1B in online advertising spend and product development for leading online brands including Disney, ABC, Match.com and, Yahoo!.


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