To run a successful programmatic ad campaign, showing the right creative to the right audience at the right moment is key. If your ad creative is catchy, relevant and based on your user’s experience, it will grab the user's attention and drive engagement.

Although there is no “one size fits all” in programmatic, this article will provide guidelines and best practices for you to create ad creatives specifically for programmatic and get the best ROI out of them.
In this article, we will address stages related directly to the creative aspects. 

A creative life cycle has 4 stages:

  1. Ideation
  2. Testing
  3. Analysis 
  4. Iteration

Ideation

When starting an ad campaign for the first time, there are 4 key considerations that designers should be aware of. A well-created ad that reflects their App/service well will acquire quality users.

  • Be honest: “Honesty is the best policy” could not be truer when it comes to advertising with user retention in mind.
  • Highlight the best or unique features of your app/service: In a sea of homogenous, templated ads, it’s best to play to your app’s strong suits. What sets it apart from its competitors? Which features do your existing users utilize the most? Focusing the creative on your app’s unique features will help make it stand out more, driving interest and increase retention.
  • Demonstrate how your app works: User experience is key. No matter how eye-catching your creative is, if it doesn’t showcase how your app works, potential users might have inaccurate expectations.
  • Design according to the target audience: To motivate people to install your app, you need to use creatives that target specific audiences. For example, the middle-aged, casual gaming demographic will more likely be drawn to a creative that’s less flashy, more straightforward, and explanatory. On the other hand, fast-paced and action-packed visuals appeal to the more hardcore gamers.

Best practices

During ideation, use these best-practices for your programmatic in-app campaigns to have a head start on your creative life cycle:

General Best-practices

  • Always design with mobile-first in mind.
  • Don't repurpose the same creatives used in other channels (social media, desktop, etc) for mobile in-app programmatic.
  • Keep creatives simple, and use high-resolution images.
  • Showing UX/UI of your app always outperforms lifestyle creatives. This works best for interstitial banners, video and playable.
  • Consider where your ads will be seen, this will make it easy to pinpoint which ad formats and strategies that work within that app or publisher.
  • Use original messaging. Your audience will appreciate the effort if you use funny copy.
  • Localize your ad creative if you are running campaigns in multiple geos.
  • Always include your logo.
  • Always include a Call-to-Action

Display banners

  • Banner ads are quick and easy to create, they are also the cheapest inventory on the programmatic market, The sizes 320x50 and MREC 300x250 are among the best performing of display banner ads
  • If animation will help you present your app better, use it! Animated banners are known for having better performance than static. You can create animated banners in 2 formats: GIF and HTML5. Check out the comparison table below to know which works for you.
  • When using animation, remember you have just a couple of seconds to grab user’s attention. Keep your animation within 10 to 15 seconds, IAB recommends that animation length must not exceed 15 seconds. 

Video Ads

  • Never sacrifice video quality. There are many video compression applications that reduce video size while maintaining video quality.
  • With 2 types of video inventory on programmatic RTB (30 seconds rewarded placement and interstitial video), try to create a strong message that also entices curiosity within a 6-12 seconds video, then scale video duration up to 30 seconds.
  • Always make sure to have a vertical and horizontal video of your app. Run video in the same orientation of the in-app placement it is running on (if it is running in a natively vertical app, use a vertical video) This will enhance user experience and get higher CTR.
  • Try creating a video without audio. Users will appreciate you not pausing their music or having to mute your video on the subway.
  • Add a high contrast footer with a CTA to your video.

Playables

  • Use boosters and special features of your game mechanics into the playable.
  • Always use a gratification factor in your playable. This could be a simple “Victory” at the end of a fight, or even more encouraging message, like "You've saved the Kingdom from the destruction, Good job!".
  • Give the user a second chance to try your playable, whether they win or lose.

As mentioned before there is no “one size fits all”, this takes us to the next stage of the creative life cycle, testing, which will bring you closer to the best performing creative for your campaign.

Testing

Testing is the best way to identify and optimize high-performing campaign creatives. To test smarter, identify the key value proposition on static or less complex banners first, then experiment with more complex and interactive formats. While some formats work better than others, in programmatic advertising, it is important to test every ad format.

Variables for Testing: 

Creatives are composed of 4 key elements/variables

  • Layout: the arrangement and size of elements such as logo, image, CTA button, etc, in the creative.
  • Color: Any variable colors used that are not related to corporate identity.
  • Image: Whether it is a background, a UI image of your app, a lifestyle image or a character that appears in your game.
  • Copy: Any written word, including messages and call-to-action and the font type used.

Variables for Playables:

It is a good practice to be able to change the elements mentioned above in your playable. This will allow you to show your audience different aspects of your game (characters, environments, etc) and prolong the life of your playable before it suffers from ad fatigue.

Beside these 4 elements, a playable should also contain variables dictated by your specific game mechanics:

  • Different difficulty levels
  • Variable winning score
  • Variable run time

Testing Strategies

The testing phase will help you pinpoint the best ad elements that will drive performance. Use information about your target audience and past campaigns to determine what worked and what not.

A/B Testing
A/B testing is creating different versions of an ad by tweaking a single element. A/B testing for ads may include changing the Layout, the images, the call-to-action, and many more. A/B tests are more useful if you need meaningful results fast. To perform an A/B test:

  • Always test 1 single element at a time, e.g., the color of the CTA button. Run variant A and variant B on the same campaign.
  • Define your metrics, and let the test run long enough to get statistically significant results. Refer to our A/B testing article for more details.

Multivariate Testing
Multivariate is a creative optimization strategy which allows testing multiple variants of elements to determine the most effective combination for a single ad. Rather than just changing one ad element, you can change a group of different elements to see which combinations perform better with your target users. Multivariate testing is best utilized when campaigns are at scale to better understand the impact of small changes.

Analysis

It is important for campaign managers to work closely with creative teams to provide them with significant data that will drive the creative optimization process. After running a few A/B tests for a significant amount of time, through the data collected you will identify the best performing variants which will direct the next iteration of creatives and improve the performance. 

Iteration

Once you identified your best-performing creatives, it is time to challenge them with a new iterations of creatives based on the data and insights collected from the tests you have done.

It is important to constantly optimize and iterate your creatives. This will ensure that your campaigns are always delivering the best performance. 

Final Words

Although creatives are usually overlooked and underestimated, they play a huge role in making your campaign perform better. To achieve this always remember:

  • Constantly test and optimize creatives using collected data.
  • Refresh creatives frequently to avoid ad fatigue. If your audience is constantly seeing the same ad in a high frequency, there is a strong potential that the messaging will get lost. Fresh ads help grab attention.
  • For display ads, it is recommended to refresh every 2 weeks. For video and playable ads refresh every 1 to 2 months.
  • Know your audience, where to find them and what they like. Keep your creatives relevant to your audience. If you are advertising your productivity app inside an RPG game, you are just burning money.
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