Technology Games Ecommerce

How brands can play the Singles’ Day game, and win

By Luca Mastrorocco | vice president of global sales

November 16, 2018 | 6 min read

When Alibaba started Singles’ Day ten years ago, the aim was modest: ensuring the survival of a business “few people knew”. It certainly exceeded expectations. Now the world’s biggest shopping festival, the event drives four times more revenue than Black Friday and Cyber Monday: generating US$1 billion in two minutes last year, and $30 billion in total.


For brands, Singles’ Day — or Double 11 — has become an unmissable opportunity to drive huge sales. But the growth and scale of the shopping event also brings challenges. Since 2009, the number of foreign merchants involved has grown from 27 to 180,000, with item counts reaching 500,000 across multiple e-commerce platforms. As a result, competition for spending is high and it’s increasingly difficult for brands to capture consumer attention.

So what does it take to succeed on Singles’ Day?

One answer may lie in mobile. Specifically, delivering mobile experiences that tap into the consumer appetite for interactivity through gamification.

Harnessing the power of play

Mobile is the leading e-commerce and entertainment medium of choice in China. Not only does it outrank TV for daily time spent, but it also absorbs a sizeable share of digital sales: 90% of 2017 Singles’ Day purchases were made on mobile. So, brands need a strong mobile presence to leverage this colossal shopping event; but standing out isn’t easy.

Promotional campaigns typically start around a month in advance, which means audiences are consistently exposed to large quantities of in-app ads in the run up to Singles’ Day. This issue is often exacerbated by the tendency to use similar creative concepts such as; vouchers, codes, exclusive discounts, cashback offers, and lucky draws. While the high sales figures show these strategies work, brands must deliver them in a more innovative way to break through.

This is where gamification comes in. The in-app gaming industry is booming, valued at US$14 billion in China alone, and as its popularity rises there is increasing recognition of the potential for playable experiences to enhance advertising engagement. By delivering ads in the form of interactive mini-games, brands can utilize existing interest in mobile play and provide real value via entertainment, and rewards — thereby increasing their ability to outshine rivals and drive conversions. Not to mention forging closer consumer bonds.

The only proviso is that to reap their benefits, brands must use playable ads carefully.

Making gamification profitable

Playable ads have significant capacity to fuel results: named the second most acceptable full-screen in-app format by consumers (behind rewarded video), and considered effective by seven in ten advertisers. Yet performance is largely dependent on two core factors.

Firstly, a clear call to action is vital. Too often, it’s assumed that providing mini-games with branded components will increase awareness and subsequently sales. But if sales are the goal, such an approach isn’t enough. To minimize wasted spend and see a tangible return on investment, playable ads must entice consumers to take action; particularly when aiming to increase purchase during fast-moving events like Singles’ Day. For example, they might opt for a prize-matching game that requires players to move items into rows before accessing their reward, which can only be spent in certain stores; digital or bricks-and-mortar. Plus, the added advantage of this technique is that the use of specific codes can be tracked, which makes campaigns and ads more measurable.

Secondly, playable ads must be campaign appropriate. For example, as an event built around intensive shopping, Singles’ Day is best suited to creative ads that lead consumers to unique offers they can use quickly. This might include slot machine style ads where individuals can redeem discounts within shopping apps once they hit the winning combination, or ‘scratch and guess’ ads that reveal codes for cashback or discounts at a swipe.

Optimization during Singles’ Day and beyond

The benefits of playable ads aren’t limited to single conversions. Once positive outcomes are linked to specific ads using codes, data about in-ad activity — such as which parts of the game individuals interact with — provides precious insight into which techniques work, as well as personal preferences. When made accessible through a real-time platform, this data can then be put to use immediately; with more spend diverted to creative that engages certain individuals and demographics to further bolster ROI. But it also has applications for long-term performance improvement.

In addition to highlighting trends in audience behavior and buys that can be deployed for the next Singles’ Day, this information can help determine which new customers have the greatest lifetime value (LTV) and represent the best future advertising investment. Those who interact significantly with games and go on to make purchases have the strongest likelihood of becoming loyal, repeat customers and consequently have a higher LTV.

Finding new ways to rise above the noise is more important than ever in the modern age of multi-channel commerce — and it’s particularly essential on shopping holidays when every brand is chasing the same pool of spend. To beat their competitors and maximize revenues, brands must deliver uniquely engaging experiences that seize consumer interest and play on their passion for mobile interaction. Only by adding playability to their advertising mix can brands ensure the odds of winning the Singles’ Day game are in their favor.

Luca Mastrorocco is vice president of global sales at Glispa.

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