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Why open season on mobile gaming still requires a careful strategy
August 10, 2021
Traditionally dominated by campaigns aimed at driving installs, mobile gaming is becoming increasingly fertile ground for brand advertising. Developers keen to seize the potential of this for better monetisation are offering up more inventory, which is giving marketers broader scope to connect with fast-growing and highly engaged audiences. But the question is: how can they harness in-game ads effectively?
Reach possibilities are certainly greater than ever. Amid last year’s lockdown restrictions, the number of monthly gamers playing via smartphones and tablets grew 12% globally, climbing to roughly 2.25 billion. Moreover, our own research suggests a sunny long-term outlook for scale and ad impact, with more than two in three smartphone owners playing regularly across the first half of 2021, and most gamers actively involved in household purchase decisions.
With wider opportunities, however, also comes the need to employ smart strategy based on a deep understanding of what works for players, as well as brand goals.
Gaming takes centre stage
As an always accessible gateway to the digital world, mobile has become indispensable amid pandemic-driven demand for not just constant information, but also entertainment. Running across the past 18 months, our research shows that although news content unsurprisingly saw the highest initial peak in mobile activity — spiking by 18% in March 2020 — it is gaming that has become the new obsession, and one with strong staying power.
By May 2020, gaming had already knocked news from the top media spot: cited by almost three in ten consumers as the biggest area of boosted mobile consumption, with 63% also having upped their gaming since the global outbreak. According to the latest data from July 2021, this trend isn’t due to fade anytime soon. Responses from over 1,000 UK consumers reveal a third will increase their gaming after Covid-19, while overall analysis estimates 75% of the net usage rise will remain, setting a new normal of mobile play over the next two years.
Clearly, there is a huge prospect here for marketers to reach mobile users who have made gaming part of their everyday life. But it’s also vital to remember that scale isn’t everything.
Although it may now be open season on mobile gaming, marketers must avoid the temptation to simply aim for maximum exposure and instead concentrate on opportunities that will fuel the highest rewards, in terms of both user satisfaction and campaign performance.
Making a successful mobile play
Marketers hoping to achieve the best results on any channel must first know their territory. For mobile, that means getting to grips with several key factors, including the importance of cost efficiency and accommodating user sensitivity.
On the investment side, Apple recently delivered an unexpected gift for mobile campaigns with its IDFA changes. By enabling users to opt-out of app tracking, it brought CPMs down from their 2020 peak and improved inventory accessibility for an array of brands and budgets. This situation, however, is shifting. Industry analysis indicates that prices for Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) traffic remain relatively low, but there are signs of CPM recovery for opted-in audiences.
Consequently, carefully distributed spending will be essential to maintain and increase ROI, particularly as gaming attracts more advertising interest, and costs increase to capitalise on demand. This, in turn, calls for an accurate understanding of how ads are performing.
Similarly, aligning delivery to the outcomes ads drive will be equally critical to connect with discerning audiences. Consumer predisposition towards in-app ads does put marketers at an advantage, with our research highlighting one in five prefer them to social media ads and 29% cite them as useful in guiding purchase choices. But, low tolerance for poor quality experiences — such as repetitive creative and ads for products they don’t need — also means that determining exactly what strikes the right chord is paramount to ensure positive engagement.
Closing the loop on ad impact
What all these challenges and considerations point to is the necessity for robust measurement. Marketers need evaluation that allows them to close the loop on campaign optimisation by tracking performance against tangible measures of success – rather than proxies – and gaining actionable insights they can use to inform in-flight decisions. This helps marketers understand which adjustments should then be made to ensure consistent relevance for mobile gamers and spending efficacy.
Thanks to advances in mobile technology, opportunities are increasing to serve measurable ad types. The newest breed of lightweight software development kits (SDKs), for instance, is enabling developers to easily integrate a wider range of formats without game bloat, such as rewarded video that can drive direct interaction with games. The next step for marketers will be to adopt performance-centric approaches where these formats are leveraged alongside outcome-based KPIs.
By tying campaign assessment to goal-orientated metrics from the start, they can achieve a reliable picture of the results produced by every ad; from greater brand lift, affinity and recall, to higher purchase intent. Additionally, doing so in combination with artificially intelligent (AI) tools can help them apply and expand this insight in two core ways:
1. Streamlining spend allocation
Utilising a blend of real-time and historic data, AI-Assisted tools can instantly steer smart spending with in-the-moment analysis. Advanced algorithms that are able to assess the likely effect of many situational variables on users completing certain actions can determine whether ads will reach their objective. This will equip marketers with the knowledge needed to direct investment at ads most likely to drive desired outcomes and enrich user experiences.
2. Powering incremental performance
When applied continuously in tandem with machine learning, outcome-led measurement can also pave the way for incremental gains. The more data AI engines gather about past successes and misses, the better able they are to build an array of predictive models that map out future performance; pulling in fresh data and accounting for new variables as they go. This crystal-ball-gazing capacity gives marketers the ability to accurately anticipate user needs, with the added benefit of reduced reliance on cookies or persistent identifiers to keep ads uniquely impactful.
The booming mobile gaming sector provides plenty of room for marketers to amplify their influence, as well as audience engagement and awareness. But high user appetite for gaming and ads isn’t enough to guarantee results. As CPMs fluctuate and audience expectations keep rising, the winning marketers will be those who take a tactical approach to finding prime ad placements for reaching target audiences and objectives. To play the right hand consistently, they’ll need the ideal mix of granular measurement, optimisation, and outcome based KPIs.