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Playable ads and gaming: What’s next for marketers?

Playable ads are the next big thing for gaming, but are they ready for marketing primetime?

5 min read

Marketing Strategy



Playable ads have been a part of gaming recently, and there’s growing interest in playable ads among mobile marketers. In fact, according to a Mobile Marketer survey, 69% of advertisers have tested playable ad units. But do playable ads really make sense for mobile marketers outside of gaming?

First, what is a playable ad?

It’s important to make a distinction between playable ads and interactive ads because each format requires different capabilities and accomplishes different goals. But making that distinction isn’t easy because the line between playable ads and interactive ads is often vague. After all, gameplay is interactive, but by definition, even the most basic mobile banner ads require some level of interactivity too. One simple but useful distinction is to consider the outcome of each engagement.

A playable ad is a “mini-game.” In that scenario, interactivity leads to an outcome that depends on some combination of the player’s skill and luck. Put simply, those who engage with a playable ad unit must be able to win or lose. In contrast, a purely interactive ad means users must be able to navigate each interactive aspect of the ad unit during every engagement. In other words, there’s no such thing as winning or losing within the context of an interactive ad, which means no matter how poorly the user “performs,” they must still be able to reach all available content.

Does a game make sense for your brand?

The great thing about playable ads is that they drive engagement by their very nature. If you’re playing, you’re engaged. By that logic, it’s easy to see why all mobile marketers would find playable ad units appealing. But marketers shouldn’t chase engagement for its own sake.

Would playing a game drive someone to fill out a mortgage application, or visit a car dealership? Probably not. The reason is simple: people who are in the market for a mortgage or a new car don’t want to play games. In fact, pushing a game in front of someone who is looking for a mortgage would be off-putting.

However, that’s not to say that playable ads are without merit for non-gaming marketers. An entertainment brand, for example, could use a game to build awareness for a new television show. A travel brand might consider a playable ad unit as an alternative to a contest. Likewise, it’s possible to imagine a retailer finding a way to gamify the shopping experience.

Determining whether a playable ad unit is appropriate isn’t a matter of category. The question marketers must ask is whether a game makes sense for their brand. If words like “fun” or “playful” are part of your brand’s identity, there might be something to the idea of investing in a playable ad unit. But if gaming isn’t highly correlated to your brand, playable ads probably aren’t a good fit.

Game on!

Assuming a playable ad is right for your brand, two important considerations remain.

First, it’s important to understand that a lot of resources go into creating a mobile game. By one estimate, the mobile game industry is expected to reach $70 billion in revenue this year. While the category is often referred to as “casual” games, development, promotion and distribution of those games is a very serious business. Playable ad units represent a significant investment for mobile marketers, but they also require strong mobile chops. Realistically, there’s no point in creating a playable ad unit for mobile if your brand isn’t already generating mobile-first creatives. Bottom line: if your brand’s mobile capabilities are still a work in progress, then playable ad units are out of your reach.

Second, even if your brand has excellent mobile skills, you need to be realistic about the amount of inventory there is to work with. Many publishers have the capability to run playable ads, but that’s not the same as saying there’s enough supply to meet every level of demand. Remember, playable ads are hot right now; however, they still hold a relatively niche place within the larger market for mobile inventory. It’s critical for marketers to gauge supply before investing time and resources into creating playable ad units.

Remember, success with playable ads, like anything else in mobile marketing, depends on setting realistic goals, knowing your brand’s capabilities, and understanding the overall market. Playable ads probably aren’t the next big thing for mobile marketing, but if gaming correlates highly to your brand and your team has strong capabilities and realistic expectations, there’s a good case for getting in the game.

Amit Dar is General Manager, US, at Taptica, a global end-to-end mobile advertising platform for brand advertisers and agencies. In this role, Amit is responsible for directing all US activity, including engaging strategic partners on both the demand and supply sides, and helping them utilize Taptica’s technology and data for mobile marketing efforts.
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