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Best practices to power up your creative strategy this season

by Jessica Dolan on Nov 23, 2022

The holiday season is the busiest time of year for marketers as consumers have more downtime to browse on the internet and on their mobile devices. But with increased marketing activity comes the question: how can I stand out? The mobile space is extremely competitive, and it’s crucial to get ahead of the competition with a powerful creative strategy for the holidays. 

With years of experience crafting seasonal creatives, the SparkLabs team knows what works and what doesn’t during this crucial time of year. Backed by extensive testing and data, here are some of the best practices to power up your creative strategy this season.

Holiday-specific vs seasonal creatives

SparkLabs finds that successful holiday creatives (single-day events like Christmas and Halloween) usually see peak performance for around an average 4-6 weeks, after which CPMs start climbing, ROAS lowers, and conversions drop.

Click to interact with these playable ads. (NOTE: To stop, click off the ads.)

The winter-themed creative (bottom) was a top performer for five times as long as the Halloween-themed version (top).

Even more impressively, successful seasonal creatives (especially winter-themed creatives) stay at the top for an average of 8 weeks, and could go as long as 20+ weeks, hence our recommendation to experiment with seasonal creatives first. 

Cast a wide net (on mobile)

While it may be tempting to go all in on Christmas-themed creatives for the holiday season, focusing too much on a specific holiday is actually detrimental to overall performance. By casting a wider net with seasonal winter or fall themes, your creatives can have a longer shelf life, cutting down the need to constantly iterate new ad concepts to fight ad fatigue. 

Over the years, SparkLabs also found that winter-themed creatives perform the best out of the four seasons. Additionally, holidays that feature rich, recognizable visual elements not only perform better, but allow for more creative freedom. For example, 40% of our creatives made for Easter (a visually-rich holiday) in 2022 became winners, vs 13% for Father’s Day 2022. 

Utilize what you already have

Instead of making net-new creatives for the holidays, SparkLabs has seen considerable success by simply re-skinning existing creatives.

One example is the following Wordscapes ads created for PeopleFun. The Winter-themed creative (right) was an iteration of an existing top performer with only the background swapped out, and it was able to attain 100% more scale, 7% higher IR, and 10% higher D1 retention over the Christmas creative (left), which was fully custom with a new board, background, and CTA design. 

Additionally, there are various elements you can tweak in existing creatives to quickly iterate on a seasonal/holiday theme. Consider experimenting with the following:

Fonts

Custom UI elements 

For example, try putting a wreath around your CTA button, or create a stylized version of your logo.

Characters

The above are examples of adding a festive holiday-themed skin on top of existing assets.

Backgrounds and environments 

Consider animation of things like snow, cherry blossoms, falling leaves, etc.

Messaging and copy

If your app or game has limited-time events, sales, or changes for the season, it’s imperative to call that out in all messaging. This includes your app name, description, and any text in screenshots. 

Audio 

If voiceovers perform well for your existing creatives, try using a different voiceover artist to play a new character (like Santa Claus, for example). Another example is finding a maternal-sounding voiceover artist for Mother’s Day creatives. 

Special effects 

Replace any special effects with seasonal/holiday-themed versions.

Gameplay tweaks

For example, word games should experiment with seasonal-focused words: Card games can experiment with seasonal card designs, and so on.

Don’t forget app store optimization (ASO)!

Beyond adapting your creative strategy, it’s easy to overlook the importance of app store optimization. Remember to update app titles, icons, screenshot graphics, promotional videos and the description, especially if you have holiday-specific in-app events or sales. 

Example: Try different seasonal icon themes like this example from the game, Merge Life

Seasonal themes are generally a good use of resources as they are not restricted by timing and the up-lift in performance lasts longer than single-day events like Halloween or Valentine’s Day. This goes back to our recommendation to cast a wider net by also creating ads around a seasonal theme instead of just a specific holiday. 

OTT and CTV are different beasts

As more and more consumers stream content, having an OTT and CTV strategy is becoming more crucial. OTT advertising reached $14.44 billion, a nearly 60% increase from 2020 to 2021. This number is projected to hit $27.47 billion by 2025. 

However, don’t expect to apply your mobile creative strategies to OTT/CTV, as the medium has unique challenges for marketers. OTT/CTV creatives buck the mobile creatives best practice of “casting a wide net.” SparkLabs found that being specific with the customization of characters, narratives, and audio around specific holidays has led to up to 170% higher IPMs than generic seasonal creatives. 

Messaging and emotional response are also imperative to nail down for OTT/CTV creatives. While SparkLabs found that humor typically performs best for OTT/CTV advertising, it’s important that the messaging and emotional response you want from viewers fits the holiday you’re targeting. For example, “fear” and “suspense” works well for Halloween-themed ads, while “joy,” “gratitude,” and “empathy” work well for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other winter holidays. An OTT/CTV ad that is too generic or casts too wide of a net will not stand out, which is a unique nuance of OTT/CTV and is different from seasonal creative focus for mobile. 

One unique benefit of OTT/CTV ads is that the medium really allows brands to introduce human casts and fun storylines to apps and games that would typically not have human elements. Having a human element in ads allows brands to get creative, crafting storylines and characters that consumers will remember long after they’ve watched an ad.

Lastly, many marketers believe that OTT/CTV advertising requires massive budgets to produce, but limited budgets are actually where we’ve seen the most innovation and creativity. By having a limited production budget, it forces teams to be more creative and helps to produce a more organic-feeling ad that is vastly different from the big-budget brands consumers are used to seeing. 

Use these tips throughout the year

With the new year just around the corner, now is the perfect time to start experimenting with some of these best practices. Apply these learnings to your overall creative strategy to improve ad engagement and increase app downloads. By making small creative tweaks to take advantage of the seasonality, the audience, or the channel your campaign is running on — and being thoughtful about your creative messaging — you can extend the life of your campaign assets throughout the year. Take it from our experts at SparkLabs – sometimes less gets you a whole lot more, and can end up being the gift that keeps on giving.

Happy Holidays!

Jessica Dolan is Director of SparkLabs.
Resources Company