Discover the top performing creative trends for mobile gaming apps and all the ways to drive better performing, highly creative ads. SparkLabs – AppLovin’s in-house creative team – produced tens of thousands of creatives in 2022 and analyzed the concepts and variables that produced the most impressive results. These successful performance-driven creative concepts serve as an inspiration for mobile advertising campaigns in 2023 and beyond.
Take a closer look at trends that drive the highest ROI for your creative strategy and identify opportunities through our analytics and performance data to elevate your campaigns. We drill down into the top creative concepts — along with add-on variables — to optimize your creative strategy in advertising.
- Connect with your users by making creatives relatable and approachable. Try speaking through a character, and diversify voice-overs if possible. Variety makes a real difference.
- Entertain your users by grabbing their attention and inspiring action. By incorporating a dramatic storyline, users will be more compelled to get creative with customization; you can also try making nostalgic references that they’ll recognize.
- Don’t distract your users. Keep it simple and minimize resistance. Focus on 1-2 key mechanics and a clear challenge or storyline.
- Simply putting all the best pieces together doesn’t guarantee a win. Continuously iterate and test to find a creative strategy optimized for your app and users.
This report is based on data from 2022, with insights that can be applied in 2023 and beyond. SparkLabs analyzed tens of thousands of creatives produced by their team and identified creative trends that have led to the top performing ads. We break down a number of variables that contribute to the success of these creatives, often used in combination with other variables.
For this report we analyzed data from:
By design, campaigns are optimized for different metrics and our ad optimizer scales creatives based on many variables. Therefore, the top performer may not have the best numbers for every metric, including but not limited to CTR, IR, ROI, ROAS, etc. In context of the AppLovin ad network, a creative that captures a higher share of campaign spend indicates greater creative success. Therefore, a creative is considered a ‘win’ or a ‘top performer’ if it captures the largest share of spend in its campaign. For more on achieving success with ROAS, learn about AppDiscovery.
#1 Customization Increases Engagement
Customization of a character, item or environment — along with a clear prompt for the user to make a choice — encourages engagement.
These concepts are often paired with an additional variable like a timer or budget, adding a sense of urgency or a challenge. Customization can be applied to any genre, but we’ve found the most success with Match, Merge, Mid-core, Arcade and Action titles.
Breakdown of customization wins
Renovation and Makeover-focused concepts have seen the most success among all customization mechanics, together accounting for 75% of wins - creatives capturing majority spend in their campaigns that incorporate some element of customization.
Get her in tip-top shape for her date! Interacting with and modifying a character is a fun introduction to gameplay. Check out videos of Mud Girl.
#2 Classic Games & Puzzles Are Familiar & Fun
Simple puzzle game mechanics — or designs referencing classic games — are easily recognizable, intuitive and self-explanatory. Some examples of classic games that inspired our successful creatives are: Pipe puzzles (rotate and connect pipes to fix the flow), hangman (solve the phrase), and Zuma (match items along a spiral path).
Despite the low relevance to real gameplay, simple puzzles highlight the “challenge” aspect and align with the actual game in the realm of player motivations. These concepts work well with limited or no tutorials, and can offer users a fun, familiar sense of accomplishment and nostalgia
Consider target demographic and choose classic games that will resonate with them.
Most applicable to games with multiple gameplay mechanics or complex narratives, a classic game or puzzle was leveraged in over 20% of top-performing creatives in the Card, Casino, and Mid-Core genres. Mix-and-matching multiple classic games and puzzles in a single creative also saw success, especially for longer duration (30-60s) inventories.
#3 Dramatic Narrative Draws Attention
Storyline with a dramatic, eye-catching opening that creates interactive progression is effective in creating immersion, particularly when characters are victims in perilous situations.
Dramatic story narrative works well with creatives that showcase multiple gameplay mechanics. Applying an engaging storyline to stitch those mechanics together into one cohesive story. Narrative also allows players to start getting invested in the game’s story, building empathy with characters and putting themselves in the shoes of heroes (or villains) featured in these interactive creatives. This builds more purpose into mechanics for the player.
This strategy is also applicable to games with complex narratives - the likelihood of narratives being incorporated in creative wins for Cards/Casino is 65% higher than average, and 155% higher than average for Strategy wins.
#4 Real-time Feedback Creates Connection
Human or humanized characters reacting to gameplay or story progression further creates better connection with the user. Even for apps that do not include characters, a custom or generic character added to the creative enhances that connection more than oversaturating with gameplay mechanics.
Breakdown of real-time feedback mechanics
49% of all our creative wins - creatives capturing majority spend in their campaigns - incorporated mechanics that give real-time feedback to the user.
Disapproving grandma (popular in fail scenarios) was a huge hit this year. Other popular favorites include Einstein and cute brains, and live avatars.
#5 Voiceover Messaging Delivers Additional Immersion
Layering of messaging and/or emotions on top of visual content adds dimensionality. The message delivered by voiceover should not simply repeat the visual content; rather, it could provide additional information, such as a user testimonial commenting on how fun the game is over the visual gameplay footage. Variations can include voice, tone, accent, gender - communicating single words or extended tutorials. Consider tailoring variations to your target demographics.
Voiceover works best with genres that rely heavily on showing gameplay footage in ad creatives, like the Simulation (voiceover was applied to 59% of the top Simulation creatives) and Word (35% of top creatives) genres. It’s also worked well in genres that favor narrative-backed creatives, like Cards/Casino (47%) and Strategy (30%).
Generated voiceover adoption in creative wins, 2021-2022
Newly introduced in 2022, computer-generated voices quickly found success and took over a 29% share of all our top creatives with voiceover from human voices.
#6 Seasonal Creatives Inspire Delight
Recognizable seasonal or holiday elements invoke festive feelings and timeliness.
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 marketing messaging — can extend the life of your campaign assets throughout the year. Seasonal creatives contributed to 11% of SparkLabs’ top-performing creatives in 2022.
Holidays rich in visual elements are more likely to get creative wins
40% of our creatives made for Easter (a visually-rich holiday) became wins as top-performers, against 13% for Father’s Day.
Variables To Try
We covered the most successful creative concepts – the defining variable of ad creatives – but what other variables can give a meaningful lift in performance? Top-performing concepts come to life and encourage engagement when infused with a variety of elements.
We analyzed over 500 creatives that became top performers in their respective campaigns and identified other key variables that contributed to the success of the creative concept. Variables are often used in combination, and testing/iterating is essential to finding winning creatives.
Minor additions that introduce or highlight the tone of the creative.
Top Creative Add-ons
Along with add-ons that provide real-time feedback, add-ons that prompt action provide users with additional incentive to interact with the creative.
These work best with creatives that showcase true gameplay.
Dictate what actions the user will carry out within the game
Game mechanics considerations for different ad types
Playables favor action-oriented and intuitive mechanics like matching, drawing lines, and renovation. Videos favor relevant gameplay mechanics and story-driven mechanics like narrative, level progression and character building.
Emotional response that creatives can trigger in users
Top Tones in Wins
“Fail” and “urgency” are widely observed in winning creatives and are concepts that are applicable across all genres.
Although users like to succeed in gameplay, destined fails get better conversion. In surveys embedded in playable ads, twice as many users expressed preference for a successful outcome over a failed outcome, yet fails had a 15% higher average CTR.
Relevance of the gameplay mechanics and art assets of the ad in relation to the game
Average Relevancy Score of Wins per Genre
Although there is no simple correlation between relevancy and performance, genres whose creative wins - those capturing majority spend in their campaigns - lie on the higher end of the relevancy scale excel by showcasing the main gameplay mechanic.
- Be selective/additive/creative about what to showcase
- Avoid cramming everything into a singular creative
- Test broadly to find what converts best
Driving the highest ROI for your creative strategy means bringing the best industry practices and top performing concepts to your campaigns. Applying creative trends supported by performance-driven analysis, adding/testing variables, and iterating on your creatives will set you on the path toward continual creative success.
Stay tuned for more emerging trends.