Innovation sparked game-changing creative trends across the mobile industry, capturing new audiences and engagement. Innovative generative AI creative tools were delivered to the world of performance-driven ads, introducing improved efficiencies and unlocking unprecedented levels of creativity.

SparkLabs – AppLovin’s in-house creative team – produces tens of thousands of creatives every year. In this report, we share the ad creative trends that set the bar in 2023.  Here are the proven strategies that will supercharge your creative performance in the year ahead.

Key Takeaways

  • Build a foundation for AI usage

    Work to understand the value and potential of AI creative tools by fostering a culture that values exploration over technical expertise.

  • Prioritize team adoption of AI over individual usage

    Infusing AI in daily team operations will significantly enhance overall productivity and creative output.

  • Crossovers broaden audience appeal

    Borrow popular mechanics from other successful game genres through genre-bending, while gamification can be used to inspire fresh interactions across all verticals.

  • Deepen engagement with familiar and intuitive elements

    Foster a personal connection by incorporating a human presence. Inspire action by making it clear how users should engage with ads.

This report is based on data from 2023, with insights that can be applied in 2024 and beyond. SparkLabs analyzed tens of thousands of creatives produced by our team and identified creative trends that have led to top-performing ads. We break down the strategies and trends that contribute to the success of these creatives


For this report, we analyzed data from:

81.2B

Impressions

33.1B

Clicks

412M

Installs

500+

Apps

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 the context of AppLovin’s ad platform, AppDiscovery, a creative that captures a higher share of campaign spending 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. 

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The availability of tools powered by generative AI increased exponentially in 2023. Most creative teams are still in the early stages of AI implementation: exploring its possibilities, observing its impact on productivity, and assessing its long-term role. 

SparkLabs scaled their usage of AI in creative conception and production by nearly 3x compared to the previous year, including use cases for generated mockups, aesthetic stylization, and more. Generative text-to-speech, for example, enabled the near-instantaneous creation of voiceovers for videos, reducing turnaround times by keeping these tasks in-house. 

The number of creative wins that used AI-generated speech increased by 118%; the overall number of creatives using generative AI increased by 220% across video, playable, CTV, and ASO.

Elements of this video for Project Makeover - like the multiple stylized renditions of Mona Lisa -  wouldn’t have been possible without AI image-to-image generation.
Go behind the scenes to see how this ad was created!

Focus Experimentation on Learning

AI tools are advancing faster than any previous technology with new features and interfaces constantly emerging, but don’t wait. If you haven’t already, start exploring what’s out there now, and if you have, then keep exploring because there are new tools coming to market each day. Some of your time and effort with AI may not result in usable creative assets, but understanding the value and potential of AI is what’s important today, not mastering any one tool. Develop insights that evolve along with this dynamic technology so you’re leading the pack, rather than chasing the herd later on.

Content-aware fill, a popular feature in generative AI-powered tools, significantly improves the efficiency of background creation and expansion for ad creatives.

Foster Culture Instead of Technical Expertise

AI represents the next evolution of the industry, comparable to how the introduction of computers moved the design and animation world from paper to digital. Like computers, generative AI tools improve the efficiency – and broaden the possibilities – of the creative process.

Over 4,000 iterations of creative assets were generated using MidJourney as a result of our open experimentative culture.

As tools become easier to access and use, the key to operationalizing AI is fostering a culture that inspires the team to explore and adopt these technologies. Reinforcing that time spent experimenting is an investment in future efficiency.

Expand AI Benefits from Individuals to Full Teams

While many individual creative professionals are working with generative AI today, few teams are operationalizing it. Navigate from individual experimentation to incorporating AI into your daily operations to boost the productivity of the entire team and produce winning creative.

Here’s how:

  • Foster open discussions and knowledge-sharing across the team
  • Form a dedicated AI task force to guide exploration and adoption
  • Actively test tools on a periodic basis
  • Create projects for the express purpose of testing AI use cases
  • Compile and share best practices using live, collaborative tools 
  • Re-invest time saved into further AI exploration

Dive deeper: Register and watch the SparkLabs webinar, AI in Ad production.

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FUN FACT

AI tools helped save 1,600 hours in SparkLabs’ creative processes last year. This allowed the team to focus on delivering innovative, new ad concepts for clients and reinvest in further experimentation with AI.

Drive successful outcomes with AI by moving from individual experimentation to team operationalization.

To attract broader audiences, marketers borrowed popular elements from other genres and expanded into new channels such as Connected TV (CTV).

  1. Genre-bending: Games borrow each other’s mechanics

Hyper-casual games add breadth to creatives by incorporating metaplay and live events  – mechanics usually associated with casual games such as Match 3 and Hidden Objects – into their creatives.  

Mid-core games adopt the simple, intuitive mechanics of hyper-casual like Runner or Tycoon games, but leave behind the low-quality assets in favor of a slicker, higher-quality look.

Final Fantasy XV: War for EOS adopting a tycoon mechanic in a high-quality video creative.

Casual games improve upon their successes. While many titles stick with what’s always worked, some proven narrative concepts see new live-action renditions, and new, boundary-breaking storylines and storytelling techniques grab attention in CTV creatives.

  1. Gamification and innovative metaplay boosts appeal

Metaplay ads are gaining both popularity and variety, diverging from the common formula of gaming ads that simulate core gameplay mechanics. Why feature less relevant gaming elements in ads? To create more opportunities for a game to stand out in a saturated market while still aligning with its motivation profile.

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WHat is ‘metaplay’?

Metaplay refers to gameplay mechanics beyond core gameplay, such as mini versions of complex games designed to attract casual players. These mechanics may be features of the title, or only appear in ad creatives.

Card Shuffle Sort’s real gameplay (left) and ad creative metaplay (right) demonstrate different game mechanics, but still tap into the same underlying motivation of the user.

Gamer Motivations

Understanding what motivates users can inform successful creatives. Gamer motivations represent different user personas and can help teams showcase the gaming mechanics that are most likely to engage. In non-gaming, marketers should choose the motivation most closely aligned with their app and gamify it.

80%

of SparkLabs’ creative wins targeted Gamer Motivations that aligned with the motivations of the advertised title.

Gamification can be used to inspire creatives for non-gaming apps. Gamified ads drive engagement and yield success for apps in a broad range of verticals, including shopping and fintech.

27%

of non-gaming wins came from ‘gamifying’ features. Rewarded Play found success with playable ads that showcase their offering in an interactive ad with hypercasual gameplay.

  1. CTV breaks boundaries in storytelling

Live-action ad creatives for CTV significantly expand the possibilities of storytelling techniques, offering mini-cinematic experiences with more variety in plots and visual elements. Leveraging CTV’s unique immersive presentation and larger-screen format, ads deliver memorable storytelling experiences that resonate with users on a deeper level than mobile creatives.

Advertisers and brands saw success by adding CTV campaigns to their marketing mix. Of all SparkLabs’ non-gaming wins in 2023, 57% were CTV creatives.

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Apply these data-driven strategies to take your creative performance to the next level.

Human presence inspires engagement

We are naturally drawn to other humans. Our brains are wired to focus on faces, so adding them to creatives inspires connection and empathy between the ad and the viewer.

Keep in mind that characters can be added to creatives for any app. Narratives shared by a relatable storyteller are an effective way to engage with audiences.

Create smart and native videos featuring user-generated content (UGC) that prioritize providing entertainment value over a sales message.

Humans and humanized characters were present in 66% of creative wins in 2023.

Less is more

Designing with accessibility in mind lowers barriers to entry and creates an intuitive onboarding experience, but don’t forget to iterate on art. Simple updates to successful creative strategies such as asset reskins or playing with new color palettes can add new life to ad creatives while still motivating the user to take action.

Shein’s simplified design with minimal UI makes it easy for users to spot the key elements and quickly understand the actions they are expected to take.

Up your on-screen branding

Go beyond the usual static icons, logos, or CTAs. Experiment with animated banners and persistent borders that remain visible throughout the user’s session for a diverse brand presence. Incorporate these elements to capture user attention and enhance brand recall.

Capture the distracted attention of the users with dynamic elements, fresh looks of brand design leave an impression as users are looking for a sense of novelty.

Branded elements like borders and banners are simple and effective ways to elevate your branding, while higher effort elements like custom branded music also paid off.

Seasonal ads: Quality over quantity

A simple asset reskin for the holidays is no longer guaranteed to capture user interest in this crowded market. Creatives that explore fresh concepts, have extensive polish, or provide fully customized seasonal narratives see significantly stronger performance and longer-lasting impact. 

Timing is crucial – set your seasonal creatives live as early as a month before the holiday and continue them two to three months after to maximize engagement and spend. Custom seasonal ads for CTV, in particular, are seeing remarkable success.

“Distracted Killer” was a fully customized Halloween creative inspired by classic horror films that became the top-performing creative for Match 3D.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity. With these trends and best practices as your foundation, creatives can cross genres and screens, connecting you to new audiences like never before. Incorporating continuous, iterative testing in AI-assisted creative processes is key for elevating the quality and impact of your performance ads.

2024 promises to be an exciting year for performance ads, so keep an eye out for more creative trends. 

REPORT

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