4 ways to make mobile ad creative that doesn’t suck, from Craftsman+ CEO Alex Merutka

By John Koetsier September 8, 2022

People spend 5 years of their lives watching ads, Craftsman+ CEO Alex Merutka recently told us in a Singular webinar. That’s a sobering thought, and a big responsibility: how can marketers make mobile ad creative that doesn’t suck?

Think about it: this is a huge burden for marketers.

Because if your mobile ads suck, you’ve just contributed to making billions of peoples’ lives horrible with BUY NOW and CLICK HERE and LIMITED TIME OFFER. And that would suck. Who wants making people’s lives worse to be their legacy?

Luckily, you have a choice. You can do the opposite. You can literally make people’s lives suck less, be happier, more fun, and more enjoyable, AND you can actually do a better job of hitting your KPIs, mowing down your team’s goals, and boosting overall company growth.


Well, start by checking out the full webinar, now available on demand. We had ridiculously great guests with super-valuable insights, including:

  • Haruna Ohata, Senior Marketing Asset Manager at Ubisoft 
  • Alex Merutka, CEO of the agency Craftsman+
  • Adam Stevens, VP Product at Luna Labs, ironSource’s app marketing platform
  • Alex Moulder, ASO Manager at ASO tool AppTweak
  • Saadi Muslu, Head of Product Marketing and Content Strategy at Singular

In addition, we’ve previously shared 6 of the insights from Ubisoft’s senior marketing asset manager, Haruna Ohata, in this blog post. Finally, read on for some great (and immediately actionable) tips from the CEO of Craftsman+, Alex Merutka.

1. Make your mobile ad creative human centric

People install apps. People use them. People make purchases. People tell others about what you do. People rate and review apps. So … make your ads about people.

“There’s been this shift from very product-centric ads to now consumers are trusting more human elements,” says Merutka. “We’ve seen UGC just take off. If you’re not doing UGC content, you absolutely should be. It’s really cheap to build. It works really well.”

Rovio TikTok

One example, with Rovio, tapped into TikTok trends around dress-up. You’ve seen them: someone magically morphs into a new outfit, twirls or struts, then switches it up again. As you can see above, Craftsman+ and Rovio did a twist on that: Angry Birds characters as outfits. 

Not only are the ads human focused, not corporate, and so polished and professional that they come across as fake, they’re also fun.

“It was really fun,” Merutka says. “The content creator had fun. We had fun creating it. And hopefully, when people play this, it’s actually a fun moment.”

Which seems to be a really good segue into our next tip …

2. Inject fun into your ads

How do you make what you do fun, especially if you’re not advertising a game?

It’s a challenge. 

I mean, think of learning a language. Historically, that has pretty much been an awful process of reading and writing and studying and, generally, failing long and hard enough to eventually get halfways decent enough to order brussels sprouts when you wanted artichoke on vacation in Paris. Duolingo has done an amazing job of making that onerous, boring, and long job much more enjoyable, much more trackable, and much more accessible.

But how do you make fun ads about learning a language? 

Why not make it visual, short, and gamelike … like this:

Duolingo ad

Look: I play mobile games just like you do. Sometimes I pay for some crystals or gems that enable me to get an upgrade, just like you. And sometimes I watch an ad to pick up a power-up … just like you. It’s not a lot of fun to scratch across the screen to “harvest crops.” It’s not that much fun to watch some character in a game make the completely obvious wrong choice about how to get to the treasure.

But it is kinda fun to guess — or think you know — the answer to a real question and get immediate feedback in a visual, cartoony, interesting way.

If Duolingo can make language-learning fun, can you really say it’s impossible for you to make the ads for your app, utility, or game also fun? Inject that to your mobile ad creative process, and to the ads themselves.

3. Design ads that personalize themselves

App Tracking Transparency is here and you can’t personalize your ads any more, right?


Outsource the hard work of personalizing the right ad to the right person to the ad itself. Offload the burden and you will reap the benefits, because now your potential users/players/customers will like your ads (and by extension you) more.

“Everyone knows that personalized ads work better,” Merutka says. “And it’s really hard now because with ATT and tracking changes you can’t target users the way you used to, you don’t have as much available data. So, instead of us trying to determine what someone is like … give people choices and personalization.”

Example: streaming TV.

Almost everyone likes watching cool shows, but you like sports and I like home renovation shows. So why not let people pick what they like? Craftsman+ did that for MAC Cosmetics because, in the same way, MAC doesn’t know whether you like red lipstick or black. Or purple, or orange.

Viva ad

This is genius because not only does it offload the labor to your potential customer, it enables something you literally could not do: predicting the product that I want most. That also enables commerce for retail companies, Merutka says.

“Retail’s great because the cool thing about these interactive ads is you can have different click URLs based on what people are engaging with to essentially deep link them into the products that they’re looking at.”

Interactive, engaging, personalized … and performant? Sounds like in, win, win … and win to me.

4. Make more playables (the easy way)

A lot of these ads have a commonality that might feel like a barrier: they’re essentially playable ads. And playable ads have a bad rep for being hard to make, slow, and expensive.

Check out this FIFA ad and think again:

Fifa ad

Look, a playable doesn’t have to be a whole game. And it doesn’t even have to be a whole level of a game. It works perfectly fine as basically one action in a game. And believe it or not, simpler is better and less is more.

If you note the playable part of the playable ad above, it’s essentially one swipe — so easy to do even in a coma haze of thumb-flipping phone time — which drives an action that results in something cool. That’s not hard, not complicated, not even very sophisticated … but it does drive results.

“I ask them, ‘How many playables have you run?’” Merutka says of his conversations with brands that haven’t had success with playables. “Like, ‘Oh, we tried one, two, three. How many video ads did you run this month? How many concepts did you try?’ I guarantee it’s more than one. So, playables are in a similar spot. There’s this sweet spot for playables. If you hit it, it works really, really well.”

Of course, it helps if you use a platform to build your playables, especially one easy enough and low-code or no-code enough to enable marketers to do it on their own. Once you’ve found that missing piece of the puzzle, playables could just be your best unit.

Yeah, you really need to check out the rest of the webinar

There is much more in this must-see-TV webinar on mobile ad creative. So I strongly recommend you take the time, tap the link, pay the fine-I’ll-give-you-my-name-and-email tax, and settle down with some popcorn and a beverage.

Here’s where to go:

Cracking the code on creatives: How to create ads that convert

One more thing …

Oh, and one other thing … if you need data on how your creative is performing, Singular’s got your back. Check out our creative analytics solutions right here.

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