The evolution of playable ads, with Craftsman+ CEO Alex Merutka

By John Koetsier October 5, 2022

Somewhere around 10 years ago someone created the very first mobile playable ad… a mini-game you could enjoy, and an ad that didn’t suck. Fast forward to 2021, and according to a Liftoff report, “playable ads were the most cost-effective ad format” in every month other than September when they tied with another format.

That’s a meteoric rise.

If you think about it, it makes sense: playable ads generate unprecedented ad engagement. They invite interactivity. Plus, they’re fun. And sometimes, playable ads are even tied to a reward for the viewer. In addition, from a mobile publisher perspective, a playable ad often shows something of what the advertised app is all about, boosting engagement and retention if the ad actual causes a click and a conversion.

But there’s been a big problem.

Playables have been hard to create. Slow. Expensive. Inflexible. Hard to use with user-generated content. Difficult to implement with influencers.

Could there be a solution for that? Should you be looking harder at playables? Could they even solve for some of the targeting that privacy is removing? Check out the video at the top of this post (or the Growth Masterminds podcast) for all the answers and insights, but here’s a few highlights from our chat with Craftsman+ CEO Alex Merutka …

Making playable ads fast and scalable to produce

The problems:

  • Too long to build
  • Too expensive
  • Too risky because most ads fail

“Playables had this kind of 4 week turnaround time that you would go get a developer to build, and once you build one for Facebook or for TikTok, you’d have to rebuild it for Google, for Applovin, Unity, Vungle … all the different channels have different API calls and what you need to plug into them … it’d take 4 weeks, it’d cost you $5K in the US to go build this ad unit, and then you’d have to QA it across all these different channels, customize it for the channels, and by the time it’s like two months in, you’ve spent $7,500 on a playable ad. And then guess what? 90% of ads just don’t work.”

Alex Merutka  

The solution:

  • No-code platform to build, so no developer required
  • Cheap
  • Quick to develop and iterate

“Our idea was: how do we just create a volume of assets to give people and make playable ads super accessible so that you can jump into some software and build a ton of different concepts. You could build 10 concepts in a day, go run them, and then you might find, yeah, 1 of the 10 actually works.”

Alex Merutka

That’s #winning: more at-bats to take more swings to get more home runs.

Important: don’t make annoying ads

The problems:

  • Everyone follows a trend, which gets stale
  • The playable doesn’t actually resemble the game

“I think the issue is when you see these big trends like … pull the pin and save the princess before the lava burns everyone. Everyone’s seen that playable … there are these trends and everyone just reskins that trend and uses their own.”

Alex Merutka

The solution:

  • Show the actual game
  • Don’t overdose on trends

“Build a playable that is similar to your [actual] user experience, like DraftKings … this is the UI and this is your experience. And the same with gaming … if you could play a little version of a match 3 game in the playable ad, I understand, okay, this is the experience I’m getting.”

Alex Merutka

Cheating on the ad might get the click and might even get the download, but it’s unlikely to win engagement and retention.

How playable ads can help targeting and segmentation

The problem:

  • ATT and privacy regulation is making it harder to target the right ad to an interested audience

“Apple kind of threw a wrench into [targeting], and so it’s become a lot harder for those folks to effectively target the right audiences.”

Alex Merutka

The solution:

  • Playables that let people choose what they care about

“Playable ads allow you to … almost host a mini website as an interactive ad and let people pick and choose and engage with the content they want … so they can go through [for example] this Bon Appetit cookie quiz and figure out what is their style of cookie and get a different product and experience based on the choices they make, what their actual interests are. So now you no longer have to target someone so specifically.”

Alex Merutka

Targeting is back, baby? Well, maybe not as powerful as before. But certainly better than a static ad that no one interacts with.

Using playables to pre-test game concepts

The problem:

  • Mobile gaming is very hit-driven
  • It’s expensive to build and market games
  • Most games fail

“The issue with gaming, and everyone’s seen this in the stock market … it’s a very hit driven economy. So you build a game, you get a team together, you have a concept, you build a game … you have like, let’s say $1 to $3 million budget to build the game … as an investor in a game companies, you never know if the company’s gonna hit or not hit, and it’s a pretty big gamble … it’s like, ‘Hey, gimme 3 million bucks and then let’s see if users download this.’”

Alex Merutka

The solution:

  • Build a playable with the core concept
  • Advertise it
  • Direct people to a pre-launch sign-up page
  • If the results are good enough, build the actual game

“You could build these micro experiences, launch a playable, actually market it as if it’s a real game, and go out and test … instead of spending $3 million on the game, spend a couple thousand bucks on the playable spend … and then you have a test for $50K if the game’s gonna work or not. You micro test that across 20 games; you find your 3 winners and then you go build those. Instead of building 20 games, you build 3 that have the best shot.”

Alex Merutka

With literally millions of games on the app stores, the odds are definitely not ever in your favor. Tip the pinball table just slightly to at least even them out.

Much more in the video and podcast

There’s much more in the video and podcast. Check it out above, subscribe to our YouTube channel to never miss one, and hey … while you’re at it subscribe to our Growth Masterminds podcast as well.

Should we be featuring you on a Singular podcast? Do you have insights that other marketers need to hear? Ping me and let’s chat.

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