In Mobile Advertising, Cheap Creative is Expensive

Let’s say you are an app marketer and you just got a user acquisition project. It’s a modest campaign that has to launch next week. The budget is $100,000 for a month and you have to get great results. Do you spend 10-20% of the budget on good creative? Do you have enough time to get it made?

We have all fallen into the cheap creative trap

This idea was initially presented at MAU (Mobile Apps Unlocked) 2019 in Las Vegas. Since then, I have received a lot of requests to share the content. I decided to share it here, as these ideas don’t only apply to mobile apps and games, but universally to advertising and marketing (and beyond).

Good creative is expensive and takes time. You have to make it, refine it… test it. Rinse and repeat. So you try to cut corners. Here are some flavors of cheap advertising creative:

  • Game/App artist can make it

  • The intern knows Photoshop/iMovie/ MS Paint (brush)

  • I can get it for $5 on Fiverr

  • A team 10 time zones away can work on it

  • The very expensive kind made by a Madison Ave-type agency (this is a special case we will discuss first)

Great mobile advertising creative is an art and a science

Regardless of whether your creative is cheap or expensive, it has to perform well in the channel in which it will be used. Let’s use one of our case studies as an example. US Cellular was working with a big name traditional advertising agency. They were getting creative ads that looked pretty, but the performance was not there. And, there was no feedback loop. Every 3 months the agency churned out creative that made them proud. Did it work very well? Of course not. Here is what happened when we took over in November:

Check out the visuals, before and after GameChangerSF took over the campaign:

WHOA, What happened there?

Simple, we made 10x more ads in the same time period, and iterated based on what worked. We also charged 50% less than the Madmen of Madison Ave. Hmm.

Ok, so maybe cheaper creative is better? Not so fast.

But How Can We Beat Free?

Ok, so we can beat expensive ads made by agencies more concerned with awards than mobile performance. But can we out-perform ads that are produced in-house and “free”? Yes, we very often do. It’s not because those artists producing these ads aren’t great. It’s because they are busy working on other things and are usually not mobile specialists analyzing performance data and making data-driven decisions.

Take a look at our performance versus a developer:

Atari Touch App Creative

You read correctly, our ROI is higher even when accounting for the cost of creative.

Our process includes a built-in feedback loop that tags each ad with metadata. We iterate along that metadata and get better performance.

Here is how that looks:

Three Things to Take Away from Our Experience:

  • Cheap creative hurts ROI for mobile apps

  • Creative development is an investment, not a cost

  • Develop and follow a consistent testing and improvement process for creative