Jacqueline Zenn

Content Crafter at GameAnalytics

If you’re a game developer, chances are that you’re running some native ads. Or if not, you’re probably at least thinking about it, because properly done native ads can be incredibly successful and lucrative. However, there are a lot of reasons they are the next big thing in mobile advertising, so let’s dig into how you can best execute native advertising in your game(s).

Let’s start by defining what a native ad actually is. Generally, a native ad is considered any type of digital ad that echoes or follows the form and function of the platform on which it appears. And in most cases, the value of a native is the fact that properly deployed, they don’t feel like ads at all. Which is why they can be so successful if they are carefully executed, tracked, and measured – and that brings us to the various KPIs and ways to measure success in the native ad realm.

KPIs And Success Measurements With Native Ads

While naturally every advertiser (and game developer) measures success differently, there are definitely some common key performance indicators used in the industry that you should be aware of. Impressions, reach, and clicks are still the industry standard for native ads as well as other types of ads, but there are other KPIs for native ads that might matter more. For instance, brand lift and awareness (if your clients have the budget, there are options like Nielsen or Millward Brown studies that can cover that), engagement and social sharing, and myriad other measurement options.

Converting Users From Potential Audience To Active Buyers

With native ads, it’s all about taking converting users who make up the potential audience for the product or brand being advertised into aware consumers and then actual buyers. And studies like those mentioned above and similar options or analysis show the real value of in-game native ads extends far beyond impressions, click through rates, and direct conversions. Unlike more direct ads, the value of native ads often lies in bringing awareness to new audiences and through repeated interactions, making passive potential consumers into active buyers.

Tracking And Analytics For Mobile Game Native Ads

If you’ve been in the digital world for a while, you’re probably used to the concept of native ads, but perhaps your advertisers or potential advertisers are mostly focused on the desktop numbers and performance. After all, tactics like display, retargeting, various types of interstitials, and other more “traditional” (if we can say traditional in regard to digital) options tend to be easier to measure and are therefore often more attractive to media buyers.

However, you have a popular mobile game and/or one with a strong community behind it, you can definitely get a nice boost from native ads done well. That’s because they can make passive users who may potentially be interested in a brand or product and turn them into actively interested users or even buyers. But tracking that is easier said than done (however, the aforementioned studies can definitely help, as well as properly integrated analytics, of course).

There’s two things you need to accomplish with your native ads – make them work seamlessly into your game first and foremost, and make them actually deliver a return on investment or a return on ad spend (ROI and ROAS) for your advertisers.

Let’s start with determining the right ad formats for your game…

Blending Native Ads Into Your Game’s Environment

No one really likes ads, unless perhaps your audience targets are someone who works for an ad agency or aspires to be Don Draper from Mad Men when they grow up. But even then those users are few and far in between, and you probably don’t want them to take a prominent place in your games, since of course most typical users tend to abandon or delete games where advertising takes over the experience.

Some examples of great ways to incorporate native ads include the replace of various game features like character skins/outfits, weapons, vehicles, or other assets, ways to power up, and even things like actual “ads” in the game like the panels in the football/soccer/futbol example above.

The Other Unique Challenges Of Native Ads

Native ads pose several unique challenges, perhaps the most obvious of which is incorporating them into your game in the first place. After all, it can be complicated to design and develop a native ad strategy that feels seamless within your game; after all, you need to make sure the ads promote the brand or product you’re advertising without interrupting the flow of the game or taking the users out of the overall experience.

In fact this often requires a longer sales and integration process than something as simple as banner displays or video interstitials, so it’s important to take this process into account when you’re building a native ad campaign(s) for your mobile game.

Look To The Real World For In-Game Inspiration

And all of this requires creativity and perhaps taking a deep look at how ads are integrated into our daily lives in the real world and then adapting that to your in-game environment. Everything from logos on our clothes to billboards to branding on cars or shopping bags is something to pay attention to and potentially adapt for in-game native advertising.

So don’t just go for the obvious options like banners and look deeper to determine how ads can fit into your game in similar ways that logos and ads fit into the real world. For instance, is there room for “billboards” of sorts in your game? Can you put logos of sorts on your players’ outfits? Or on the enemy or opponent outfits? Can there be consumer outposts in the game that are branded? Essentially, wherever you see ads in real life can potentially be incorporated into your game.

Image result for native ads game examples

Earning And Selling Native Ads

Since native ads almost always require more customization and integration than standard banners, they can be complicated to set up. Generally, you’ll need a relationship with the advertiser themselves in order to create the kind of naturally integrated native ads that are actually successful (as well as ways to actually track them and measure their progress in a meaningful way), so this might be where you put on your sales hat or work with a sales professional(s) in order to get these campaigns created and executed. And that’s what makes native ads so entirely differently from running programmatic or basic display ads – the chart above courtesy of G2 Crowd details the unique ecosystem of digital advertising and shows how native ads fit in via direct deals.

Why Selling Native Ads Can Be The Most Complicated Aspect Of All

And this might be the hardest part of running native ads on your mobile game; it’s easy to understand why native ads have value, but actually selling into this option to begin with is much more complicated (and the subject of a future article). But it all can be very well worth it, since a native ad campaign can be perceived as much more authentic by your audience and therefore it has the potential to be much more successful than a standard banner, display, or preroll/interstitial type of advertising run. Which is why you should consider running native ads to begin with, and also constantly work on new and innovative ways to design, develop, and execute them.

What is the most interesting native ad campaign you’ve ever seen?

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Jacqueline Zenn

Content Crafter at GameAnalytics

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