If you build it, they will come.
Well, maybe that’s true if you time travel to 2007. Or you’re Kevin Costner.*
Now if you want people to download and play your mobile game, you’ve got to do more than publish it on the app stores and call it a day. You’ve got to get your app in front of players’ eyeballs in order to generate awareness, excitement, and downloads. That’s where app install ads come in.
What are app install ads?
They’re one paid user acquisition strategy that funnels viewers directly to your app store page so they can quickly and easily install your game. These ads can be shown on social media feeds, inside other apps, within search results, and more.
They’re an incredibly effective way to lead potential users to your game and drive up downloads and DAUs. So effective, in fact, that over $96 Billion is expected to be spent on install ads this year.*
So how do you create effective gaming app install campaigns? Take inspiration from the best in the business, of course. Below, we’re sharing some of the coolest gaming app install ads examples we’ve seen out in the wild, along with our take on what makes them so effective.
This ad from Candy Crush Saga automatically plays as Reddit users scroll through posts. Light on copy, it showcases all the addictive elements of gameplay: the aesthetics of the candies and the satisfaction of clearing a massive number of them to level up.
It also highlights the simplicity of the game: even users who aren’t familiar with match 3 games can immediately see how easy it is to play — and the text “Can you match all the candies?” poses a simple challenge to entice potential players and quickly communicates the concept behind the game.
This YouTube ad does something most gaming ads don’t: shows an actual person playing it on their phone. The ad copy along the top reads like a text message from that frustrated player, which makes you want to take over and solve the puzzle for her.
Knowing the solution and watching someone else struggle through it is a powerful motivation for viewers to quickly tap, install, and get the satisfaction of untangling that knot. And the CTA focuses on those three key things: a high star rating, the “FREE” price tag, and the Install button.
In their Instagram post, the team at My Detective pose a single question: what’s missing? It’s simple and engaging enough to get scrollers to stop and scour the pictures to solve the puzzle.
And it’s tailored for the channel: viewers simply double-tap to like the post when they find the answer, boosting the post’s engagement. The post entices users with both the game itself and the My Detective community, making it easy for viewers to get the answer in the post’s comments and engage in the game’s social element. It just goes to show: you don’t always need flashy animation to grab some attention.
Solitaire Tripeaks dumps ad viewers into the middle of a session and gives simple gameplay hints to help them quickly get a taste of the full experience. But if they want to complete the game they’ve started, they have to download.
It’s an effective way to teach users their fun new take on the classic card game, and the CTA to “Keep playing the FREE game” before the automatic redirect removes any barriers to download. All new users have to do is tap a single button to pick up where they left off.
This playable ad allows users to immediately experience the game without having to download. And it cleverly combines three engrossing aspects of gameplay: the match 3 element, fantasy creature combat, and surprise slots rewards. It’s an effective way to hook new players and drive downloads, especially by highlighting that the app is free to play.
The install ad doesn’t automatically redirect to the game’s app store listing, so viewers will need to actually tap the “Play Now” button to download. But the fantasy adventurer speaking directly to the viewer with an invitation to “join the next adventure” is an engaging way to prompt users to tap.
A full screen of plain text is not typically what you’d expect from a gaming install ad. And yet Word Collect starts off with exactly that: a white screen claiming, “Neuroscientists are BEGGING people over the age of 40 to play” their game.
It may be a bit cliché, but it’s a smart way to pique curiosity — and the transition to the “Your brain is __ years old!” text is super effective for getting viewers to wonder what their brain age would be. Watching a simulated game takes that feeling a step further: leaving the word “Bide” unfound leaves viewers thinking, “Psshh — I can do better than that!” And since the install ad is placed in a free Sudoku app, they’ve perfectly targeted an audience primed to download puzzle games like crosswords.
Advertising within a direct competitor’s app can be a smart move. Case in point: Killer Sudoku places app download ads within a popular free sudoku app, so they know their audience is interested in their game. But they need to differentiate it and show how their app takes the classic number game to the next level in order to attract interest and downloads.
Their install ad does this perfectly with both imagery and copy: showing how players add squares up to a certain sum — getting into the strategy behind not just playing sudoku, but mastering it “in no time.” The creative is super clean and minimalist, putting the viewer’s entire focus on the concept behind the game, their enviable 4.7-star rating, and the free price tag.
What’s more, they go beyond personalizing their ad for a generic puzzle-loving audience. The ad changes depending on which level of Sudoku the viewer is playing.
When I finish a game in Beginner or Easy mode, the ad copy I’m shown is all about mastering sudoku and learning the strategies behind the game. When I finish a level on Hard mode, the ad copy changes to emphasize an added challenge — saying Killer Sudoku is “Harder than classic Sudoku”. This kind of micro-segmentation is what takes their gaming install ad strategy to the next level.
The very best app install ads have a few key characteristics in common. To build effective acquisition campaigns that send your downloads through the roof, make sure your ads follow these best practices:
Personalize: Follow Killer Sudoku’s lead and create different app download campaigns for different types of users: beginner vs. advanced players, first-time players vs. churned users, etc.
For example, lure new players by highlighting the essentials of your gameplay and high star ratings. Then show inactive players scenes from the level they last played, or tease new in-game items they’re close to earning to entice them back.
Show, don’t tell: Keep ads light on copy and showcase gameplay. What makes your game so engrossing: the graphics? The rewards? The challenge? The social component?
Keep it short: You’ve got 5 seconds or less to capture your audience’s attention, so front-load your ad with what’s important. What makes your game better than others in your category? Give viewers a compelling reason to tap.
Focus on visuals: Players want more than fun and functionality — even from freemium and free to play games. They expect mobile games to be visually beautiful.
Whether it’s a minimalist crossword puzzle, a blissfully zen gardening game, or a vibrant high fantasy combat game, show off the world you’ve built with your game and invite users to immerse themselves in it. And don’t forget to optimize for sound off.
A word of warning about visuals though: don’t use gorgeous graphics that don’t actually appear in your game! That’s the kind of clickbait that destroys your brand reputation and turns potential customers away in droves. Be honest and show off actual in-game visuals so viewers know what they’re getting.
74% of all spending in the app store comes from mobile games. So there’s a lot riding on the success of your install campaigns.
But the buck doesn’t stop there. You’ve got to keep those new users coming back day after day, week after week, with deeper and more meaningful engagement.
Lucky for you, player retention is a topic we covered in depth in our recent webinar on how gaming apps can understand why users lapse and what you can do to solve churn. Watch it on-demand now.