May 19th 2020

How Playable Ads Get Consumers on Board with Pandemic Health Messages

Published in Mobile Industry Eye, May 19, 2020

The coronavirus crisis has left brands spinning. How can they engage with consumers in-app, in a way that’s appropriate? The line is paper-thin.

Si Crowhurst, VP of Vungle‘s Creative Labs, a firm that specialises in user engagement, thinks that under isolation, people are naturally hungry for entertainment and information, and that creatives need to meet this need with formats based on gamification to get cut-through.

According to the Kantar COVID-19 barometer report, 64% of consumers want brands to communicate their values through their messaging. That’s a fairly significant number. It should be no surprise then that a number of the world’s biggest game providers, like King, Rebellion and Codemasters, jumped into the deep end and started featuring “Stay Home. Save Lives” ads in their best-selling games.

At the same time, in a similar vein, we’ve seen many ad publishers granting swathes of their online inventory to charities who have become bereft of traditional, in-person fundraising activities.

The impact of these multilayered efforts can (and will) be counted using typical campaign metrics and tools but, for now, we can pretty confidently assume that given millions of people play mobile games every day, these in-app messages are playing a massive, important role in helping to spread public health messages and awareness in self-isolating communities all around the world.

But, what’s missing from the dialogue about what brands and marketers can do (or should do) to play their part is the fact that it’s the design principles that underpin in-app ads that make message delivery the most productive and effective. Gamification can get a lot of flak but the fact of the matter is that it works. In gaming and non-gaming settings, the approach engages people in products, services or – you guessed it – messages.

Whether it’s the principles of point-scoring, following rules of play or passing levels, these techniques tap into all of our innate natural desires for achievement, competition, socialising and even learning. Playable ads or interactive ads are built on these fundamental human insights and this enables app platforms, from Candy Crush to even Grindr, to be leveraged in the effort to spread public health messages related to COVID-19.

Interestingly, this insight hasn’t been lost on the World Health Organization, leading the world on how to respond, contain and recover from the pandemic. A few weeks ago, at the height of the European outbreaks, the UN body put their first-ever public “Call Out to Creatives” – an open brief to designers to create visual content explaining what steps people can take to slow the COVID-19 pandemic and tackle harmful misinformation campaigns.

Creatives working across technology and mobile platforms were also encouraged to answer the call.

In a modern-day “Rosie the Riveter effort,” they mobilised a whole industry of creative professionals fired up to bring their branding and design talent to bear on creating timely, engaging and cross-culturally appropriate content to deliver key public health messages. A number of themes and key messages were highlighted, from advocating for social and physical distancing to handwashing and hygiene to a host of other categories, providing artists and developers with plenty of scope.

What’s interesting about the inclusion of the in-app ads as a channel for communication of this type is that standardised game design can help convey messages in diverse markets when words and language, or other culture cues and signifiers, aren’t an option.

By playing up the fundamentals of gamification, capturing attention and holding the player in one level or “space” until they complete the test – like wiping their screens back and forth for the duration of time it takes to wash your hands, for example – the style goes well beyond just display ads that carry static messages.

Faced with the devastating reality of the public health emergency in many parts of the world, it might sound counterintuitive to ramp up gaming or advertising efforts like this. We know that many brands are adapting to this brave new world and engaging with customers in an appropriate, sensitive and meaningful way, while others are (at best) attracting cynicism.

Yet, there can be little doubt that as countries move deeper into the pandemic (or cycle through the phases of the crisis) and more and more people continuing to isolate at home – becoming increasingly hungry for information and entertainment – bringing all our platforms and modes of communication into the effort to literally save lives is an absolute necessity.

Read the article in Mobile Industry Eye.

Si Crowhurst

Si Crowhurst

VP of Vungle Creative Labs