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Creative optimization for the holiday season

During the holiday season things can get a little crazy as everyone is competing for eyeballs (and wallets). Both online and offline.

This is not a coincidence: during the major “holidays” like Halloween, thanksgiving, Black Friday or the winter holidays there is a serious uptick in consumer spending.

The additional free time also leads to more app downloads.

Holiday app install campaigns are not just for the retail and shopping apps. There are opportunities in many verticals.

With a lot of the targeting and optimization now being AI-based, the success of holiday advertising campaigns relies more than ever on great app install ad creatives and App Store assets.

After a look at the opportunity we share here with you several examples of creative optimization of video ads for the holidays. And give you some sound advice to plan for the holiday season!

The holiday opportunity

Main holidays to consider

Of course for the US thanksgiving and the winter holidays come to mind. Black Friday for shopping. But there are several other periods that might be interesting for you.

Here is a list of holidays to consider for specific campaigns:

  • Oct 31: Halloween
  • Nov 11: Chinese Singles’ Day & Veterans Day
  • Nov. 22: Thanksgiving
  • Nov. 23: Black Friday
  • Nov. 24: Small Business Saturday
  • Nov. 26: Cyber Monday
  • Nov. 27: Giving Tuesday
  • Dec. 10: Green Monday
  • Dec. 2: Start of Hanukkah
  • Dec. 14: Free Shipping Day
  • Dec. 24: Christmas Eve
  • Dec. 25: Christmas Day
  • Dec. 26: Start of Kwanza
  • Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve
  • Jan. 1: New Year’s Day
  • Feb 14: Valentine’s Day
Appsflyer post christmas
Source: Shani Rosenfelder, Appsflyer

You need to think about where the holiday season opportunity lies for your specific app or game. For a dating app, it might be the Chinese single-day holiday. For a fitness app, it might be early January to target people with new year’s resolutions. For a classified apps, after Christmas day for people that want to sell their unwanted gifts!

“I’ve run holiday specific campaigns for games that I’ve directly worked on – as also e-commerce companies that I’ve advised. It’s been absolutely worth it” – Shamanth Rao, Growth Marketing Consultant & Host of the How Things Grow Podcast

“Seasonal campaigns are interesting because they are the result of a fruitful creative constraint: finding an interesting intersection between your brand and a specific cultural trope. How does my brand relate to the Winter holiday spirit? What does celebrating an Anniversary mean for a game like June’s Journey?” – Valentine Ledour, Marketing Lead at Wooga (including the hidden object game June’s Journey)

Downloads during the holidays

Apps in the shopping app category are of course those that tend to advertise more during this last quarter.

Shopping app installs holiday season

But it’s also interesting to see how organic installs are affected by the holidays.

organic app installs holiday season

Organic Installs during the holiday period across all categories in the US

The fluctuations are not as important, but we can still see some trends.

The increase in downloads also comes from new device owners, which you should keep in mind when assessing the opportunity for your own app.

“There was a recent Flurry study that said Apple dominates the new device market with 44%, followed by Samsung with 26%. Many users coming across your ads will be new device owners. It’s important to know which devices are best to target, and be open to have a wider targeting” – David Palgi, Director of Advertiser Partnerships @ironSource

Are you missing out on the holiday season opportunity?

According to a survey of 2017 mobile app owners and digital marketers conducted by YouAppi, 95% of them see the holidays as an opportunity.

mobile holidays opportunity
Source: YouAppi Survey

However, this does not mean that it comes without challenges. And as seen below the main challenge seems to be lack of time for preparation and of course a high competition.

holiday season challenges mobile

So when is a good time to launch a holiday-related theme? It depends on the theme.

Mobile marketers that do take advantage of the holiday season start planning early on, often as soon as September. It gives them the time to work on holiday-specific themes in the app or work on creatives (and testing them before the costs go up too much).

“For some of the companies I advise, we’ve already begun (in early September) preparing for this year’s holiday season – so I would recommend starting creative testing at least a month in advance. I don’t think there is a ‘too late’ – so if they are running late, even a last minute planned campaign is better than none.” – Shamanth Rao, Growth Marketing Consultant & Host of the How Things Grow Podcast

Holiday Season survey
YouAppi asked 533 individuals in the US who use their mobile device for shopping when they are ready to start seeing holiday themes (holiday here = winter holidays like Hanukkah, Christmas)

However you do need to be mindful of consumers on the receiving end. Showing Christmas ads early October might not convert very well, but keep in mind that people say they are ready to see might differ from what others are actually searching for. And a couple of Google Trends searches can help.

holiday campaigns christmas gift ideas
There is still a good chunk of users searching for Christmas gift idea before thanksgiving

 

There are also other holidays than the winter holidays you can target before thanksgiving!

halloween emoji
Check out google trends for things that are relevant to your app

No matter the holiday theme you are going for, it is a great time to test new creative ideas! In that same YouAppi survey (but from this year), 68% of the mobile marketers are working on different creative ideas.

mobile marketers holiday plan
Source: YouAppi survey of 209 mobile marketers (2018)
Want us to optimize ad creatives for an holiday or produce brand new ones? Check out our app video production services and contact us to receive a free custom proposal.

More competition = higher CPIs

Of course the increase in ad impressions also means that CPIs get higher around the holidays, which is exactly why a lot of mobile marketers test their ad creatives early.

So unless you have the required UA budget and you’ve assessed that there is indeed a good opportunity for your app, holiday app install campaigns might not be for you.

However you can still leverage the holiday spirit in your app and its listing on the App Stores.

Retargeting during (and after) the holiday season

The opportunity might also not be to acquire new users, but rather to get your current ones to engage again with your app and drive more revenue.

It doesn’t mean that it will be cheap, but targeting customers that have engaged with your app or made purchases during the holiday season in the past year makes the risk more calculated.

“At Remerge we work with clients across a variety of app verticals from utility apps to food delivery, and in recent years we’ve noticed app marketers from outside the eCommerce app space starting to customize their retargeting creatives for the holidays” – Margaret Johnson, Director of Account Management US West @Remerge

“The UA team will run the same anniversary video creative on a retargeting basis AND on a new user acquisition basis. We produced a creative that will hopefully speak to both audiences: it starts with a festive hidden object scene, which usually works great for a new audience (it showcases the gameplay clearly), and ends with teasing our special anniversary gift, which should appeal to both new and existing players.” – Valentine Ledour, Marketing Lead at Wooga (including June’s journey)

And since they already know your app, make sure your creatives are about the next step: the specific action you want them to take.

Re-engage your new users

Do not lose the hard-earned users you acquire during the holiday season: leverage re-engagement techniques (push notifications, emails, deep-linking) to bring your new users back into the app.

average retention rates

With low average retention rates for apps, you can not just stop after users have downloaded your app! According to Localytics, there is a 60% likelihood that users who don’t come back within 7 days never return.

If you do run retargeted campaigns, optimize your creatives for this specific purpose: don’t show the same ad creative the user saw before downloading the app.

Examples and advices for holiday creatives

As you’ll see below several apps leverage different kind of holidays depending on what’s relevant to their audience.

But what is different in these holiday ad campaigns compared to “regular” campaigns?

Shamanth tells us that the primary differences for the campaigns he worked on were:

  • Creative strategy, where there is an emphasis on festive themes. This alone resulted in improved CTRs.
  • Offers, with tailored offers for holidays. E-commerce companies in particular can create specific holiday offers. Other apps can still offer discounts on their in app purchases – or offer goodies.

In terms of what to optimize for (downloads, app events, re-engagement), he doesn’t necessarily optimize for different goals but has different performance thresholds during the holiday season (ROAS targets).

We see three main ways to optimize your creative strategy: inside your app (specific holiday feature or gameplay), on the app stores (Holiday App Store Optimization) and when running ads (Holiday ad creatives optimization).

Regardless or where and when these holiday creatives are used, things need to stay fun and light and be in line with that specific holiday’s spirit.

In-app holiday content

We’ll probably observe even more of it this year, but below are a few examples of holiday-specific in-app content.

instagram halloween update
Late October last year Instagram added some spooky Halloween filters
Clash of clans halloween gameplay
The Mobile Legends and Clash of Clans games had halloween-themed gameplay

Mobile legends halloween theme

 

Emoji Apps
Of course Emoji and stickers apps have specific themes for Christmas

 

Shutterfly holiday content
Shutterfly had holiday-themed cards and objects

 

Walmart black friday theme app
And of course, retail apps don’t miss an important date

All this in-app content (and often the corresponding app store assets) is a great way to increase your chances for a holiday feature by Apple or Google.

Combined with updated app store creatives, this is also an opportunity to get featured by Apple or Google.

App Store feature halloween

Be on the lookout for even more holiday-specific content in app and games this year!

Holiday creatives for App Store Optimization

As mentioned earlier, it’s best when the app store assets are in line with whatever in-app content you created for a specific holiday.

As you can see below some small holiday optimizations of your app store creatives can also bring a significant increase in conversion rate.

holiday creatives icon
Source: Splitmetrics test

You do not necessarily need to change your full listing. In fact, Splitmetrics says that you’ll get better results by changing only 2 screenshots versus changing all your screenshots.

magic puzzle holiday testing
How Magic jigsaw puzzles A/B tested a “winterized” screenshots

Unless you’ve changed your whole game or app, in which case you can reflect this in all your screenshots…or your video. This is what we did last year for Shutterfly, with a holiday-specific App Preview video.

Holiday app preview video shutterfly
Extract from the Shutterfly holiday App Store Preview video we produced

Holiday creatives for App Search Ads Optimization

You might not want to change your main screenshots. Or want to make sure it doesn’t decrease your CTR from the App Store search result., yet still leverage a specific holiday theme.

If you are running Apple Search Ads, take advantage of the fact that you can have up to 10 screenshots and upload your holiday screenshots at the end.

That way they will be barely visible yet you can use Apple Search Ads Creative Sets for specific holiday-related keywords with these screenshots.

Ad creative optimization for the holiday season

Of course the most visible creatives during major holidays are the ads.

If apps or games have taken the time to create offers, in-app content and update their app store creatives they want to get the word out.

So for all kind of holidays, from halloween to valentines’ day, we see app install campaigns with holiday-specific ad creatives.

What Vivino did last year is a great example of a seasonal offer: they offered free shipping to everyone during the winter holiday. And for the occasion we produced a dedicated video ad, in the style of previous videos we’ve created for them.

As we’ve seen above, Shutterfly has some seasonal content available in the app for the winter holidays and we created the corresponding iPhone App Preview video. We also created with them a series of video ads to promote the app during this period.

Shutterfly ad
Extract from a holiday-specific video ad we created for Shutterfly

Let’s take a look at a couple of other examples of holiday video ads!

Advices for your holiday creative optimizations

Show the holiday spirit throughout the funnel

It’s important to have a coherent holiday themed branding experience across the user journey:

  • holiday ad creative
  • holiday app store creative (showing off the in-app holiday content)
  • In-app holiday content

“The most effective strategy I’ve employed is to test ad creatives aggressively since those are the easiest to test – and port over the best performing ad creative themes to app store assets, home screens and beyond in the user journey” – Shamanth Rao, Growth Marketing Consultant & Host of the How Things Grow Podcast

“The creative concept informs every single piece, it is contained in the asset design (they look more golden, sparkly and festive than our usual package, without being tacky or childish), but also in our in-game surprises (leaderboard leaders will temporarily be wearing a feather fascinator) and upcoming Facebook events (this one is a surprise! Tune in on the 3rd of October on our official Facebook page to learn more).” – Valentine Ledour, Marketing Lead at Wooga

Don’t go overboard

Creative optimization for the holidays is important, but don’t go crazy changing everything in your app!

Especially if you’re spending more on user acquisition during this last quarter, do not take unnecessary risks.

Keep the holiday content for certain screens or add touches of festivities.

Use holiday color tones

Along with the point above, you do not need to turn your app or game into a Christmas tree (or a pumpkin).

You do want to have a “festive” theme, and to do this you can use holiday color tones in different manners. It’s about setting an atmosphere.

Holiday content target app
Target’s app is in the holiday spirit but keeps it relatively subtle

Adaptly suggests for example in their Holiday guide to test creatives that go beyond the traditional red and green.

holiday ads color palettes
Warm/cool, bright/energetic and rustic color palettes

And when you do use red and green, you can explore different hues and shades.

Be mindful of cultural differences

In our list of holidays at the very beginning of the post you can see that Chinese Singles’ day is on the same day as Veterans’ day.

In the same manner, not everyone celebrates Christmas. You can have a winter holiday theme without the obvious religious references.

Don’t offend anyone by targeting the wrong audience at the wrong time!

Twitter holiday creatives and campaigns
Twitter’s recommendations for holiday creatives and campaigns

Give a sense of urgency

Whether you advertise a retail offer, a holiday in-app purchase or a specific level of your game, create a sense of urgency in your call to action: mention that this is available for a limited time only.

You’re definitely not the only one with offers at this period and you want users to understand they need to act NOW.

Test and Spy as soon as September/October

Don’t launch an app install campaign at full scale at the time where there is the most competition without testing it first.

Start creative testing early on Facebook and other channels you use. You do not need huge volumes to get a sense of what works best.

“At ironSource, we suggest running a ’creative soft launch’, something we do with all our clients running soft launches. Spend a week or two A/B testing your holiday-themed creatives in 1 or 2 geos. Give yourself enough time to optimize and iterate different versions. It’s also always best to test your holiday creatives alongside your regular ones, so you have a benchmark for analyzing results.” – David Palgi, Director of Advertiser Partnerships @ironSource

Test different imagery, characters, colors, messaging and copy.

“We typically don’t need huge sample sizes – 30-50 installs per ad is usually enough to point to a winning ad creative” – Shamanth Rao, Growth Marketing Consultant & Host of the How Things Grow Podcast

“We achieve the bulk of our learning through continuous UA, ingame and ASO split-testing, so we have an idea of what in general works, and what doesn’t. The key is not to forget these learnings when it comes to seasonal campaigns, but also to leave enough room for novelty.” – Valentine Ledour, Marketing Lead at Wooga (including June’s journey)

And don’t hesitate to already prepare next year’s holiday season by spying on your competitors’ app install ads, App Store creatives like screenshots and App Previews or even how they customize their app at different periods.

Conclusion

There is an opportunity to get more customers and purchases during the last quarter of the year. But the holiday season is also highly competitive and costs for app install ads increase.

So for your creative optimization you want to:

  • Figure out for which holidays it makes the most sense
  • Start creative testing early (and observe what others are doing)
  • Consider going beyond just app install ad and optimizing your App Store creatives or even create holiday-specific content in your app
  • Make sure there is consistency through the user’s journey
  • Don’t go overboard
  • Create a sense of urgency

How do you prepare for the holidays and optimize your creatives? Let us know in the comments!

Sylvain Gauchet

Hi there, I'm Sylvain and I'm one of the co-founders of Apptamin. Apptamin is a creative agency specialized in app videos (video ads, app store videos, etc.) where we find engaging ways to present mobile apps and games so our clients can either increase their conversion rates or improve their user acquisition.

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