TikTok’s Toying Around With Ads That Anyone Can Play

The news comes on the heels of similar announcements from Facebook

Person opening TikTok on their phone
Since this summer, TikTok has allowed media buyers to implement playable ads reach users across other apps.
Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: TikTok

Depending on whom you ask, the content on TikTok can skew anywhere from surreal to cringeworthy but can also be, as The New York Times once said, “genuinely fun.” Now, the short-form video giant wants to make ads that are fun, too.

TikTok developer documentation explains how since this summer, the company has allowed media buyers to implement playable ads, which, as the name suggests, encourage downloads of a game or app by offering a playable preview. These ads, per the documents, offer the chance to reach users across other apps they might be perusing and provide a sneak peek into the ad buyer’s “games, apps or brands.”

Though these ads, and the audience network proper, are only available to East Asian consumers, the popularity of these kinds of ads, and the popularity of TikTok proper, in the West means this could be a sign of things to come for American audiences.

“Mobile-first publishers are far more sophisticated than their desktop brethren, they recognize the challenges of connecting marketers with younger audiences,” said Matt Barash, who heads strategy at the ad-tech company Adcolony. “As a result, [they’ve] looked to gaming as inspiration to reinvent ad experiences.”

Playable ads are tailor-made for the teens and tweens that might turn up their noses at an average ad, which makes them a natural fit on TikTok’s platform. The platform’s base, per Barash, “has grown up with a phone in their hand.” Recent estimates from the influencer-inspired digital agency Mediakix found more than 65% of TikTok’s 500 million users from across the globe are under 30.

In the U.S., the agency found that more than half are between 16 and 24—a bracket that’s anywhere from 40% to 47% likely to skip an average interstitial ad, per recent eMarketer estimates. Meanwhile, research from the analytics firm Kantar found that this same group is also more likely to download ad-blocking software than their millennial counterparts.

While marketers can’t always force impressions out of these audiences, they’re finding success in other formats like playable ads. A 2018 survey from the app monetization platform Fyber found more than a quarter of agency execs cited playable ads as the “most effective” format. Other popular choices included “rewarded video ads” and “interactive ads.” Native ads, meanwhile, lagged at 4%.

TikTok’s statement about the initial rollout of its playable offering reveals other benefits as well. Every click and swipe a user offers through these ads translates to data that’s far more granular than impressions alone. According to the company, the TikTok Audience Network captures “every event during the interaction process,” from “clicking, loading [and] playing” to “level records and conversions.” 

Because the ads offer a try-before-you-buy experience, they filter out users who are uncommitted to the app. That means the users that do click through have a higher intent, are considered higher quality and offer marketers a better bang for their ad buck. A 2018 case study from Audible found that using playable ads bumped conversion rate from 5.3% to roughly 6.2%—and carried a 16% lower cost per person to boot.

And TikTok’s own data suggests the same: The ad format “remarkably improves” user conversions and clickthroughs, “boosting the user acquisition” on a smaller dime in a shorter time span, per the documents.

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment about this data or its playable ad format in general. 

The Audible campaign, which let users scratch away at an orange background to “reveal” a promoted audiobook, shows that playable ads aren’t just for games anymore, and TikTok isn’t the only one taking notice. Facebook has offered the format to video game marketers for more than a year, and expanded the offering last month to let media buyers of all stripes test out playable ads for themselves.

Despite TikTok’s massive reach, media buyers looking to try out the platform’s playable ads are restricted to targeting the East Asian base that Adweek previously revealed as the basis of the company’s audience network. Aside from interstitial ads, the network also offers up rewarded video ads that, like their playable counterpart, are beloved by marketers and gamers alike.

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