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User acquisition on CTV for games and apps: What marketers need to know in 2023

using CTV as a channel for user acquisition

Game and app marketers are looking at connected TV now for performance, but there is a lot of confusion in the market about CTV’s role.

How can apps and games tap into this high-attention, high-viewability channel? How will it fit into their marketing mix? What are the challenges and potential solutions? Verve’s CTV performance team experts share our latest discoveries about this exciting new approach to user acquisition.

Definitions: Linear TV vs. CTV vs. OTT

Because CTV is a new performance channel for mobile apps and games, some marketers need help understanding the terminology. Let’s set the context from the start:

Linear TV is traditional broadcast television with scheduled programming. Ads are served during predefined commercial breaks and sold in advance, usually as part of a bigger campaign.

CTV (Connected TV) refers to internet-connected devices used for streaming video content, such as smart TVs, streaming boxes (e.g., Roku, Apple TV) or gaming consoles. CTV provides personalized, on-demand viewing without traditional commercial breaks. CTV allows for programmatic ad buys. 

OTT (Over-The-Top) is internet-based video content delivery, bypassing traditional TV providers. It includes services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, accessible on CTV devices, smartphones, and more. OTT provides on-demand content with subscription or ad-supported models, revolutionizing TV consumption. CTV is a subcategory of OTT.

Why use CTV for performance marketing now? 

For a marketer looking to drive installs, turning to CTV for performance just makes sense: buyers’ attention is shifting from traditional linear TV toward connected TV. As of last year, 92% of US households are reachable on CTV. Data from 2023 shows that 42% of game discovery can be attributed to streaming ads.

Marketers should always follow the consumers. Consumer attention is shifting more and more from traditional TV to connected TV and on-demand streaming. The rapid growth of FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV), SVOD (subscription video on demand), and AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) makes this transition much easier, even eating up some attention from the UGC (user-generated content) on social media.

While TV has been primarily a brand channel for publishers, CTV’s advantages make it a compelling option in the mobile marketing mix as a performance channel.

  • Targeting: More precise targeting options help advertisers reach specific audiences based on demographics, interests, and behaviors. This increases ad relevance and the game’s/app’s chances to drive installs (or re-engagement, in the case of retargeting).
  • Measurement: CTV allows for more detailed analytics and tracking options (compared to linear) to assess campaign effectiveness. However, measuring CTV’s impact on app installs has an important distinction from other channels: Rather than looking at last touch and attributing installs directly to CTV, marketers are choosing to take the full-funnel approach. Major mobile measurement partners (MMPs) are recognizing this need and are evolving to support proper CTV measurement within the full-funnel paradigm. 
  • Optimizations and budget adjustments which allow impacting the campaign’s outcomes.

 

Leveraging CTV in campaigns isn’t restricted to big brands with hefty marketing budgets like is often true for linear TV. Although CPMs from CTV are comparable to those of traditional TV, the impression quality often exceeds that of traditional TV CPMs. 

How does CTV fit into the mobile or gaming marketing mix?

There are strong signals in the market of CTV being a channel for driving incrementality and working as an amplifier for other channels. 

Rather than driving direct installs, connected TV has proven as a powerful tool to move users down the funnel where they convert via other channels, as evidenced by the MMP Adjust.

Big screens with no skip option are expected to eventually lead to high impact. Now that it can be measured, we have a chance to evaluate CTV's efficiency within the full funnel.

Isolating CTV from other channels and relying on last-touch attribution would be misleading because (so far) the ads are not clickable, and the advertiser has limited control over which channel is the last one to contribute to that install.

Measurement and attribution

Major MMPs are recognizing the market’s need to measure CTV performance for gaming and app user acquisition, and are moving forward with a solid roadmap of CTV measurement features, although at a different pace.

User journeys come in so many shapes and sizes. Here are just a few common examples:

  • An easy scenario with a QR code in a CTV ad, which works as a direct link to app store 
  • CTV ad seen, user searches on app store, which results in an install which according to last touch gets attributed to organic
  • CTV ad followed up with a banner ad on mobile, which becomes the last touch
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This all brings us back to the fact that the only correct approach to measuring CTV performance is looking at it from the full-funnel perspective. Advertisers and vendors turn to look at custom signals and report on assisted installs, measuring incrementality and even MMM (media mix modeling).

We recommend that advertisers analyze their existing install data attributed to specific channels — before launching a CTV campaign. This lets them compare and measure the uplift caused by CTV-driven assists and installs later. It is particularly important to note that not all MMPs have the capability to present assists from a full-funnel perspective.

Simply ignoring the channel due to the measurement complexity might be a choice for new apps and games that haven’t seen enough growth via other channels yet. However, other channels gain traction and establish benchmarks, boosting the media mix with CTV can lead to more performance.

How are measurement platforms supporting CTV measurement?

Verve has tested most CTV-supporting MMPs while running campaigns for our partners. At this point we are able to advise on the best MMP options for CTV and are working closely with advertisers and MMPs of their choice to ensure the best possible quality of measurement.

AppsFlyer, Adjust, Singular, Kochava, and Branch are all offering certain functionality to support their publisher partners in exploring the new channel, even though not all MMPs are created equal. In terms of features and pricing, Adjust now offers a CTV-specific dashboard as an add-on solution.

Other notable measurement tools are the ones providing incrementality measurement (ex. INCRMNTAL) and media mix modeling (ex. MetricWorks).

Creative is key: best practices for CTV ad creative

The ad needs to be next-level compelling in order for the user to take action. 

Best practices:

    • Unsure whether to invest more in CTV? Start by with adjusting existing creatives but keep in mind it may happen that web creatives will not perform the same way on CTV.
    • Make the ad entertaining – after all, this is what your audience came to CTV for. Try gamification and incentivizing the user as this leads to higher engagement with the ad.
    • CTAs, QR codes, logo presence, and app store icons. Make sure it’s extremely clear that this is an ad for an app/game, and what exactly the audience needs to do (clear, crisp CTA). 
    • Humans in the picture + catchy voiceover (important because sometimes your user is not watching but you can still engage them with the sound).
    • Try different storylines and ad video lengths (typical video ad is 15 or 30 sec but they can also be as short as 6s and as long as 2 minutes).

CTV creative specifications: feel free to request Verve’s creative specifications by reaching out to our CTV UA team

Buying performance ads on CTV

In a nutshell, there are two ways to buy CTV supply: 

Direct buy – negotiating and transacting on your ad placement directly with the publisher (streaming service, ex. Roku or device manufacturer, ex. Samsung). This approach limits work to specific partners (or the advertiser needs to work with each of the partners independently which results in higher workload. On the positive side though, you will get info that you don’t get in the bidstream (like content itself).

Programmatic – via a DSP, where you buy video inventory across many different networks or publishers. With a DSP as an intermediate partner, you have more and better capabilities for optimization and measurement. Buying programmatically often makes ad buying more manageable and optimizable than direct-buys.

Our advice: Start with the DSP

With CTV being a new kid in the performance block, it’s best to start with an intermediate partner (DSP) instead of going directly to vendors. DSPs will offer better optimization and measurement capabilities while having access to a whole range of supply partners, which allows for better balance of inventory quality vs. cost.

Partner for success: choosing a DSP for CTV performance

Look through a partnership lens when you’re choosing a DSP for leveraging CTV for user acquisition: You are not after cheap installs there, but rather after a solid stream of quality and brand-safe impressions that will integrate into the marketing mix and drive installs.


The DSP and the advertiser work together towards success as partners in learning to drive positive ROI. Find the partner who will work together with you to understand investment and metrics first, then work on targeting, creatives, experimentation etc.

On the campaign side: work on reducing cost per install (CPI), traffic quality and driving positive ROAS

On the app side: ideally exchange feedback on traffic quality (retention, in-app spend, ROAS, LTV predictions etc).

On measurement & attribution side: Discussing together and finding the best approach with your current MMP. Partner should be knowledgeable about possibilities and limitations of different MMPs and integrated with top ones doing CTV measurement.

Getting started with user acquisition on CTV: KPIs

Cost Per Install (CPI)

If you are targeting CPI in your acquisition in general, it’s an easy move win, as on CTV starting with the CPI is a logical move. For advertisers whose main UA campaign KPI is ROAS or LTV the recommendation is to still start with CPI and measure and optimize campaigns for CPI during the test period.

Firstly, due to CTV’s natural attribution limitations it’s hard to track user behavior and conversions, which makes ROAS measurement a challenge (unlike CPI).

Second, CPI allows for simpler optimization and decision-making during the test phase. By focusing on minimizing the cost per install, publishers can assess the performance of different ad creatives, targeting strategies, and placements. It simplifies the optimization process and enables quick adjustments to improve acquisition efficiency.

Last but not least, CPI provides better control over budget allocation and forecasting.

Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) and Lifetime Value (LTV)

While ROAS is an essential metric for measuring campaign profitability and long-term user value, it may not be the most suitable choice when starting user acquisition on CTV. CPI provides a more straightforward and actionable metric specifically tailored to the goal of driving installs and expanding the user base. 

However, as the user acquisition matures and revenue attribution becomes more reliable, transitioning to metrics like ROAS or Lifetime Value (LTV) can provide deeper insights into campaign performance and profitability on CTV.

CTV for retargeting and re-engagement

Besides driving new installs, there are strong cases of retargeting (although limited by privacy on iOS) via CTV which is possible due to IP address matching. This is especially effective for games, because of a large overlap between gaming and CTV audiences. 

Retargeting on CTV earned 12x higher engagement, recapturing lapsed gamers

Verve managed to lower re-engagement cost by 32% for Gamigo’s game while retargeting their users on connected TV. (Article on VentureBeat)

Opportunities and challenges

CTV has multiple prerequisites to become a great performance channel in the overly saturated world of app marketing. 

Positives:

    • CTV enables marketers to target precise first-party audiences in specific locations while implementing frequency capping and modeling. 

    • CTV is a high-attention, high-visibility channel with high ad tolerance

    • CTV is complementary with other channels

    • Due to its ad spot length, CTV allows for better showcasing the app/game

Concerns:

There are numerous concerns that we are addressing with the CTV UA innovation project at Verve, together with MMPs, advertisers and other partners:

    • Cost split by OS is hard to do, while it’s important for marketers to measure performance

    • On CTV you are targeting a household rather than an individual

    • Install measurement and attribution

    • Cost implications

Mobile measurement and attribution are already less straightforward due to privacy changes, while advertisers' expectations about 'deterministic' measurement, as well as for costs/ROAS KPIs, are often taken from their past experience with other (mobile) networks or walled gardens. As advertisers venture/expand outside of those channels, Verve is ready to support with a full-funnel approach to measurement and channel strategy.

Connected TV for UA: Conclusions 

    • The key to getting CTV advertising to work for you is to understand it is just one aspect of your customer journey through web and/or mobile traffic — and that performance is often incremental.
    • It is important to employ a full-funnel perspective and think in terms of install/KPI measurement (incrementality, assisted installs) rather than attribution.
    • Setting expectations right: TV and Connected TV can be associated with higher costs, but as long as ROI (ROAS) is there, campaigns are not expensive.
    • Advertisers need to approach CTV as a very powerful channel that’s not plug-n-play. Choose DSPs with a full-funnel mentality that are eager to partner for success.
    • With the new channel and attribution and optimization complexity, it is becoming more important to choose the right DSP and measurement partner. The MMP should have CTV-specific measurement capabilities. The DSP should ideally have access to a broad variety of supply and sophisticated anti-fraud measures/tech to be able to balance supply cost vs quality. 

Let’s Talk!

Get in touch to talk about the opportunities of running CTV ads to acquire users for your app or game. Reach out to the CTV UA team directly.

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