Inside Studio E: Zynga’s in-house advertising agency | Pocket Gamer.biz
Let’s play a word association game. Supercell (I assume you are thinking of Clash). Rovio (Angry Birds). Zynga (maybe Farmville, maybe Empire & Puzzles, maybe Turkish acquisitions?).
I guess few of you have thought of Studio E, Zynga’s in-house game studio that connects brands with seasoned game designers to create playable ads that are ready to resonate with the mobile gaming community.
But as brands beyond games move to mobile games to access new engaged audiences, playable ads are growing in popularity, with Studio E reporting a completion rate of more than 60% from the perspective of the opt-in on these units.
Gabrielle Heyman, Head of Global Brand Partnerships, and Matt Sharpe, Creative Director of Studio E, spoke to PocketGamer.biz about the studio’s journey and how playable ads are reaching mobile audiences.
PocketGamer.biz: Studio E has been around since 2011, although its launch was closer to 2015. Can you tell me a bit more about its beginnings, and how its activities evolved into its responsibilities today?
Matt Sharp: Studio E is Zynga’s in-house advertising agency, and our mission has been the same since its inception, which is that everything we do is an iterative process. When we started, the team was creating simple games where users were entertained by the idea of being delivered a game rather than another form of media.
When we started, the team was creating simple games where users were entertained by the idea of being delivered a game
Today, we are able to offer advertisers 10 times more than in 2015. Our playable ads are elaborate, engaging and deliver a brand’s message seamlessly into the gaming experience. These units also offer strong engagement and retention rates with our players, showing that they are resonating with the community.
Since 2015, we have learned a lot along the way, which has allowed us to dynamically grow and evolve our units. We are also able to share this vast knowledge with our clients and assume a thought leadership role. Whenever we work with our advertisers, we are able to explain to them which ad units would be best for them based on our expertise and experience.
What makes mobile gaming audiences more receptive to playable ads, compared to the PC/console space?
Gabrielle Heyman: Zynga has nearly 100 games in our portfolio and our playable ads are mini-games in our titles, which live primarily on mobile. At its core, the gameplay mechanics of a playable ad are different on mobile and PC/browser, so the experience varies between the two.
However, the advantage of playable ads is that they can be targeted to any audience. Once we hear a client’s goals and KPIs, we are able to select the right audience and game, then create the playable ad experience that fits within it.
For example, our hyper laid back studio, Rollic, has a globally diverse audience that ranges from 18 to 25 years old. If we want to reach a Gen Z audience, we will increase placements in hyper-casual games and provide a playable ad experience that complements that specific gameplay.
Sharp: The 35-45 year old audience does not play the same games as the 18-25 year olds. Zynga has so many different audiences that vary from title to title in the portfolio, so we ask the brand early on, “Who are you trying to reach?” ” What is the message ? How can we cultivate this experience so that it resonates? From there, our team will match the brand to the right audience and ad format based on their KPIs.
Heyman: For example, we are currently running a Downton Abbey campaign in Words With Friends because the game appeals to an older audience, which makes sense for this campaign. The messaging speaks to word lovers, so even if you’re not a Downton Abbey fan, you’ll still enjoy the experience. It is a gamification of an advertising experience, as you play and receive advertising based on your score.
Speaking of the Downton Abbey campaign, many Studio E clients are entertainment-adjacent. What do conversations with playable ad-skeptics look like? On a broader note, how aware are non-entertainment companies of their potential?
Heyman: In addition to entertainment, we have customers in all major categories, including consumer packaged goods, wellness, insurance and telecommunications. For those who are skeptical, I’d say it’s because they’re not gamers and don’t have their own understanding of playables from personal experience. When users play games on their own, they directly interact with playable ad units and understand how the mechanics work. They realize the impact behind them and why gamifying your brand is so important.
For those who are skeptical, I’d say it’s because they’re not gamers and don’t have their own understanding of playables.
If you look at Duolingo, which is a language app, or MyFitnessPal, which is health-focused, they have built-in game mechanics. Users earn unlocks or perks when they complete their goals and it feels like a game loop.
So many successful initiatives have taken advantage of gamification because it drives engagement. For example, we created a playable ad for Pistachio’s newest unshelled product, where you squeeze the pistachio and it loses its shell. In this example, there is a two-way conversation in progress. Instead of telling the consumer about the new product, we were able to show them.
Sharp: Studio E and Zynga’s best-kept secret is that we’re capable of being smart. We use our users’ information and insights to create more playable ads that are subtle, but represent an important conversation. We meet the audience where they are and have a conversation with them based on the brand we represent that resonates with them. Over the years we have built different levers and know what to pull on when deploying these interactive units to ensure success.
What do you think are the main challenges that advertisers face in the mobile games industry?
Heyman: There are so many options and ways to get into the game that advertisers don’t know what to do first. There is PC, console, Twitch, streaming, influencer, eSports… programmatic, sponsorship. How do they get started?
We’ve seen a lot of brands start with mobile gaming because it’s a great gateway. With Zynga in particular, we have nearly 100 games in our portfolio that reach a globally diverse audience of all ages. Brands can test to see which audience or games resonate the most.
There is a greater degree of creativity in the implementation of ads, as advertising companies such as AdInMo and AudioMob seek to seamlessly build on the core experience of a game. Interstitials lose- they in popularity?
Sharp: Each ad format has advantages and disadvantages. Some people prefer certain ads over others, and we’re flexible with each client.
Heyman: In today’s world, you can find an ad anywhere. Ads range from separate commercial breaks, to programmatic car racing games, to playables. Interstitials are like a traditional commercial break and they don’t lose popularity. There is a demand for them and they still work well for certain situations.
Heyman and Sharpe will be among the expert speakers at Pocket Gamer Connects Toronto on July 6-7, with in-person and digital tickets available through this link.