Everything Crowdfunders Need to Know About Advertising

1 June 2017

I’ve known Chad Krizan at BoardGameGeek for years–I think my first interaction with him was during the original Viticulture Kickstarter campaign when I reached out to ask about banner ads. I’ve learned a lot from him, so when he extended an offer to share his wealth of advertising knowledge with my readers as a guest post, I readily accepted. Thanks, Chad!

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As the advertising manager at BoardGameGeek, I absolutely hate any time I feel like I’m just taking peoples’ money for no return. As a result, I tend to be very up-front with folks about their projects, doing my best to offer solid advice that allows creators to earn a return on their advertising investment.

To date, I’ve assisted with the advertising of over 1,000 projects, mostly in the tabletop gaming sector. However, I’ve generalized the topics here, as I think much of my observation is applicable to any creator. Here are several pieces of advice I often give based on my experience in advertising Kickstarter projects. I sincerely hope they’re valuable to you!

Advertising Will Not Make or Break a Project

This is the overarching theme that informs much of the advice I’ll give: advertising isn’t the key piece that will result in a successful project. Most successful projects will be successful with or without advertising. They’ve done the legwork to create an audience before launching their project, via methods Jamey has written nicely about in the past.

I often hear from creators that they’ll decide on advertising once they “see if they need it”, which couldn’t be more backward. If a project isn’t performing well, advertising likely isn’t going to help (more on this in a second). If a project is successful and converting well on traffic, it’s then worth your while to spend some money to pour more traffic in.

When Should I Advertise?

1) Advertising will not save a failing campaign.

This is more of a when NOT to advertise. Advertising should never be a panic button! More often than not, the issue with failing projects is a low conversion rate on traffic, in which case you’d just be paying for more traffic that isn’t converting.

Instead, focus on why your traffic isn’t converting. Maybe you didn’t do enough leg work building a following pre-launch. Maybe the product just isn’t compelling and needs more work. Maybe your pledge levels weren’t optimal.

If and when you solve that problem, then put some thought into advertising. It may even take a re-launch with a revamped campaign, but until you have a project that converts well on traffic, you’re just donating money to whatever ad platforms you’re using.

2) The beginning of a campaign isn’t a critical time to advertise. (WHAT!?!)

This is also more of a when NOT to advertise. Most creators come to me wanting to heavily advertise the first 24-48 hours of a project, which makes sense on the surface, as the beginning of a campaign is absolutely crucial to its success. However, unless you’re a very established brand with a product many people already know they want, advertising isn’t the way to achieve a quick start.

For most companies, this early surge is highly driven by folks they’ve previously engaged: mailing lists, social media, friends, family, fans of the creator’s past products, etc. Once these early adopters are on board, and it’s proven that visitors are turning into pledges, you’re then safe to flip that advertising switch.

In short, early success will set you up for success with advertising, but advertising will generally not create that early success. Your early adopters will legitimize the project to the traffic you bring in via advertising, increasing your chances of selling that ad traffic on the product.

3) The Final 48-72 Hours is Critical!

While it is generally productive to advertise throughout the campaign (with the caveats already mentioned), the final hours are absolutely key. While I typically don’t advocate high saturation campaigns where you’re hammering people over the head, this is the time to do it. There are several reasons for this:

a) The project is at its most attractive point. I’ll use a personal story to hammer home this point. During the Brass project by Roxley Games, I really had no interest in it. Not because it looks like a bad game, but I already own both Brass and Age of Industry, and this was just a new version.

However, as I went to update his advertising for the final hours, I checked back on the campaign. Whoa. There are over 10,000 backers? More amazing art and upgraded components have been added via stretch goals?

I promptly forked over $100 for something I really had no intention of buying, but I didn’t want to miss out on something cool. Also, when I visited earlier, the added stretch goal value wasn’t yet there.

b) Urgency to pledge is high! Earlier in a campaign, it’s easy for people to take a “wait and see” approach when they visit. However, leading them to a project in the late stages puts the pressure on to make a buying decision.

This certainly factored into my decision to back Brass. The psychology on whether to pledge or not changes when the clock is ticking; I had to pledge now, or miss out.

c) It’s your last chance to get people off the fence. You may have gotten visitors early in your campaign that took a “wait and see” approach. It’s worth your ad money to get the project back in front of them again, especially in this current climate where Kickstarter is a revolving door of projects, making it really easy for someone to forget your project.

Using the Brass example again, I already knew this project existed. However, without a prompt to go visit it again, I wouldn’t have returned. The prompt got me to go visit at the point where I was most likely to pledge.

What Kind of Ads Should I Create?

1) Focus!

Focus on simple ads that convey the “hook” of the product, and always remember: The only function of an ad is to entice someone to click, so show off whatever it is that’s unique or eye-catching. The ad isn’t selling the product, it’s merely getting them to a place where you can sell them on it.

For some projects, it’s brand recognition. For others, it’s a great price point. For others, it’s eye-catching artwork and presentation. Identify your hook, and create the ads accordingly.

2) Make Several Advertisements

On BoardGameGeek, our ad platform has the ability to run many ads for one campaign, and will slant delivery to the best performers as the campaign progresses. This allows publishers to quickly A/B test, and nearly always results in better performance.

This also allows you to try several approaches. You learn something new every day in advertising. Even after all this time, I still occasionally gets ads I swore would work that fall flat, and vice versa. Putting a bunch of ads forth increases your chances of hitting on something very effective.

3) Resist the Urge to Animate

If you’re using banner advertising, don’t get sucked into the temptation to make long, drawn out, animated ads. I often receive banners that do the following:

Frame 1 – COMING!

Frame 2 – NOW!

Frame 3 – TO KICKSTARTER!

Frame 4 – AN AMAZING THING YOU SHOULD BUY!

On BoardGameGeek, the average page view lasts about 8 seconds. In ads like the above example, people have left before they even know what you’re trying to advertise. Furthermore, you spent a bunch of unnecessary time creating an animated banner vs. a simple static banner.

Creators also have a tendency to want to use animation to throw everything including the kitchen sink into the ad. Again, remember, the ad doesn’t need to sell the game, telling them everything there is to know; that’s what the project page is for. We’re just trying to catch attention in order to get folks to your page.

Now, there is a use for animation, so long as it’s quick and is used to convey a hook that would otherwise be difficult to convey. Here is a great example:

Here, the animation is quick, never strays away from the main game information, and shows off a great hook that would be really difficult to show in a static banner.

[Jamey’s take: I think this type of moving image is great on the project page, where you can focus on it for a few seconds and then continuing scrolling. I’m personally not a fan of it as a banner ad, because instead of being an interesting infographic, it becomes a distraction. Aren’t you having a hard time reading this sentence with the animation moving in the corner of your eye?]

How Much Should I Spend on Advertising?

I often get this question as well, and the answer is really “it depends”. If you’re a first time creator, I recommend starting small, which allows you to dip your toe in the water to see what’s working for you. Once you’ve confirmed the ads are driving good traffic, and that traffic is turning into pledges, you can then crank up the volume.

Of course, you hopefully had a budget coming in, and might be limited by that. I’ve had many creators find their advertising very effective, but limited by available funds. In this case, it’s always worth asking your chosen ad platform if they’ll take payment after you receive your Kickstarter funds. I’m always willing to do this for successful projects who will obviously benefit from increased exposure, as it allows both the project and BoardGameGeek to mutually benefit.

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Chad didn’t ask me to say this, but he’s great to work with, and if you ever want to advertise through BoardGameGeek, you can contact him at chad AT boardgamegeek.com.

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12 Comments on “Everything Crowdfunders Need to Know About Advertising

  1. Other than the ‘Crowd Funders Strategy Guide’, I really recommend people read ‘Art of Social Media’ by Guy Kawasaki. In today’s world of instant information advertising can and should cost most any company very little.

    A great recent example is L’oreal Paris increasing its sales by 51% through Snapchat interactions. There’s no reason crowdfunders and specifically tabletop crowdfunders can’t leverage social media as well.

    Create great content that adds value to people’s day and you’ll be rewarded in turn.

  2. As our Kickstarter campaign approaches on July 6th, I struggle with: whether to spend money on ads; how much should I spend; and where should I spend it? Chad, thank you so much for the information and insights into advertising. I really like what you said about not advertising at the beginning….how early success with the community you have built will set you up for success with advertising. I think, like most people, I was prepared to put all my advertising funding into the beginning of the campaign. You’ve definitely given me so much to consider.

  3. Ads? I run an adblocker for the most part…especially for animated ads…you’re right they are a distraction.

    Now, a well placed article, or a static ad that is clean, direct, and focused on interesting projects – those i’ll click on…and, like Chad did, back a project I otherwise might not.

    1. Yeah, that’s an important point I missed about not using animated ads: many people simply don’t like them! They don’t bother me personally, as I have no problem tuning them out, but I know many people find them a distraction.

  4. Thank you (or Chad) for the kind words about our ad. This campaign has certainly been a learning lesson and while we are still compiling those learnings, here is some interesting data on ads:

    Facebook Ad Campaign, First 72 hours – delivered 2x ROI
    BGG Homepage Takeover, Day 3 – delivered -50% ROI
    Reddit Advertising, First 72 hours – delivered -75% ROI

    Now I would caution readers from taking this as only advertise on Facebook. I believe this is more a reflection of our campaign which led with the collectible figure vs the game. You would expect this approach to do well with a broader audience (Facebook) and struggle with a game focused audience (BGG). Making sure your creative best matches the audience of your ad platform is key to maximizing your ROI.

    One area I disagree with Chad on is the importance of advertising at the beginning of the campaign. The first 48 – 72 hours of a campaign are the most important and if you have done your research you should know where you need to be by Day 3 to know whether or not you are going to achieve your targeted goals. Additionally, every early backer is a potential partner in helping spread the word about your campaign. Finally, I have been against campaigns that use creative that boosts “Funded in XX hours” as I always thought that meant they low balled their funding target. Lucky Duck recently shared a comparison of when they ran creative that showed “Funded in 4 Hours” and when they didn’t. The Funded in 4 Hours significantly out-performed the other. Advertising early helps make this possible.

    All the best!

      1. Denny: My typical approach during a campaign was to launch an add after the first 48-72 hours. My thinking was the same as Chad’s (I can’t remember exactly, but it’s probably due to Chad’s advice) in that I leverage my existing audience for the grand opening, and then we move forward with target advertising.

    1. For a typical campaign, early advertising might still help a tad, but the ROI is generally very low compared to late-campaign advertising. Many crowdfunders don’t come with a big advertising budget, and have to choose where to put those limited funds.

      In the Lucky Duck case, you have an example of a project that was successful early, which is largely driven by an audience he’s built. In that case, the project was validated very early, which allowed early advertising to be effective. It follows my advice of early success allowing ads to be successful as well, as it allowed him to use messaging that helps instill confidence in a project.

      Advertising early isn’t what made it possible, though; it was the audience that was lined up and ready to pledge when he hit the launch button. The advertising then extended that early success.

  5. I’ve been working with Chad for my June 13 – July 10 campaign (yes, Chad, I caved from my 24-day campaign and am stretching to 28 days due to advice from some FB groups) and I can tell you that his insights are grounded in deep experience. I wasn’t afraid to ask for his recommendations, and am thankful I did.

    In my 24 months of study, I’ve found that the start of a campaign often involves a surge of family and friends who have already been anticipating the launch, and the end of the campaign is the time to push people off the fence. The middle, however, is a time where there is often a lull that advertising could help with, especially if the ads are carefully targeted.

  6. Very helpful, Chad! You’re always such a pleasure to work with on our ads.

    FYI for anyone who is looking to decide on a budget, we usually set aside 8% of our expected funds for all forms of marketing on a campaign. This includes advertising, sending out review copies, contests, video production, and any other marketing tactics we implement. I know, that “expected funds” is a difficult number to estimate, but you just have to do the best you can. It gets much easier the more campaigns you run.

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