Kickstarter Lesson #245: Should You Advertise and Preview Pre-Launch?

12 March 2018 | 32 Comments

Recently I’ve noticed that more and more Kickstarter creators are advertising and soliciting previews before their projects launch. In the past I thought this was a bad idea, but I thought it might be time to take a closer look at this strategy.

My Previous Thoughts

If you’ve compelled me to click on an ad or watch a preview video, this may be your one chance for me to act. That is your moment for many consumers.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve learned about a game through an ad or preview and tried unsuccessfully to find a notification link. Those are moments when I would back the project, but without the project, at the very least I’d like to sign up for an alert when the campaign begins.

So over time I came to believe that it was a waste of money on pre-launch advertising and previews.

Just to be clear, I love the idea of building a crowd of passionate followers who know about your product well before launch. These are people with whom you’ve forged genuine connections over time, or people who have found you through the content you create (blog, podcast, etc). I consider those strategies to be quite different than paid advertising and previews, even thought the goal is at least partially the same.

My Current Thoughts

I should say up front that I have no hard evidence that it’s a good idea to spend money on pre-launch advertising and previews. However, having spent the last few years as a backer rather than a Kickstarter creator, I have observed the following:

  • I love anticipation. I like getting excited about something before I can have or see it.
  • I like to budget in advance. I want to know if an awesome project is coming up soon so I can feel like it’s the right decision for my wallet.
  • I am swayed by persistence. Sometimes I don’t know if I want something until the third or fourth time I hear about it.
  • I prefer to research on my own time. There are times when I discover a live Kickstarter project and I want to learn more about it before considering a pledge, but I just don’t have time at that moment. So I might click the “remind me” button and return later.

While I don’t think pre-advertising will ever reach the level of conversion rates of live-project advertising, I now think there are some effective ways to execute this strategy.

How to Advertise and Preview Pre-Launch

Recently I’ve paid close attention to pre-launch ads on BoardGameGeek and Facebook, as well as preview videos on Tantrum House and Game Boy Geek, to compile these tips:

  • Reveal the ads and the preview videos no more than 1 week in advance of the project launch. Focus on 1 or 2 ads and 1 or 2 preview, holding off on the majority of content until the project goes live.
  • Let people take action via a link to an e-newsletter, Facebook group, or even a campaign preview link.
  • Show the launch date if you have it (but only if you’re 100% sure you’re launching on that day).
  • When the campaign goes live, make sure to update the links so they go directly to your project page.

Here are also some purely theoretical ideas for pre-launch ads that you might toy around with:

  • Convey the level of interest. I think it’s human nature to be more curious about things that lots of other people are excited for. With preview videos, you can see the viewer count, but that isn’t possible on ads. So I’m thinking it might be interesting if the ad itself displays a number that conveys the level of interest (quantitatively).
  • Put a “remind me” button on the ad. Any Kickstarter backer is familiar with that button. It’s a nice way of communicating, “If you click on this ads, there will be a notification link on the other side.”

Last, please remember the immortal words of Chad Krizan, BoardGameGeek advertising manager: Advertising will not save a failing campaign. That is, no matter how effective your advertising and paid previews, if your presentation sucks, people aren’t going to back the project.

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What are your thoughts on pre-launch ads and previews? What are some techniques you’ve seen that have been particularly effective?

Also read:

32 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #245: Should You Advertise and Preview Pre-Launch?

  1. Jamey, you would agree that repeat exposure is critical to a campaign’s success. Even looking at Charterstone (not a KS project) you had a teaser image set up long before anyone knew much of anything about the project. Previews serve as this exposure as you say. I am also quickly realizing that for new creators there is no substitute for in person demos to secure that foothold of initial bump in the lead of the campaign. Rahdo does good work for preview content converting backers, but a sure bet on a sale is even more airtight if that customer has played a prototype. I wonder if you thought about the cross section of games which have only done premarketing via third party hype versus those who have done that and had an organic groundswell to those who have only done organic groundswell.

    1. “I wonder if you thought about the cross section of games which have only done premarketing via third party hype versus those who have done that and had an organic groundswell to those who have only done organic groundswell.”

      I’m not sure what your question is. Could you rephrase?

  2. … you rang?

    As someone who’s helped advertise hundreds of Kickstarters at this point, my advice pretty much echoes Jamey’s.

    I still am unconvinced at pre-release paid advertising being effective, but there are a couple keys if you want it to have a chance at effectiveness.

    1) It requires a significant budget. For BGG ads, $100 isn’t going to cut it to get any significant buzz going. Remember, for BGG at least, we have 4.2 million users on the site per month, so you’re putting your ads into a very large pool.

    You’re going to have to stuff $1,000+ worth of ads into one week to get a significant amount of exposure. During the KS, low saturation is fine, as ads are just guiding people to your project and trying to convert them into a sale. However, pre-KS, if you’re trying to build hype and create day 1 backers, you’re going to have to spend.

    2) Lead people to something actionable. For most, this is going to be a mailing list sign-up. Most companies can’t afford a sustained high-dollar ad spend, so if you’re going to spend pre-KS, at least capture their information some how so you can get a hold of them once you launch. This actionable item should be the single most prominent component of the page you lead people to.

    Overall, I really don’t think paid advertising is the best way to generate buzz, but if you do, it’s going to significantly cost for a chance at desired results. I just really don’t like advising this strategy unless you’re made of money, as many publishers don’t even know if they have something people are going to want to buy at this stage. It’s fine if you’re a well-established publisher, as you then have the money to spend, and have a fan base and track record that gives you good assurance of success. It’s a big risk for most, though.

  3. Hi Jamey, I am a little surprised to know your thoughts. My thoughts for the necessary of ads and pre-preview before launch are:
    1. There’re many new games to have campaigns every year. It’s hard to tell and find the one you are really interested in for a backer. In the other hand, it’s hard for a publisher to standout among so many games. You know, so many wonderful games are not known by people not because they are not good games, but it’s because they are not known by people.
    2. From the nature of human being, we like talking things we have great interest together. When more and more people talk the same games together, the group can attract fans automatically.
    3. A good ad can lead people to learn about games and then to buy and play games. Besides geeks, there’re many more people want to play games. But they do not know how to choose a game. They may ask these questions: Is it hard to play? Is there video or more info. I can refer to? What do people say about the game? ….

    I found something in common when I followed some projects. Successfully funded games got 70-80% backers in one week at the beginning. Then the number of the backers daily will be less and less with the day going. However, for some games, there may be a peak for the number after one week. Why do most backers come as soon as the game launched? Because they knew about the campaign in advance.

    Surely the ad. should be planned well and can arouse the interest among people. This is very important.

  4. Annie: I think you make some great points here. I totally agree that having a crowd of excited people about the project before launch is important for the success of the project. I just think that pre-launch ads and previews are only powerful enough to make a small contribution to those early backers, and I think some creators might see them as a shortcut instead of doing all the other things that have a better chance of solifying early backers (be involved in the gaming community, creating relationships, generating invaluable content, etc). So I think they they can be a part of the equation, but I’d caution creators to lean too heavily on them, as I think they’ll be disappointed by the results.

  5. We saved all of our (very limited) advertising budget for the first three days and the last week via Facebook ads and RPGGeek (Hi Chad!) As first-time publishers I knew we’d have to rely on word-of-mouth from friends and family since, although we launched our webpage and social media a month before the campaign, we had no track record of which to speak, and the buzz we got from our friends and family (as well as Kickstarter itself) took us over that initial hump.

    Having done advertisements for other businesses I’m a part of via Facebook, I can confirm that “buzz” (E.G. ads for likes, impressions, etc) is helpful but leads to a very low conversion rate if there’s not an immediate way to turn it into something actionable.

  6. As a consumer, I rarley pay attention to paid ads. Not just on BGG or Facebook, but all websites. They best way to get my attention is me signing up for a newsletter and then being provided updates on design process, ks preview, and then finally launch.

    I am constantly looking for things, so I will find my way to games this way. For others that don’t put in the effort to research new and upcoming games, ads may or may not be helpful.

    This goes beyond the Internet. So easy to avoid commercials on tv with eggs and streaming services. The lone exception is live sporting events.

  7. Hi Jamey,

    A good reason for low-budget pre-launch advertising is A/B testing to see which ads resonate more with people. Which ad has better graphics and slogans. Then when the main event kicks off you know which ad to plow money into.

    The “remind me” button on the ad is a great idea. Especially for A/B testing. I wonder would it increase or decrease the click rate. But as you said, having a notification system on the other side, regardless of the ad, is a must so you can get a bit more value for your A/B testing spend, and it helps the interested individuals too.

    What do you mean by the ad displaying a number that conveys the level of interest? Can you give a real or made-up example?

    P.S.
    Typo Alert: “In this [the] past I thought this was a bad idea…”

    1. That’s a great point about A/B testing while the stakes aren’t as high!

      An example of conveying the level of interest would be to say something like, “Voted #5 on BGG’s Most Anticipated Strategy Game of 2018 List!” or “100k Pageviews on BGG”.

      1. I get it now, thanks. Probably most first time kickstarter creators could list “5 facebook likes”, “Wishlisted 12 times on BGG” :) Joke. Yes, if the numbers are there, great point.

      2. Hi Gerald and Jamey, I do like this idea. It’s good to ask these questions before moving on. Why do we do this? What do we want from this campaign? And how should we do?

  8. I don’t pay attention to adds. I donate to BGG so I can turn them off, and because they do a great job and provide a resource and community.

    Maybe I am missing it, but I don’t see any talk of the option to provide preview links to the KS page from backers. Granted, if the page is not ready, it can deter people. On the other hand, it also gives potential backers an option to sign up for notification upon release.

    Furthermore, it gives backers the chance to highlight issues before the campaign and correcting mistakes etc.

    1. Nicolai: Sure, that’s the second bullet point under “How to Advertise and Preview Pre-Launch”:

      “Let people take action via a link to an e-newsletter, Facebook group, or even a campaign preview link.”

  9. As a consumer I pay very little attention to ads. I do however pay a lot of attention to posts on Kickstarter specific Facebook pages or Instagram pages that preview games that will be on Kickstarter. This is especially true if the game is posted multiple times, but not excessively in the weeks before the campaign. I normally will not focus on a game the first time I see it, unless the mechanics stick out or the aesthetics catch my eye. If I see it multiple times, it reminds me to check the page out. I tend to scroll over any ads though, and when possible pay to avoid ads.

  10. Also studied this extensively, together with Ray Wehrs of Calliope Games. We can’t find any definitive conclusions either, conclude that well used it does… help.
    I agree that max 1-week before is right.
    You should have enough content to be worth looking at when I click.
    You should welcome feedback so people get invested when they arrive.

    Here’s our advertising data and stats for those interested. http://www.gatekeepergaming.com/article-17-advertising-tips-stats

  11. I was JUST wrestling with this question and came here to look for advice, and blam!

    I have a website made that has an email signup and a pre-launch contest to win a free copy and also some signed art (for signing up, and then again for getting referrals). I’m getting a “steady trickle” just from my normal game-related posting activity. I’m having some reviewers look at the game pre-KS, and I was debating if I should have a fraction of them hit prior to the KS launch.

    My instinct was yes, and I think you’re saying the same here.. so now if it doesn’t work out, I can just blame you! Sweet. But also, thanks for this fantastic site. There is SO much to think about in kick-starting!

      1. I did already read that ;). But I don’t think it applies here.

        This is a contest.. I guess I should’ve just said “win a copy of the game” without the word “free”. I’m only giving away at most two copies, and the drawing will be done when the KS launches (so nobody will feel they need to wait to see if they won before buying).

        However, if I’m missing something important, please tell me!

        1. Well, the crux of my theory of free is that (a) if you set the precedent of free, people will be less likely to pay for it and (b) if you’re offering something for free, you’re attracting people who are less likely to pay for it. For e-newsletters this isn’t a big problem, but on places like Facebook where your posts will only reach a certain percentage of the people in the group/page, I want it highly concentrated with people who are genuinely interested in the content, not just there for the chance of winning something.

          1. Ah, I see what you mean. I think my advertising (such as it is) is targeted enough that there’s a lot of overlap between “people who want something for free” and “people who actually might contribute to the KS to get a copy, especially if I email them with updates a few times before the KS”.

            At least I hope that’s the case. the conversion rate from email to KS purchases will show whether or not it’s correct. I don’t think there’s too much of a gamble for me if I’m wrong, unless I over-commit to something based on what looks like a lot of email signups.

            Thanks so much for your time!

          2. Thanks Jamey. I got benefit from your conversation with Jason. I just read your article on free and the side effects. It makes perfect sense and it should terrify a creator. If it doesn’t then maybe loss aversion is clouding their judgement. The subconscious says if I believe you than it means I’ve wasted my time.

            I have win a free game on my we site’s mailing list text. Luckily I did not promote it. I’m definitely removing it.

            Amazing how free is so powerful that 1 free product can reduce sales of a second premium product.

    1. I changed my view because of your experience with free Scythe keys + Dan Ariely study + I’ve seen free soap but never a free Lexus.
      Thanks for bringing it to the forefront of my attention. It’s a double edged sword.

      It’s all changed on my website now. I replaced the bit about win a free game with “get little freebies”. I’m thinking they could be things like desktop background images, or a PnP card, or win an illustration of yourself, and so on. But not the premium product or a game.

      What about releasing the rule book early? Is that a form of preview? With your next game are you going to release the rule book 2 months before the game? I don’t see a reason not to.

      P.S. I’ve searched through the Kickstarter articles list but I can’t find anything about rule books :)

      1. Actually I will also get rid of that “little freebies” and change it to “perks” to fully cut away the free. “Free” is as difficult to get away from as the Greek mythology Sirens.

      2. That’s a good combination of reasons. :)

        I agree that releasing the rulebook is a nice way to build buzz and help people get invested in the game, especially if they have a built-in way of offering feedback.

      3. ” I’ve seen free soap but never a free Lexus.”

        Well, free soap is giving you a commodity item you might reasonably be expected to add to your regular purchase list if you like it. A Lexus is a one-time purchase, and giving one away would have no real value to the dealership.

        That said, people who don’t SELL cars do give them away for free as prizes… There’s a difference between giving away your product (which tends to devalue it) and giving away something that isn’t your product (which might get entries from people who have little future value to your business, but at least don’t damage your product’s value)

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