17 August 2020 | 7 Comments
Six years ago (2014), I wrote a post about my thoughts on campaign boosting services. At the time, if you launched a Kickstarter campaign, your KS inbox was almost instantly filled with messages from companies and people offering to share your project with thousands of people for a fee. That’s not my type of advertising, so I never used them.
However, I continue to see these companies posting about campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, and as a backer (not a creator), I must admit that sometimes I appreciate the ads. They’re highly targeted, and they feature projects I’m often curious about and may not otherwise have heard of.
So when creator and writer Dan Ackerman reached out to me with some fairly recent experiences with these services and other types of advertising, I invited him to share his thoughts and data in a guest post. He mostly focuses on paid advertising, not boosting, though this is the same data you’d want to dig into if you’re paying someone to advertise for you. Thanks Dan!
As a reporter, I’m used to getting pitched. Press releases show up in my email inbox day and night. So I wasn’t surprised to find my email inbox similarly flooded when I launched my first board game project on Kickstarter last year.
Suddenly everyone was a marketing expert or crowdfunding guru, and they all had advice for me. For a price, of course. A small amount of that advice was useful, even insightful. Much of it was trying to convince me to buy into various crowdfunding promotional services, from contest farms to mailing lists of crowdfunding fans to influencer promos. Fortunately, it wasn’t all that. There were also a handful of invitations from podcasts and websites to interview me about my game.
Being new to this — despite being a New-York-Times-reviewed author, regular TV news talking head, and established tech and games journalist — I felt I needed to explore as many avenues to success as possible.
The good news: I kept an open mind, pivoted where I needed to, but also trusted my instincts and stuck to my guns where I needed to. I never forgot that my target audience was gamers, not influencers, other game designers, or Facebook page admins. My game–a small project in the big scheme of things–was successfully funded, brought in significant extra funds through its pledge manager, and just finished shipping to backers.
The bad news: As a seasoned journalist, creator and tech/video game insider, I saw things that would make your head spin. Marketers who couldn’t write a simple introductory email; rate cards that might as well have been scribbled on the back of a Five Guys napkin. Most distressingly, in many places I looked there was a complete lack of accountability and performance metrics.
At the end of the process, my takeaway was this: Even if your Kickstarter game successfully funds, if you don’t know what questions to ask, a lot of your project budget is in danger of going down a black hole — from which no information (like usable metrics) can ever escape. Here are a few things I learned throughout the process.
Display ads still rule — they just don’t work
Almost every tabletop website wants to help you promote your game. The problem is, most of them seem stuck in the past, aggressively pushing display ads as their main product.
There’s a reason nearly every digital content player in every industry is pivoting away from display ads (banners, boxes, etc) and towards branded content (promotional elements tightly integrated with editorial content) and affiliate commerce.
Display ads just don’t work like they used to. Any time I tried an old-fashioned banner display ad, the results were disappointing. Here’s why display/banner ads are on their way out:
- Advertisers don’t want to buy them. And if they do, they want to buy them in bulk, at cut-rate prices from ad networks, not overpriced impressions directly from a single web publication.
- Ad blockers routinely remove these ads, so your most savvy audience members will never see most of them. About one-third of websurfers use an ad blocker today, and that number is growing.
- Even without ad blockers, online consumers have trained themselves to ignore display ads. Banners were big 10, 20 years ago. We spent time carefully crafting them for maximum impact. It was still a creative endeavor. Today it’s a race for the bottom, all about clickbait for car insurance.
Be clear on what marketing metric you’re buying
I lost count of how many editorial or semi-editorial gaming websites of FB groups offered me advertising packages where my banner or ad would be up for five days, one week, etc. Or sharing a top spot with X number of other ads, all for a flat fee.
But how many times would my message be seen in a scenario like that? No one could say. If they can’t define what you’re exactly buying, don’t buy it.
Still, if you’re buying display ad space, the most basic information you need is the CPM of your ad. CPM is the cost per 1,000 impressions. Don’t tell me my display ad is going to own or share a space on a website for X days. Tell me how many impressions (views of the page with my message on it) I can expect and what the precise cost will be.
Credit to the popular BoardGameGeek website for selling CPM ads with up-front data and pricing (and for having one of the only professional-looking media kits and rate cards I encountered). That said, the site does so much pageview traffic that you really need to invest heavily to break through and have your ad appear often enough to make an impact. Even then, all the issues around traditional display ads remain.
|467525||1139||$0.97 / $2.35||0.24%|
Spoiler alert: Facebook got me a much lower cost-per-click with a better-tracked, more responsive audience.
BGG offered some decent reporting, but not in real time. And it couldn’t tell me, for example, the frequency of ads — which is how often the same unique visitor saw one of my ads. The classic marketing ‘rule of 7’ says you need at least seven brand interactions before a consumer will buy your product.
For my small project, I tried a small buy on BGG (too small, really). The click through ratio (CTR) was low for such a specialized site, but in the end, the real CPM I paid, and the cost-per-click (CPC) that worked out to, were reasonable in the big scheme of things.
For context, if I’m advertising high-end computer networking equipment on a well-known online publication for IT professionals, there’s a pretty clear case to be made that I’m putting my premium product in front of very likely purchasers. I might pay a $50 or more CPM for that. Run-of-the-mill ads on run-of-the-mill sites can have CPMs under $1. A specialized audience with a documented history of engagement will always cost more.
Facebook: Lean into algorithms
A huge part of the game community is on FB, and actively engaged. But more importantly, all those horror stories you hear about how effective Facebook is at tracking and targeting are true.
This isn’t new information, but the key is to target at your preferred age range and location, and include some combination of “board games” + “kickstarter” as your must-have terms, plus whatever else you want to experiment with. (Frankly, I picked up a lot of great targeting tips in other articles here on stonemaiergames.com) Also useful: target both by location and interest any trade shows or conventions you plan on attending — you know, when we have those again.
One of things that drives so many marketing dollars in this space towards Facebook is the deep metrics and reporting tools. Google Ads offers similar tools, but ad-blocking and competition for top terms have made that a less useful tool overall.
For Techlandia, I created multiple ads to try different approaches. There was traditional close-up game photography with gameplay details; a story-telling series of images to emphasize the writing and humor with some narrative hints; a large single-image, somewhat esoteric — I’d call this a branding teaser. Earlier, I had run a Facebook-recommended animated slideshow based on my own images.
|Traditional component show-off/features||$0.35||$4.53||1.29%|
The raw CPM is on the high side, but all of these Facebook ads did decently, and anytime your clickthrough ratio is over 2%, you’ve doing ok. I’ll pay $0.35 per click all day long for semi-qualified leads — which is really the Facebook business model. Here’s a link to the image from the single-image ad that had over a 3% CTR. It’s more of a branding exercise than a call-to-action, so even though it performed the best in some metrics, it’s more of a long-term play.
And don’t get too attached to your ad ideas. Facebook will cut off false starts before they have a chance to overstay their welcome. If your ad is deemed to be low-quality by the Facebook ad algorithms or had a poor engagement rate, FB won’t aggressively serve it. After all, they’re not making money from it, you’re not getting what you need from it, and you’re wasting real estate on the site.
The algorithm is cold, uncaring and ruthlessly efficient. And it’s usually right. ;)
I’d love to learn more about your experiences with advertising and campaign boosting services over the last year or so–feel free to share in the comments below!
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