In the world of performance user acquisition (UA) for games, where does television spend fit? Is it useless? Does it drive installs? Awareness? Lower your cost per install (CPI)? While I was at FoxNext on Marvel Strike Force, we invested in TV for that game’s launch. About eight months in, my boss Rick Phillips said, “Is it doing anything for us?” So we did some research to try to answer that question. If you’re wondering whether TV spend is right for your game, read on below as I unpack my learnings.

Strong Correlation To App Store Search Volume

Whether TV fits in user acquisition (UA) depends on your goal. If performance is a particular KPI, like revenue generation, profit, installs or downloads, then my experience has been not so much. TV is not effective at those—at least not in a way that is clearly attributable. Our research showed that there was no way to attribute those other more typical return on investment (ROI)-driven KPIs—cost per install (CPI) or direct installs attributed by a spend in marketing. If your goal is to drive brand awareness or app store traffic, which is probably less ROI as a goal, then the answer is maybe, and sometimes.

In the case of Marvel Strike Force, the only true correlated lift in our TV spend was driving traffic to our App Store page. We could definitely see that when TV was running, the traffic that went to our iTunes and Google Play stores increased.

Since you can’t actually see the customer journey of exactly what they did and what steps they took, the intuition we have is: You’ve got a phone while you’re on your couch AND  you see a TV ad, so you go on to the App Store. You read about the game. Maybe you install it, maybe you don’t. Most people don’t— at least not on the very first impression. But that is a top funnel action, meaning this is the first impression a gamer has of your game and most likely they will need more convincing before installing. So is a TV commercial effective at driving other results? 

No Correlation To Lowering CPI Or Organic Installs

In Marvel Strike Force’s instance, there was absolutely no evidence that TV affected CPI. In fact, there were many other highly effective ways our UA team could change the CPI. Most of those were directly able to be manipulated by the UA teams themselves. For example, the bid prices they set, the creative they used in their UA campaigns and the timing or the targeting of those parameters. Those were way more effective ways than TV to change a CPI.

But CPI is not the most important KPI for UA. It’s just a factor in an equation. It doesn’t show that you acquired anyone profitably. Just because you can acquire a player for one dollar doesn’t mean you’re making money off that player. CPI is one of the levers that UA teams can use to maximize the most important factor, which is profitability, or return on advertising spend (ROAS).

While TV advertising doesn’t have a positive impact on CPI, it can help boost brand awareness.

Slight Correlation To Brand Awareness

We did find that TV advertising can help make people aware of your game. Yet it’s still hard to attribute. The only real way you can do that is through surveys, or have data scientists run linear regression modeling to prove some amount of correlation to dollar spend versus brand awareness lift.

What was interesting for Marvel Strike Force was that brand awareness was not a KPI we needed help with. The Marvel licence itself came with built in brand awareness so using TV to lift awareness was a meaningless spend. For a new IP that’s launching who doesn’t start off with the brand awareness equity that Marvel has built, if the marketing team decides to chase awareness as the most important KPI to optimize against, then TV could be in the consideration mix because it can and does have the ability to drive awareness around a particular brand or an IP.

Awareness is just a start though. There needs to be a lot of other work, tactics and communication channels to follow up with awareness as a player “considers” your game. Just because somebody knows you exist doesn’t mean that they’re going to look for more information about you, that they’re going to ask their friends about you, become a player of your game or spend money in your game. Those are way further down the list. So you better have all the other tactics ready, so that once you make somebody aware, there’s a natural path that they can take to find out more information about your game. But, TV isn’t the only way to drive awareness.

Alternatives To TV

From my experience, there are other more organic and modern ways to drive awareness, whether that is through social media, original content creation or working with influencers. Having relations with people who are celebrities on channels where viewers are interested in the type of game you would be making—whether that’s a YouTuber, a Twitch streamer, a very influential Twitter person, and now, TikTok celebrities. Understand who their audiences are. If you’re a new IP and your owned channels don’t have a huge following, invest heavily in earned media (EMV) opportunities.

One thing to note is it’s a much more cumbersome process to try to do variant testing with TV spots than with digital ads. Variant testing with TV ads would require way more time and money, whereas we can do multi-variant testing in digital spaces in days and for a fraction of the cost, and have full control over the process.

There are also other ways to drive awareness generation through PR or editorial outreach. Take advantage of editorial outlets and websites. These are all lower cost and lower risk, but maybe not as high a volume in impression generation as you can get on TV. I would exhaust those first before you invest in TV. 

When TV Investment Makes Sense

It depends on your budget and your aspirations for the game. If it’s a giant blockbuster triple-A console game, say the Cyberpunk 2077 holiday release, and you’ve checked off the more cost-effective ways to generate awareness, and you still have a massive budget left, then yes, TV could still be a really important way—especially during launch when you try to maximize impression generation.

For Marvel Strike Force, the end result was that we didn’t need TV for brand awareness because it didn’t help any of our down funnel acquisition metrics. Through this research, we decided to ax the TV campaign. We stopped spending money on TV because we didn’t need it for brand awareness. It wasn’t helping with CPI, and it wasn’t doing anything to organic installs. Yes, it drove traffic to our App Store page, but there are lots of other ways we could drive people to our page, and probably have more qualified people that were driving through that traffic.

For a known IP, sequel IP or something that doesn’t suffer from lack of brand awareness, it would be difficult to justify a big TV campaign. But for a triple-A big-budget, new IP that has backing from a big company, that needs to saturate the market in a short amount of time with impressions to make it known, TV could still work.