Brian Bowman
Feb 10, 2020

Why player profiles are key to winning over gamers with Facebook ads

Instead of focusing creative testing on elements to create an ad with the largest appeal, adjust video ads based on what motivates different users.

Why player profiles are key to winning over gamers with Facebook ads

Why do people play mobile games? What motivates them to choose one app over another, or to click on one ad over another?

The answer lies in a concept called 'horizontal segmentation'. It’s an idea that remade the food industry a few decades ago and has remade several other industries since then. We believe it’s about to remake user acquisition and Facebook ads, too.

Pasta sauce, pickles, and Howard Moskowitz

The first champion of horizontal segmentation in consumer marketing was Howard Moskowitz. Moskowitz, a food researcher and psychophysicist, had been asked to find the perfect sweetness level for a new type of Pepsi. After he dug into the problem, Moskowitz discovered there was no perfect level of sweetness for the new type of Pepsi. There were only perfect levels of sweetness.

Or, as Malcolm Gladwell explains this in his TEDTalk on the subject, there was no perfect Pepsi—there were only perfect Pepsis.

The revolution of horizontal segmentation didn’t take off until Prego, a pasta sauce company, hired Moskowitz. He went out and did a ton of research about how people felt about pasta sauce. He returned with not the perfect pasta sauce, but with the perfect pasta sauces.

Most famously, Moskowitz returned with a recommendation to make chunky pasta sauce. Prego then launched a line of chunky pasta sauce and went on to sell $600 million of it over the next few years.

Horizontal segmentation for Facebook user acquisition

So, what does all this sauce talk have to do with user acquisition? Everything, actually. Because in essence, Moskowitz had unearthed the following ideas:

  • People are not all the same.
  • While people are not all the same, if you study them in large groups you will find they tend to cluster around a certain set of profiles or preferences. Personas, if you will.
  • With enough data and data analysis, these preference clusters can be found.
  • If you develop products expressly tailored for each of these preference clusters, you can sell more stuff. A lot more stuff.

Bringing it into the context of Facebook and Google user acquisition:

  • There is no perfect game and no perfect way to advertise or marketing for that game, either.
  • But there are perfect games. There are perfect ads.
  • Finding the persona clusters or player profiles in gaming for these games and ads (and more specifically, finding the motivations of these persona clusters) will let us create ads that make people dramatically happier and take the action we want them to take (click, download, purchase, or view ads).

This is clearly an evolution—if not a revolution—in how most UA and design teams have been doing creative for user acquisition.

We’ve all been doing reasonably well with creative testing by largely focusing on the creative elements of ads that have the largest appeal. But most UA and design teams have been approaching their advertising and creative strategy with the assumption that there was a single perfect game, a single perfect app, a single perfect ad.

What if that’s not so? What if there are only perfect apps, perfect games, perfect ads?

What if we could talk to people about what motivates them to play the game?

What if we could take a video ad and then adjust the copy or the call to action based on what motivates different users to want to play?

By tailoring messages according to what those player profiles will most respond to, could we increase ROAS by 20% or 30%? Or could we expand the game into a whole new audience segment?

Game theory and user behavior models

There are already quite a few detailed studies about different gaming profiles and user personas, and what motivates people to play games.

Look at “Fogg’s Behavior Model,” or Scott Rigby’s Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS) model. Or you can view your users through five factor model that Paula Neves breaks out in her article looking at player motivation models:

  • Openness to experience: If one is inventive and curious or consistent and cautious.
  • Conscientiousness: If one is efficient and organized or easy going and careless.
  • Extraversion: If one is outgoing and energetic or timid and reserved.
  • Agreeableness: If one is friendly and compassionate or challenging and detached.
  • Neuroticism: If one is sensitive and nervous or secure and confident.

As Neves writes, "the five traits, under the acronym OCEAN, are treated on a spectrum where you can be open or closed to experience, conscientious or unconscientious and so on.”

But Bartle’s Player Types may be the model that the gaming industry embraces the most:

Image Credit: 2014

As a UA manager or designer, you can start seeing your user base through any of these different models and start customizing your advertising accordingly:


Examples of player profiles

Cutting-edge UA and design teams are already exploring these different models and applying them to their user base. Typically, these models are being generated in marketing departments through the use of user surveys.

So, here’s what a player profile might look like:

Note that while the demographic info is included, what will really shape the creative is in the left column. User motivations are the driver.

So, we can take the motivations from these different player clusters and look at what’s unique about them. We can also see which other titles they’re playing. This helps you come up with new creative ideas and a new list of competitors, which in turn lets you do better competitive analyses.

Armed with this information, almost any designer would immediately understand that they need to create different ads for these different player segments. Even if the ads are ultimately meant to sell the same game to all the different profiles, ads tailored to each profile are going to perform dramatically better than one ad designed to try to please them all.

Even being able to swap out different bullet points for each player persona could result in tremendous improvements to ROAS.

Media buying for player profiles

There are also media buying implications to a player-profile methodology. Each of the player profiles above tends to favor somewhat different websites, apps, and even YouTube channels. If a user-acquisition manager wanted to squeeze every possible drop of ROAS from an audience, they would segment that audience based on different player profiles.

If you’re acquainted with Facebook’s new structure for scale recommendations, you may have frowned a bit at that last suggestion. Per the Structure for Scale recommendations, Facebook would rather we not get too granular with audience targeting, because the smaller a dataset we’re using for our ads, the less effective the algorithm will be.

But that’s where the art of UA management intersects with the science of the ad tools we have now… it’s up to each UA manager to find the sweet spot between audience targeting and audience automation.

It will take some experimentation to figure out whether it’s appropriate to segment audiences for player profiles, or if it’s better to just make different ads for the different personas and to let the algorithm figure out optimal performance.

Player profiles as UA creative strategy 2.0

For the past two years, we’ve watched Facebook and Google move towards fully automating UA advertising. And because the algorithms of those two ad platforms have been getting better and easier to use all the time, much of the qualitative side of UA management is now best done by machines.

Creative, however, is still best managed by humans. This includes all aspects of creative—creative development, creative strategy, and creative testing. Creative is our best competitive advantage now that the ad platforms have removed the competitive advantage third-party adtech used to deliver.

But now, with player profile theory, there’s a whole new dimension to creative. It takes everything to another level.

Once we can see into what’s motivating people to play games, we’ve discovered a whole new level of creative theory. It makes getting overly focused on button colors look downright shallow.

All the creative elements we’ve been focused on up until now (colors, sounds, even ad copy) need to be realigned to serve these customer motivations.

With player profiles theory and player motivations, we have crossed into creative strategy 2.0.

Brian Bowman is CEO of

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