How did this mobile game come to dominate every corner of advertising?
I first noticed Raid: Shadow Legends being pitched by Youtubers. Particularly ones who may have struggled to get ads from bigger, more ‘wholesome’ companies due to either content or subscriber demographic mismatches. Raid: Shadow Legends swooped in and snatched up all of these smaller channels who wanted ad reads but couldn’t get them. They appeared on all sorts of channels, from people recording histories of the internet as they happen to gamers who critique speedrun techniques.
The Ads Themselves
Everywhere else, the Raid ads were pretty standard mobile-game ads. Plain. Green, orange, and black dominate the background colors. An attractive cartoon woman in armour with a determined look on her face sits in the middle of a landscape. Raid: Shadow Legends doesn’t stand out in stationary website ads.
Where it stands out is those Youtube ads. Youtube ad reads can vary. Sometimes the advertiser gives the Youtuber a script that they’re not allowed to deviate from, sometimes the ad only has talking points, and sometimes it’s a cross between the two. Certain products do a lot better when the spokesperson is able to add their own flair and personal experience to it – Meal delivery kits and sites like SkillShare especially benefit from the Youtuber expanding on their own experience.
Raid: Shadow Legends was so unique because the requirements for their ad reads were on the floor. “Say you get points if you join. Good. Now say our name. Good. Here’s your referral code.” And that’s basically it!
Advertisers also generally get to review the entire video before the ad-reader uploads it. It’s to be sure the ad is there and has all required parts, yes, but it’s also to review the video’s content. You wouldn’t find food appetizing after someone was experimenting with mold growth on different meats, for example, so this is critical. I’ve seen Raid: Shadow Legends on some videos that I’m certain nobody else would approve. I’ve seen skits built around the game that Hello Fresh would never touch. Coincidentally, those videos also have large young male audiences, exactly the demographic Raid is going for. By dropping their standards, they’ve accessed an entire wing of their target audience that other services refused to step foot in!
It’s easy to pick a precise target, with Google’s ad system. It’s entirely possible to narrow down your desired demographic too far. And just because Google helps you pick that demographic, it doesn’t mean it’s good. I could advertise to anyone specifically – I cannot sell my product if I advertise to the wrong anyone.
So, it’s often better to start broad and then go narrower based off of results that Google provides. However, depending on the product, you don’t have to narrow it down. You can advertise to basically everyone, via shotgun advertising: ‘we’ll put our ad everywhere, and we’ll get people that way’. Traditionally, it’s not super targeted. The odds are that someone who needs a razor is going to be listening to the radio at 8 AM on a Monday!
In this new age of marketing, it’s possible to be specifically un-specific. Raid: Shadow Legends is kind of doing that. Their target audience is anyone who’s interested in games, internet history, speedrunning, FC-ing Guitar Hero games, horror games, cheesy games, poorly made games, live streamers, skit actors, comedy channels, etc. etc. Basically, any channel that appeals to people between the age of 10 and 24 is getting an offer for a Raid ad-read. Any channel that’s below a certain subscriber count or doesn’t make the right kind of content for anyone else – guess what, Raid ad-read! Other advertisers didn’t bid so much for these spots because they likely thought it would be unprofitable. They’re probably right – it takes a special kind of product to appeal to people in these niches, so it was down to mobile games, VPNs, and ads for Dollar Shave Club.
Even then, when those other brands stepped in, they didn’t always pull the Raid strategy of approving anything. Dollar Shave Club had standards, as did many of the VPNs. Raid was getting the untouched zone of this chunk of digital land, and as such got exposure where others didn’t.
It left a lasting impression on the internet as a result. Is the game good? Is it well-made? Do people like it? I have no idea. When something becomes a meme, it’s ratings are unconnected to its quality.
Side Note: Bad Shotgun Marketing
Part of what made Raid: Shadow Legends work so well was that it gave creatives the option of riffing on the content of the ad. No two ads were alike! Some people played it straight, others did skits, others parodied the commercials of the ones doing skits… Raid really set itself up for success with that decision. I knew who was advertising what product, and I wasn’t bored by watching the same commercial six times in a day. Meanwhile, bad shotgun marketing over-exposes customers to the same ad over and over until they hate it. Particularly if they can’t skip! Over-bid for ad space and your target advert-watchers will hate you.
I remember getting ads for Love, Beauty, Planet over and over until I swore I’d never touch the product. The same goes for Grammarly, whose commercials appeared before every video I watched until I got ad blocker. It’s not limited to pre-roll ads, either: Hello Fresh straddled both methods for a while. I still remember the ad offering “Harissa Sweet Potatoes” because that was one of two ads that it showed me, over and over, all through the summer of 2019. It also owned all of the ad-reads for the segment of commentary Youtubers that I watched in the summer and fall of 2019, and that was significantly less annoying than those potato ads. Ad reads are a great way to mix up content if the advertiser doesn’t want to fund another ad shoot, but definitely wants to oversaturate their ad presence online.
This is great intel for Google Ad users – it is possible to outbid every competitor for a certain population until the bidder is the only pre-roll ad Youtube can show. Mix it up a little, at least. If it’s worth dropping the money to get every pre-roll ad, surely it’s worth investing in a couple of different videos so the end consumer isn’t incredibly annoyed.