For this case study, we’re diving into the Merge Mansion phenomenon. You’ve surely seen the video ads around, with a cryptic grandmother with hidden secrets, a big mysterious mansion. We’re taking a look at their video ads and visual assets to see why they worked so well!
About Merge Mansion
Merge Mansion is casual puzzle game with a merge mechanic created by Metacore Games, a Helsinki-based game studio. It was launched in 2020 however the game started to gain popularity in 2021. It has been downloaded over 9 million times in total.
As with every merge game, the goal is to combine similar objects to create an upgraded item. This will allow the player to redecorate a mansion and forward the game’s narrative meta-layer.
Merge Mansion’s meta layer is focused on uncovering the truth behind the secrets held by the main character’s grandmother.
Although Maddie is the main character of the game, Merge Mansion’s storylines both in the game and in the ads are centered around the grandma and all the shocking secrets she’s hiding.
Their app stores visual assets
Their App Store and Play Store visual assets are identical, for both the screenshots and the preview video. They also did not create device-specific designs, the devices you can see in their screenshots are neutral, they represent neither an Android phone nor an iPhone.
They’ve also decided to alternate between two colors: blue and yellow, which are the colors of the clothes of both main characters. It allows you to really separate each screenshot from the other and the contrast between the two colors is strong enough to drive attention.
The first screenshot is a clear call back to both the current icon and the famous video ads, that frame of the grandma inside the police car has been talked about a lot (especially on social media). It will be a good reminder for users that land on the listing page through a UA campaign.
Each screenshot focuses on a side of the game while adding a bit of the drama that works so well in the video ads. But they all touch down on the mystery aspect of the storyline, with what’s grandma hiding? or the use of words like unlock or reveal. They all point towards solving mysteries, and when the characters appear in the screenshots, they talk about secrets.
The actual gameplay takes a step back on these visuals, in the first four screenshots, the one that will be visible without scrolling the gallery, you do not see the merge mechanic of the game.
The preview video, the same for both app stores, is just screen recordings of actual gameplay (most likely to comply with the App Store guidelines), the drama they infuse their UA campaigns with is absent, and the grandma makes a quick appearance, although it is to share a memory. No mentions of the deep secrets that have resulted in her being taken away in a police car in one of the video ads (and in the icon).
Last but not least, the game’s icon is a reminder of Merge Mansion’s UA campaign. Unlike the screenshots and preview video, it really plays on the drama that’s been shown in the video ads for the game.
The mysteries surrounding the grandma are the most important part of the video ads, she’s the one driving the installs so it makes sense to have her so prominent in the icon.
Merge Mansion’s marketing thrives on chaos and grandma’s secrets
Merge Mansion’s marketing strategy gave the game a place in the spotlight. They went all in on the storytelling, solely playing on the meta layer of their game, instead of relying on gameplay. Truth be told, it is often tricky to advertise puzzle games solely on gameplay, so it’s a good call to rely on a meta layer infused with storylines and characters.
The first batch of video ads that encountered a certain success was a series of 3D ads centered around the main character and her grandma. They were loosely based on the meta-layer of the game. In Merge Mansion, Maddie inherits a mansion from her grandmother, one she has to renovate while uncovering some secrets from said grandma, Ursula.
The video ads amp up the drama and the mysteries around Maddie and the grandma.
In this video, a very sad Maddie (as shown by the tear tracks from her running mascara) has apparently been dumped at the altar. But the mystery only grows bigger when we find out that earlier that day, the grandma presented the groom with mysterious information that led to his disappearance (either from running away or from the house fire alluded to).
This video ad shows Maddie running inside a house on fire, presumably hers, only to find out her grandmother is recovering mysterious things from a safe hidden behind a painting.
The only common thread is that none of the mysteries are ever solved. Viewers are left trying to figure out what actually happened and sprouting theories and editing videos one after the other to watch the complete lore of the game.
But Metacore didn’t stop there, they also had a very successful series of live-action video ads, with none other than Kathy Bates to play the mysterious grandmother Ursula, which sprouted a lot of reactions on Twitter.
And they keep asking for more of it.
Playing up their community on social media
The game’s marketing extends to social media, although the game is mostly present on Instagram there’s a lot of talk about it on other platforms such as Twitter or YouTube. Merge Mansion reached 71k followers on Instagram, a couple of hundred thousand behind other big games such as Lily’s Garden or Family Island, still, it’s quite a feat.
Twitter is growing the game’s visibility, with people chatting about the ads and speculating over the secrets. People have even started creating fan content around the game, proof of their investment in the product.
People have built the game’s mansion in The Sims, or even the two main characters: Maddie and Ursula.
The focus on mystery was a winning bet for Metacore, it keeps people guessing, and that keeps them invested.
All the plot twists in the video ads draw a very mysterious picture, and the cliffhangers ensure that the audience will come back. Even the CTA in video ads are focused on mystery solving.
The game’s video ads create conversations around its visual assets, driving up the interest in the game itself. Merge Mansion has even been turned into a meme, it’s part of the internet vernacular. People know about it. If you mention “the game ad with the grandma”, people will automatically think of Merge Mansion.
All this talk around the game’s ads is great for brand recall, and this focus on storytelling is driving up conversions.
Why does it work so well?
People are now focused on the lore developed in the ads, they’re attracted to the mysteries, they want to solve them and not having the solution keeps them wondering. Each new ad, whether in 3D or live-action adds a little bit of mystery around the game and keeps people guessing.
Despite no words being uttered in the 3D ads, people stay riveted. Dialogues are minimal in live-action ads, the emphasis is often on the dramatic reactions because this is all about the mystery, to make the viewers want to solve it.
The fact that all video ads are seemingly connected, makes it seem like one unique big storyline. One you may fully understand if you watch all the video content.
Staging characters helps the audience connect with the content, the drama makes the stakes high. In 15 or 30 seconds, Merge Mansion creates several cliffhangers and uses tension as a storytelling tool to keep the viewer focused. Every new information shown on the screen is uncovering a new twist or a new secret.
It drives conversation, which drives a sense of community, people interact and it keeps them hooked on news of the game. And clearly, it works.
Storytelling is becoming bigger and bigger in mobile game advertising, it gives more freedom to marketers, and creates stimulating and enticing content for users. We may never find out Ursula’s secret, but 9 million players were ready to try.