Read time: 9 mins

In Memoriam: Quibi's Ad Creative Strategy

In perhaps the least surprising news of 2020, Quibi is shutting down. Everything that can be said about Quibi's product launch, marketing strategy, or management decisions has already been said in a thousand other articles. Instead, I thought it might be fun to look back on Quibi's creative ad concepts and explore what they did well, what they did poorly, and what - if anything - we can learn from it all.

What Quibi Did Right

I pulled 38 Quibi video ads from the past few months for this analysis (you can view the full playlist at the end of this article). I don't have access to Quibi's campaign data, so I can't make any claims about the actual performance of these creatives. Instead, I'm looking at general creative direction and relying on my experience and knowledge to determine what was likely a good or bad decision. Also, I'm strictly evaluating these ads from a mobile placement perspective.

Pseudo-3D Frames

One of my favorite tactics Quibi used in their video ads is what I'm calling the pseudo-3D frame. They produced several ads that open with a unique effect that creates a 3D illusion to catch the viewer's attention. Here's an example from one of their ads for The Fugitive:

I really like this effect because it's incredibly eye-catching, especially when paired with the right footage (like The Fugitive ad). The world of mobile consumer acquisition is highly competitive and requires aggressive creative strategies in order to stand out and catch the attention of potential users. Unfortunately, this pseudo-3D effect is about as creative as Quibi ads get; but it's still quite good. If I were to implement a similar effect, I would test iterations with thicker lines, longer screen time, and multiple instances within the same video. Overall, I think this tactic is definitely worth stealing.

Show Titles

Quibi consistently labels the shows previewed in each ad which is super helpful to anyone interested in watching more. Creatively speaking, these titles can be organized into 3 categories:
  • Lower thirds title near beginning of ad
  • Title near end of ad (either stylized or plain font)
  • Opening title card

I think it's clear that a large part of Quibi's marketing strategy was to focus on their original content, so it's smart to call out the title of each show featured in their ads. They were also smart enough to keep the title on screen for the majority of the ad. You never know where the viewer might be looking, and there's a good chance they're looking at the action rather than the small text in the corner. The last thing you want is a viewer who doesn't know what the product is.

Variety of Content

I have to commend Quibi for their overall variety of content - not to be confused with creativity, which I'll get into later. Nearly every ad I looked at features a different show. When you're a streaming platform trying to cater to as many different audience tastes as possible, it's definitely a good strategy to leverage various types of shows, genres, and celebrities. Here's a fairly standard example of a Quibi ad:

I'd love to know if they did any creative testing to learn which shows performed best with certain audiences. The number of variations and testing strategies that run through my head are nearly endless. For what it's worth, I can't conclusively confirm whether or not Quibi's growth team carried out any extensive creative testing, but I did find multiple different ads for most of the shows they were marketing so it's certainly possible.

What Quibi Did Wrong

Admit it, this is the section you're most curious about. Everyone loves a good train wreck, right? Well, I hate to disappoint, but Quibi didn't commit any earth-shattering "what were they thinking?!" creative mistakes (at least not that I saw). Most of their creative shortcomings can be chalked up to missed opportunities with a heaping side of risk aversion. But they're mistakes nonetheless, so they're still worth discussing.

Single Show Previews

Even though Quibi had a very strong variety of ad content, none of the ads I found featured more than one show at a time. This really causes each ad to feel like a trailer for a single show, rather than a promotion for a new streaming platform. This is really the biggest issue I have with Quibi's marketing strategy, as you'll see throughout the rest of this article. For contrast, take a look at this Hulu ad:

My first thought was to blame the lack of multi-content advertising on licensing issues, but as far as I can tell these shows were all original programming fully owned by Quibi. So, I have to assume this was an intentional decision. I think featuring multiple shows in one ad could have been a successful tactic for Quibi, especially since their competitors offer huge content libraries (or, ya know, YouTube exists). Consumers are spoiled by massive amounts of new content every day, so there's really no excuse for not leveraging this selling point.

Weak Branding

Earlier this year, Quibi made a branding attempt to define the word "Quibi" to mean "less than 10 minutes." Quibi produced several commercial spots around this concept, and it was clear they were hoping the phrase would catch on and go viral. Here is one of my favorite Quibi brand plays:

In comparison, however, their mobile ads really dropped the ball on branding. When you're going up against brands as strong as Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and more recently Disney+, you can't afford to skimp on branding. While the above commercial was cute, it just wasn't enough. First, I failed to find any examples of these commercials being repurposed as mobile ads. Second, most of the mobile ads I did find featured only subtle Quibi branding, as though they expected everyone to know what Quibi was already. I believe their failure to explain Quibi definitely hurt their mobile advertising strategy. And while this is only anecdotal, I've encountered multiple people who remember seeing an ad for a new Quibi show but still have no idea what Quibi actually was. Just look at some of these not-so-subtle Tubi ads in comparison:

Content Over Features

So I've established that Quibi was first and foremost a streaming platform. But after watching their mobile ads your reaction might sound something like this: "That show looks pretty cool! Where can I watch it? Is it on Netflix?" A primary goal of any mobile app campaign should be driving app installs and in-app actions, yet almost none of Quibi's ads actually highlighted the app or its features. For example, watch this ad for Reno 911!:

As a Reno 911! fan, this ad would certainly grab my attention. But considering this show is over a decade old, we can assume a lot of non-fans were served this ad. Knowing that the most important part of any video ad is the first 3 seconds, I'd bet this ad probably didn't perform too well with those non-fans. With the exception of the final 1.5 seconds, there is no indication that this show is exclusive to a new streaming app (unless of course you already know what Quibi is).

When the goal is convincing people to install your app, choosing to focus on original programming instead of the platform/service could easily backfire and confuse potential customers. If you click on a trailer for a TV show and get taken to an app storefront, there's a good chance you'll exit the funnel without installing.

To be fair, I did find a few ads that showcased the app's USPs, but even then they were pretty weak and still very content-focused. This Wireless ad is probably the best example I was able to dig up:

The feature that allows you to watch shows in either portrait or landscape mode is genuinely interesting, and these interactive aspects of Quibi should have been a really strong selling point. It leaves me wondering how their marketing strategy may have played out if Quibi had leaned more heavily into what made their service different than the competition. Who knows, maybe Quibi could have been the gateway to a whole new era of interactive media.

Weak CTAs

Very few of these ads have a strong call-to-action. Most of them rely on a small "Watch Now" button. Others utilize large copy like "TRY QUIBI FOR FREE" but fail to explain what Quibi is.

You know what none of these ads have? A CTA to DOWNLOAD the app! You would expect that a mobile app video ad would want to push users to "download" or "install" the app - or better yet, "Download Free." Don't get me wrong, "Watch Now" isn't the worst CTA I've ever seen, but considering the aforementioned problem of prioritizing content over app features, a "Watch Now" CTA only compounds the potential confusion a view might experience. You might expect to click that purple button and be taken to YouTube or Netflix. Even "Download and Watch Now" would have been a stronger choice.

Lack of Creativity

One of the biggest check marks in the what-they-did-wrong category is the overall lack of creative variety and experimentation. You've probably noticed from the few examples I've shared thus far that these ads all kinda look the same. The formula seems to = show teaser + white text. Here is the most risk-taking ad I stumbled upon:

This ad appears to have been limited to "swipe up" social channels, like Instagram or Snapchat. I did find 2 variants though - another one with a male actor - so that was encouraging (assuming they A/B tested them).

For the most part, however, Quibi followed a pretty rigid format with their creative strategy. It makes sense when you remember the people at the helm of the Quibi ship originally come from Hollywood. These ads play far more like traditional TV spots. They're highly polished, well-designed, and fit nicely within the brand-safe margins. Unfortunately, that's not how you win at mobile creative, especially if their target audience was indeed Gen Z and Millennials.

What We Can Learn From Quibi

Without any campaign data it's hard to know for sure just how successful (or unsuccessful) these ads actually were. There were plenty of other issues at play in Quibi's demise. But one thing is certain: Quibi's primary ad strategy was to market their original programming, not their product. Inherently this isn't a bad strategy, but I do wonder how many people dropped off when they hit the App Store page after clicking one of these ads.

While Quibi's failure may have seemed inevitable from the start, I'm actually a bit sad to see it go. I took advantage of a trial offer this past Summer and enjoyed a few of their shows. I also thought the dual aspect ratio feature was really innovative and I hope we'll get to see it implemented elsewhere in the future.

Here's a playlist of the Quibi ads I analyzed for this blog post:

You might also enjoy...

5 Video Creative Tests Every User Acquisition Team Should Try in 2020
Read time: 5 mins
From FOMO to failure, here are five fresh ideas to test with your mobile ad creatives this year.
Fake Mobile Gaming Ads and the Pendulum Effect
Read time: 1 min
Fake gaming ads are all the rage, but for how long? And what's the next big trend to emerge?
Increasing Click-Through with Law of Effect (with Test Results)
Read time: 4 mins
Convince users to click your ad by showing them less.
Using Science and Psychology to Increase Ad Views and Engagement
Read time: 6 mins
How to hack your audience's brains to help boost ad performance.