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8 minutes read

Are Burst Campaigns Worth It for App Launches?

By Robert Kazmi
By Robert Kazmi
8 minutes read

Promoting your new mobile app is not an easy task.

There are more than 50,000 new apps per month being launched in just the iTunes App Store, many of which will remain in obscurity. Your challenge is to make your app visible, to encourage downloads, and to push your way up the search results in the store.

One technique that many app marketers swear by is using burst campaigns. These involve aggressive exposure of an app over a short period of time, hopefully to a large audience.

Are burst campaigns something you should consider too? Let’s take a look at how they work and the relative advantages or disadvantages:

What is a burst campaign?

The idea of a burst campaign is to provide a “burst” of exposure for your app. Proponents aggressively purchase paid media exposure over a short period of time (usually 24 – 72 hours, depending on budget).

The aim of the game is to generate large numbers of app downloads over that short period of time, propelling the app up search results and “most downloaded” lists. It can be enough to move an app from obscurity to highly ranked, a position which the app owner hopes they will be able to hold onto.

Campaigns are usually formatted as either Incentivized CPI (cost per install) or non-incentivized CPI. Incentivized campaigns involve in-app advertising which rewards the user with something in the app they are already using in return for the download. For example, a gamer might get more lives or more coins. Non-incentivized are really your standard paid advertising techniques which are targeted to people because they meet the profile of a desired user of the app. There’s usually a basic “install now” call to action and the ad is shown so often in the short period of time that it’s bound to generate downloads.

App owners are hoping to boost their ranking and user base size very quickly. If you can hold that ranking for a while, you can generate much more organic traffic and hopefully generate a chain reaction of downloads and new users.

Of course, for overall success you generally also want:

  • To keep your churn rate low.
  • To generate in-app purchases (if applicable).
  • To generate upgrades (if applicable).
  • To maintain your high position and become the next Candy Crush (maybe).

The number of downloads required to reach the lofty heights of the app store will vary depending on the market you are advertising in. As an example, to hit U.S. charts, you will need at least 120,000 downloads. As you can gather from this, that means having a reasonable budget for advertising, particularly if all of those come from paid exposure.

Burst campaigns for apps

Photo credit: PhotoAtelier via Visualhunt

Pros and Cons of burst campaigns

As with any other form of marketing for your app, it’s good to take a balanced view of the relative pros and cons before you devote any resources to burst campaigns. You need to consider what your high-level strategy is for your app and whether a burst campaign fits with that strategy.

Here are the pros and cons as we see them:


When done well, a burst campaign can succeed in bringing you a large number of downloads very quickly. All going to plan, this can, in turn, generate more organic downloads as you rank better in app stores.

This is assuming that your app is ready for a burst campaign, of course. If you release a burst campaign while your app still has kinks that need ironing out, it can come back to bite you in the form of negative reviews and publicity. On the other hand, a well-designed, effective app can enjoy a wave of positive buzz on the back of a burst campaign.

If you have a paid element to your app, another advantage of a burst campaign is that you can expect a rapid injection of cash, which may help you to continue publicity beyond the burst campaign.


One possible con comes back to your overall strategy for your app. Burst campaigns encourage anyone and everyone to install your app, but perhaps that’s not the wisest path for your particular app. If you attract a whole lot of downloads from people who aren’t really suitable users, you can also expect a high rate of churn on the other side.

A couple of other less positive things can go along with that:

  1. You might attract a heavier customer support load (you should expect this with any burst campaign), and
  2. You might get a whole lot of negative reviews you could have done without. Niche apps that are targeted to very specific segments might find wiser ways to spend their advertising dollars for these reasons.

If you think about it, with those incentivized installs, plenty of people may just install your app because they want the reward for doing so. You will always end up with a number of “wrong fit” downloads from this strategy.

If your app in any way requires communication with a server, a burst campaign can also take its toll on the quality of that communication. Can your servers cope with large traffic volumes in one hit? If not, you are setting users up for a poor experience.

How to create a successful campaign

If, having noted the possible pros and cons, you feel that a burst campaign would be a good strategy for your app, here are a few pointers on what will help you to succeed:

#1. Have a quality app

A burst campaign will fall flat, or possibly put you in a worse position if you don’t have your app ready for the masses. A quality app means that you have a well-designed, engaging app which does exactly what it’s meant to do for the user. You’ve put the time into audience research and you understand exactly what people are looking for. For this reason, a burst campaign shouldn’t be something that you rush into at the beginning.

#2. Have clear goals

What do you need to happen from a burst campaign? Understand what your KPIs are so that you can formulate a strategy that works for you. For example, some app creators will just want to hit the charts and dominate, while others have more of a long-term goal of retaining quality users.

A consideration here is your incentivized vs. non-incentivized campaigns. Incentivized campaigns will attract a lot of “reward seekers” rather than long-term users, while a non-incentivized campaign may attract more people who give the app some thought first.

#3. Think about timing

Burst campaigns are often aided when they’re timed with seasonal events (depending on the app type) or other forms of PR campaigns. If a potential user has struck your advertising somewhere already, this can help with familiarity and encourage them to download during the burst campaign.

#4. Be targeted

Ensure that your campaign is targeting your ideal user as closely as possible. This includes being aware of how they prefer to be engaged and catering your advertising to those preferences.

#6. Keep advertising

Don’t stop paid advertising after the burst campaign ends. If your goal is to attain and maintain a high ranking in the app store, you need something to keep it going. While you should attract more organic downloads from a successful burst campaign, continued paid advertising, even at a smaller scale should help to keep up momentum.

#7. Think about retention

There’s not much point to acquiring a whole lot of new users, only to lose them shortly afterward, right? This is why it’s important that you have a solid plan in place for retaining users before launching campaigns. This might include things such as an onboarding and regular communication strategy to keep users engaged.

Are burst campaigns worth it?

The answer to whether or not burst campaigns are worth it is a solid “maybe.” If the characteristics of a burst campaign fit with your overall strategy, then it can be a great way to generate momentum for your app.

If your aim is to only attract high-quality, long-term users, then there are probably better strategies for your marketing budget, such as campaigns that are highly targeted for your audience.

A burst campaign can bring you a lot of downloads very quickly, but be warned, they can be an expensive way of getting 24 hours of notoriety if there are any problems with your app. Time your campaign so that your app has any kinks ironed out and you can deliver an excellent user experience.

Should you do a burst campaign when launching your app? Talk to us to discuss more best practices for your app launch.

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