Pixel art coloring is the latest App Store trend that is blowing up the charts. These apps are delivering a new spin on a favorite classic pastime: color-by-number books offering pixel-art design and plenty of patterns. Four coloring book apps recently took spots on the App Store Top 10 in the US.

We figured it’d be great to talk to one of the pioneers of this movement, UK-based studio AppsYouLove, since they’ve already taken a sound position in the market, and their Unicorn mascot has become a symbol of the trend. Recently, they launched a new 3D pixel art coloring app that is also expected to become “the new black”.

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The Background

Where is the interest in pixel art coloring coming from? Why have these apps become so popular?

Coloring books are a retro trend that came back into fashion about 1-2 years ago. There are a few clear reasons for that. First of all, it’s a nostalgic theme and a perfect time-killer for adults. Secondly, coloring is a well-known practice for children that easily develops both their motor and counting skills.

In the beginning, only conventional coloring books gained popularity. That was the moment when hardcore competition within this niche market came very suddenly into play. The support of considerable advertising budgets plus super easy gameplay made the difference: pixel coloring books had spread to the general public.

Ironically, even people who would use smartphones only for making calls were carried away by the unpretentious gameplay. We launched our Unicorn at the end of 2017 to pursue this audience. As users were already familiar with this format, we were entering what was, to some extent, an already established market.

In hindsight, what was the key factor in your approach that helped make Unicorn the mascot of this niche market?

We just simplified the process: unlike in classic coloring books, a user doesn’t have to select colors, they only need to pick the color from the ready-made palette and color cells of matching numbers. To get more engagement, we added a Time Lapse function that allows players to rewatch the process.
Also, since everyone, and kids in particular, would like to share the results, we added a sharing function into almost every app.

What’s the difference between the first Unicorn and Unicorn 3D?

The new Unicorn 3D app is a sequel to the first app. We kept it simple and left the features the same — there’s Time Lapse, social media sharing, My artworks section etc. The big difference is that all the artworks are voxel now, they float in 3D space. A user is able to look at the picture closely and color it from all sides.

In our humble opinion, Unicorn 3D is setting a new trend in the market of coloring books.

App Promotion & User Acquisition

What’s your target audience? How do you promote your apps?

Frankly, it is not extremely important for us to learn what groups of people our target audience consists of. Even if we spent our time studying this aspect in detail, it wouldn’t have added much. Facebook and other networks’ algorithms manage to collect data, analyze it and optimize purchases proactively.

In regards to promotional activities, we use several media:

Social Media Marketing

We work on our Instagram and Facebook diligently. Generally, there are a lot of user-generated posts. We heavily encourage our users to share their work. Currently, there are more than 37.5K Instagram posts with a hashtag #unicornapp.

Cross Promotional Activities

We promote Unicorn on other projects’ profiles. For example, in Lil Pics app there are 15K users including 97% of women audience at the age of 25-34. They will likely be into coloring since that’s one more exciting topic for their children.


Collaborations with thematic profiles and reviews in related publications

We choose profiles and media that our targeted audience is passionate about. For example, we did the experiment with a popular blogger known as “Charming Fashion”. Three days after the post, we got 33.2K impressions and about 30K audience coverage.

Besides the channels mentioned above, we employ Universal App Campaigns within Google AdWords, YouTube, and Google Display Network.


What about your user acquisition channels?

We use both targeted social media ads and Apple Search Ads, i.e. keyword optimization.

In addition to that, thanks to our huge MAU — about 10 million people — we made a deal with an ad network. We got some preferences in terms of ads buying from them, and it contributed positively to traffic purchase volumes.


What kind of monetization model do you use?

We figured that a hybrid model suits us well. We use both subscription and advertising. There are both traditional ad formats (banners and interstitials) and rewarded video integrated. For watching rewarded video users get premium content, such as new pictures, and the possibility of turning off the ads.

Even though we have a sound audience, only 10% of it convert through subscription. Advertising is a logical solution for monetizing the rest of the users. Speaking of advertising and subscription LTV, now there’s approximately a 50/50 ratio.


Why do you think the majority of your rivals prefer not to use advertising at all? How does advertising affect converting users into subscribers?

Perhaps, the majority of rivals fall into such stereotypes as: “I would never download this”, “I wouldn’t like this”, “If I was a user, I would delete this immediately” etc. Our tests demonstrate the opposite: we didn’t notice any conversion improvement or a better retention rate when testing on the non-ad user segment.

You mentioned the deal with the network, how exactly does it work? What results have you gotten already?

The deal deal assumed ad network priority within the waterfall in exchange for the bonus and improved performance. Appodeal allows developers to tune the network’s priority on their dashboard.

After the agreement, advertising ARPDAU increased by 25% worldwide. In the US, where our main audience is, ad ARPDAU increased by 30-35%. Currently, our monthly ad revenue reaches $1.1 — 1.3 million.

What are the first results of launching Unicorn 3D?

We released the app on the 30th of January In fact, during the first day, we got 130K downloads that came from Apple Pre-Order feature. Such a take-off allowed us to gain the upper hand in Top Free section in the US, Russia, and Sweden. In a general free app rating, we caught hold of the position between Youtube and Instagram. As you can see, so far we’re doing good!