15/06/2023 • Andrew Lowdon
Using great creative can help your ads to fly, and result in increased engagement, conversion and - ultimately - revenue.
But there’s a lot more to it than just picking good headlines and stylish videos. You need to understand how the Meta advertising platform works, and why creative is almost criminally underutilised. You need to understand the huge benefits that purposeful creative can bring to a campaign. You need to understand why your creative should be tailored to both the audience and the platform and you need to know how to measure the impact of your creative.
Let’s get started.
Andrew Lowdon • Strategy Director@Andrewlowdon
I have both an agency and client-side background, which I utilise to be able to understand the unique challenges faced by both parties and maximise the potential opportunities available.
Throughout my career, I've worked across a wide variety of verticals, with brands from start-ups through to category leaders. I have a particular interest in helping SMEs to utilise the digital opportunities to challenge the market leaders.
Meta Ads (formerly Facebook and Instagram Ads) have evolved into a prominent platform for brands to reach and engage their audiences. Huge advancements in the platform’s ability to target consumers has been driven by:
This increase in automation and robust targeting capabilities means that campaigns are less reliant on analyst-led optimisations and more reliant on the quality of the data fed to the platform.
However, growing competition and platform adoption among brands seeking to capture consumer attention in a crowded landscape mean that it’s more important than ever to stand out.
That’s why outstanding creative is so important for a successful campaign.
Platforms and consumer behaviour are constantly changing, but for years research has shown that high-quality creative has a positive impact on the bottom line.
It doesn’t matter how advanced and cutting-edge your campaign structure, automation and precise of targeting of high-intention audiences are. If your creative doesn’t cut through and create an emotional connection with the consumer it’s all a waste of effort.
Meta’s own internal data across nearly 15,000 A/B creative tests have shown the creative impact on multiple advertising objectives including:
In this article we’re going to take a deep-dive into why great creative is essential for achieving outstanding results in paid social campaigns, how to create more impactful ads tailored to your audience and, most importantly, showcase the impact that great creative has on ad performance.
But before we do that, we need to understand the Meta Ads platform in more detail.
Meta Ads is incredibly powerful. It lets advertisers reach billions of users. Products and services can be promoted through ad formats such as images, videos and carousels.
To harness that power, you need to understand how Meta Ads works. Every campaign has several elements.
What do you want to achieve? This will set the direction for the whole campaign and determine the targeting options, ad creatives and optimisation strategies used. Objectives could include:
Targeting has traditionally been a key focus of Meta Ads campaigns, to ensure that your ads are seen by the right audience. Targeting can be based on identifiers such as demographics, interests, behaviours and location.
Recently manual targeting has started to be superseded by the power and reach of the Meta Pixel. The huge amount of data that it collects on users across millions of websites is proven to offer better targeting capabilities than is possible with manual targeting.
Ad creative refers to the visual and interactive elements of an ad, such as images, videos, headlines, ad copy and calls-to-action (CTAs). Creatives need to be visually appealing, engaging and tailored to the campaign’s overall objectives and targeting parameters.
Apart from dimensions specified by the ad type and format requirements, there are no restrictions on what can be done with ad creative, which means that outstanding use of creative can give a real competitive advantage.
Placement is where ads are displayed. Meta Ads offers a wide range of placement options including in the news feed, stories, marketplace, explore, messenger inbox and more. Advertisers can specify placement based on their campaign objective and target audience to maximise the reach and impact of their ads.
Budget determines the total amount to be spent on the campaign. It can be set to either a daily or a lifetime budget. Scheduling allows advertisers to specify not only the start and end of the campaign but also specific times when ads should be displayed.
Meta Ads provides robust measurement and reporting tools so advertisers can track the performance of their campaigns. This allows advertisers to:
The data can be used to analyse overall campaign performance, identify trends and make informed decisions for future optimisations - including adjusting targeting parameters, ad creatives or ad placement - to optimise the campaign’s performance and achieve the desired outcomes. It’s also possible to set up custom metrics to gain deeper insights tailored to client-specific needs.
In recent years the level of measurability in digital marketing has led to a focus on using data to inform campaigns. While the power of data is undeniable, there is a danger that this approach can lead to extremely well-targeted but ultimately forgettable campaigns, with the creative element overlooked.
To make a campaign really fly you need to take advantage of the available data to target the right consumers on the right platform with a dazzling message that cuts through and makes users take notice.
Consumers are exposed to between 6,000 and 10,000 adverts a day. This is a level of information processing that the human brain simply cannot deal with. As a result, the vast majority of ads are forgotten about almost instantly.
With such sensory overload, the creative used in Meta Ads plays a key role in the success of a campaign. Great creative can cut through a heavily saturated market to create a strong and memorable connection with the consumer.
Think back to any ad you remember. It’s always the creative that sticks in your mind.
Building purposeful creatives isn’t about pretty pictures and funny videos. Creative can bring a real positive impact to the success of a campaign.
No one looks for ad content. Social media users are looking for a bit of downtime or a chance to escape and doom scroll. We want to see the content we’re interested in without being hit with a host of ads asking us to buy this or download that.
With users seeing so many ads on a daily basis, they’ve developed an immunity to sales-heavy messaging and creative that is low on a transfer of value. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and ask yourself ‘what do I get out of engaging with this ad?’
This doesn’t mean that consumers won’t buy from the ads they see. But in a space with over 10 million active advertisers, successful ads need to be eye-catching and stop the scroll.
A compelling and visually appealing creative highlighting product benefits to the user will entice them to stop scrolling and engage with the ad, leading to higher click-through rates (CTR) and increased brand exposure.
So how can we use two seconds to make an impression and grab attention?
It’s vital to tailor your ad to your target consumer’s position in the marketing funnel. Different strategies are needed for a first-time buyer versus a regular customer.
According to a 2020 study by Klaas Weima there are six strategies that can be used to capture consumer attention during the critical two seconds.
Provoke an emotional response. Using humour can be a great way to do this. The aim is to create an emotional connection to build rapport and engagement.
People like to show off. This can be leveraged to work in your favour. Think of ways to make your audience feel special and help them to stand out.
Offering something new or surprising can spark the interest of your audience. Focusing on the ingenuity of your product and the problem it solves helps it to stand out in a competitive market.
Humans are tribal by nature. Make your audience feel like they’re a part of something by offering them a sense of belonging and community.
Recognise and reward loyal customers by offering incentives or bonuses for repeat purchases.
Make your audience’s life easier by offering them something useful. Providing valuable information, tips or tools can position your brand as a helpful resource, generating interest and engagement.
The tribal nature of human behaviour means that people are drawn to brands they can see themselves in. This gives brands a great opportunity to showcase their unique personality and values, how they are different to their competitors and - most critically - why a consumer should align with them. This can be achieved using different creative elements in the ad including imagery, headlines and copy.
The visual design of still images and videos in Meta ads is an opportunity for brands to showcase their unique personality and tie the ad into its overall brand aesthetic.
For example, a brand with a youthful and playful personality might use bright colours, bold typography and fresh imaging to resonate with a younger audience.
On the other hand, a brand with an elegant and sophisticated personality might choose a sleek and minimal aesthetic with sophisticated colours, refined typography and classically styled imagery.
The purpose of an ad is to encourage the user to take action. This could be watching a brand video or clicking through to make a purchase. There are three ways that messaging can facilitate this.
Overall, ad messaging should be clear, concise and compelling, and crafted to resonate with the target audience.
People buy with their hearts, not their heads. That means emotions play a crucial role in consumer decision-making. Ad creative should be used to evoke emotions that can have a huge impact on engagement and conversion.
Tapping into human psychology means that creative elements can be strategically designed to evoke specific emotional responses, which in turn can greatly impact decision-making processes.
A study of 1,400 ad campaigns by the IPA showed ads focused on emotional content are twice as effective as ads focused on rational content. If you want to see this in practice, take a look at the ads at Christmas. Have you ever seen a John Lewis Christmas ad focused on why a product would be a great purchase?
One of the fundamental principles of psychology, that underlies the relationship between creativity, emotions, and decision-making, is the concept of emotional processing. Emotions play a crucial role in human cognition, as they can significantly influence how individuals perceive and interpret information, make judgments, and ultimately make decisions. Creative elements such as visuals, storytelling and music can be used to effectively evoke emotions that can influence decision-making in various ways.
Positive emotions such as joy, excitement, or happiness create a sense of pleasure and reward which enhances motivation, engagement and willingness to take action. On the other hand, negative emotions such as fear, anger, or sadness can also be strategically employed to trigger emotional responses that can impact decision-making. Think of charity ads that use powerful and emotionally charged visuals or narratives to raise awareness about their cause to prompt action and increase donations.
The way in which creative elements are presented can also impact decision-making processes. Factors such as colour, imagery, typography, and tone can all influence emotional responses and subsequently affect decision-making.Warm colours, such as red or yellow, can evoke feelings of excitement or urgency while cool colours, such as blue or green provide a sense of calmness or trustworthiness. Similarly the use of relatable and emotionally resonant imagery, such as human faces or personal stories, can evoke empathy and emotional connection which can influence decision-making.
Cognitive biases are systematic errors in human reasoning and can also be utilised through creative elements to impact decision-making. A great example of this is social proof, which is the idea that people follow others’ behaviour and opinions in order to conform and be accepted. This can be leveraged through creative techniques such as testimonials, endorsements, or user-generated content to influence decision-making by creating a perception of social acceptance or popularity.
The strongest marketing campaigns don’t rely on targeting or an asset. They connect with consumers on an emotional level by using compelling narratives. Storytelling allows a brand to incorporate creative elements such as visuals, copywriting, and audio to craft stories that capture consumers' attention, evoke emotions, and ultimately influence their decision-making.
Storytelling is one of the fundamental elements of marketing. It is often overlooked in performance marketing as brands concentrate on generating immediate revenue by focusing on the features of their products. But storytelling is a key tool when trying to build a connection with your audience in a saturated market.
Great storytelling offers several key benefits.
Storytelling taps into the innate human desire for narrative and connection. Stories have been used throughout history as a way to convey information, share experiences, and make sense of the world. When brands use storytelling, they create an emotional connection with their audience, allowing consumers to relate to the brand on a personal level. This emotional connection fosters brand loyalty, trust and affinity, leading to long-term relationships and recurring revenue.
Good stories are engaging and memorable. When brands use storytelling techniques, they capture the audience's attention and hold it for longer periods. Engaging stories help consumers remember the brand and its message, increasing the chances of brand recall and retention.
Storytelling allows brands to differentiate themselves from competitors by creating a unique brand identity and positioning. A well-crafted brand story sets a brand apart, making it memorable and creating a lasting impression in the minds of consumers.
We hear a lot about influencers, but it’s stories that have the power to influence behaviour. By incorporating storytelling in marketing, brands can effectively communicate the benefits and features of their products or services in a way that resonates with consumers. There’s no need to just sell the features of your products. Stories tap into consumers' emotions, values, and aspirations, influencing their perceptions, attitudes, and purchase decisions. When consumers connect with a brand's story they are more likely to become loyal customers and advocates.
Authenticity is a key attribute that consumers value in brands. Stories allow brands to communicate their history, heritage, or unique journey, which can enhance their authenticity and build trust with consumers. Authentic brand stories create a sense of transparency and credibility, helping to establish a positive relationship with consumers based on trust and loyalty.
To achieve success with Meta Ads, it's crucial to adapt your creative strategy to target the right audience and utilise the asset formats within platform.
One of the key considerations for tailoring creative assets in Meta Ads is understanding your target audience. You should have a deep understanding of your brand’s ideal customer profile and who your product helps the most. This usually will include factors such as age, gender, location, interests, and online behaviours. But the importance of this type of segmentation can be overemphasised.
Using broad targets like ‘working mums’ or ‘older holidaymakers’ is reductive and can be counterproductive. For instance, one mum may be a part-time Teaching Assistant and another the founder of a multi-million-pound business. Recognising this complexity is vital in understanding your audience accurately and shaping how you communicate with them.
As marketers, we often assume that it is our role to define audience segments. In reality, brands are segmented on a daily basis by the consumer and it’s their perception that dictates how a brand is seen. A second-hand Mercedes will be seen by some consumers as a luxury purchase and to others, second-hand will be seen as budget. It is crucial to conduct research and collect data that will help you understand how to evoke the right emotions in your creative and make it easy for consumers to quickly align their perception of the brand with how you present it. Get this wrong and your message won’t cut through.
Another crucial aspect of tailoring creativity in Meta Ads is understanding the platform’s nuances. Different platforms within the Meta Ads ecosystem have different features, formats, and user behaviours. Brands need to understand these nuances and adapt their creative strategies accordingly. For example, an ad that performs well on Instagram may not perform as effectively on Facebook, as the audience engages differently on each platform. By understanding the different platforms, brands can create ads that are better optimised for each one and achieve better results.
Measuring the impact and evaluating the success of creative campaigns is crucial to help with optimising future strategies.
The most often mentioned hero metrics are Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) and Cost per Acquisition (CPA). While these can provide an overview of whether a campaign is working, they don’t help you to understand whether your creative is doing its job of capturing attention and bringing users into your sales funnel. There are other metrics that can hep you to paint a much better picture - some of which are built into the Meta Ads platform and others which can be built as custom metrics in under a minute.
Do you want to know if your ads are doing a good job of getting users to take action? CTR measures the percentage of users who clicked on the ad after seeing it, providing a clear indicator of whether it drove action.
A high CTR indicates that the creative is engaging and compelling to the audience, resulting in higher user engagement. CTR can be combined with conversion-focused metrics such as conversion rate and ROAS, to gain insights into the effectiveness of the creative in driving desired actions such as purchases, sign-ups, or downloads. Brands can then analyse these metrics to understand which creative type, headline or other visual elements drives better results, and optimise their creative strategy accordingly.
You have 2 seconds to grab a consumer's attention before they continue scrolling.
The hook rate refers to the percentage of viewers who are initially captured by the ad and continue to watch beyond the first three seconds of the video, or the ‘hook’ of the ad. It reflects the ad's ability to quickly engage viewers and entice them to continue watching. A low hook rate indicates that the ad is failing to grab the user, resulting in a higher likelihood of viewers skipping or scrolling past the ad.
Hook rate is a custom metric that you can set up in Meta Ads. To do this, go to ‘Columns’, ‘Customise Columns’ and select ‘Create Custom Metric’. From here, select ‘3-Second Video Plays / Impressions’ and ‘format as a percentage’. Use this to get a better understanding of how thumbstopping your creative is, double down on the best performers and look at which videos can be improved.
It’s not just about getting users hooked on your creative, you want them to stick around to get the whole message. Hold rate measures the percentage of viewers who continue to watch the ad after the initial hook. It's useful as it indicates the ad's ability to maintain viewers' interest and keep them engaged throughout the ad's duration. A low hold rate shows that after the initial hook, the ad fails to hold viewers' attention, resulting in viewers dropping off before the ad's intended message or call-to-action is delivered.
To set up hold rate as a custom metric, select Thruplays / 3-Second Video Views.
If you’ve got a high hook rate and a low hold rate, it suggests that the rest of the video doesn’t back up the promise delivered in the hook. A low hook rate and a high hold rate shows the content is good, but the ad isn’t watched by many people as the start is weak. Find an ad with a high hook rate, hold rate and CTR and you’ll be sending more and more engaged prospects to your site ready to find out more about your product.
The power of the creative used in advertising cannot be overstated. As research has shown, 50% of advertising success hinges on the creative used. With fierce competition for attention in today's saturated market, settling for average creative is not an option.
Let your creative shine, evoke emotions, connect with your audience, and differentiate your brand from the competition. Measure your success not just by revenue-focused metrics, but also by engagement and meaningful interactions to get a better understanding of whether the creative is playing the role it needs to.
Now, it's time to unleash your creativity and make your brand truly memorable. Share your thoughts, ideas, and success stories in the comments below, and let's continue the conversation. We'd love to hear how you're making your creative stand out and connect with your audience. Keep pushing the boundaries and let's continue the conversation together.
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