Some online ads resonate with people more than others. But oftentimes figuring out the right mix of image, copy, size and placement can be an elusive goal for marketers.
To help advertisers better understand what makes online ads generate desired business results, Facebook’s Marketing Science team recruited more than 700 people from around the world to evaluate more than 1,500 ads that ran in News Feed. The more than 350 campaigns analyzed between October 2013 and March 2014 also were measured for their impact on in-store sales or online conversions. This enabled our researchers to correlate different elements of ad creative with the results that matter to advertisers.
We recently spoke with Neha Bhargava and Eurry Kim, the advertising researchers at Facebook who conducted the study, about what their findings mean for brand marketers. (A second post in this series will focus on the study’s implications for direct response marketers). Edited excerpts of our conversation follow:
What was the motivation behind doing this research on online ad creative?
Neha: A lot of marketers focus on making the right creative content for channels where they are spending a lot of their marketing dollars, such as on TV or print. There was a need for new research on what works online. As a proxy for success, many advertisers use click-through rates, which has its limitations. I like to use the “cute kitten” example. If you feature cute kittens in your ad, you’ll probably get a lot of clicks. But you probably won’t achieve your business objectives, unless of course you’re selling kittens.
The existing research that has been done on online creative usually takes a long time and is expensive. The information you get back is often whether a certain ad is better than another one. We wanted to drill down to the actual elements within ad creative that make them effective at generating sales in stores and generating online conversions.
What should advertisers be focused on when thinking about online ad creative?
Neha: As part of this research, we’ve identified seven key creative elements that are pretty similar to what advertisers talk about when they’re thinking about their ad creative.
- Focal point : The image has one obvious focal point
- Brand link : How easy is it to identify the advertiser?
- Brand personality : How well does the ad fit with what you know about the brand?
- Informational reward : Does the ad have interesting information?
- Emotional reward : The ad appeals to you emotionally
- Noticeability : While browsing online, this image would grab your attention
- Call to action : This ad urges you to take a clear action
The people we worked with used these seven elements to rate over 1,500 ads that ran on Facebook. What we found is that different elements will matter more or less depending on whether your key objectives are direct response or brand advertising.
So what were your key findings for brand marketers?
Eurry: This research revealed that ads from brand advertisers scored higher than average on “brand link,” “emotional reward” (“the ad appeals to you emotionally”) and “noticeability” (“while browsing online, this image would grab your attention”). It seems obvious to say, but when brand advertisers are trying to convey their brand, they need a clear link back to the brand. But that link alone isn’t enough. Ads need to resonate with consumers, so an element of “emotional reward” or “noticeability” helps to convey more than just the brand.
Bud Light ran a campaign in 2012 that had prominent product placement, with its iconic bottle featured in the ad. These ads scored over 1.5X higher than the average in both “brand link” and “noticeability.” And we know from a separate case study that the campaign in which these ads were featured was successful in driving in-store sales. We also found that, in general, the best-performing Facebook campaigns had “well-rounded” creative, or rated highly on nearly all of the creative elements.
What best practices can brand advertisers take away from your research?
Eurry: Based on this research, conveying a clear brand story is really important, so a clear “brand link” is key. A brand logo, or in Bud Light’s case, iconic packaging, works well here. When developing online creative, a brand should know what it represents and know to leverage existing brand awareness. When it comes to “brand personality,” it’s really important that a brand understands who its consumers are and communicates with them consistently through their creative.
One consumer packaged good ad that we rated for this research lacked this brand connection, and the results suffered. The ad featured an engaging, people-focused image, but the ad copy and the image weren’t clearly related to the brand. If you saw the image from the ad, you’d have no clear idea of what brand or industry the ad came from. The creative ended up scoring 30% less than average in both “brand link” and “brand personality.” The sole element for which the creative scored higher than average was emotional reward. But that’s probably because of the excited expressions of the people in the image.
What’s next in terms of figuring out what makes great ad creative?
Neha: We’d ultimately like to provide advertisers and other researchers with tools that can help them make the most effective ads at driving business results. As part of this and other research at Facebook, we’d like to eventually provide guidelines for advertisers to understand conceptually what makes good digital ads. And we want to provide benchmarks so that advertisers know how their ads are doing compared to other ads in their vertical.
A second post in this series will focus on creative for direct response marketing. To learn more about this research, download the report from Facebook’s Marketing Science team here.