US marketers now spend more on ads online than they do on broadcast TV. But what makes digital ads effective is still open to debate. To help marketers better understand what creative elements lead to results, Facebook conducted a study evaluating 350 campaigns that ran in News Feed in the past two years. The campaigns’ effects on in-store sales or online conversions were also measured, enabling researchers to correlate different elements of ad creative with business outcomes.
Last month, we spoke with Facebook researchers Neha Bhargava and Eurry Kim who conducted the study about what their findings meant for brand marketers. Today’s post focuses on the study’s implications for direct-response marketers. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow:
For those who may have missed the first post in this series, could you summarize the main focus of the study?
Neha: Sure, for this research we identified seven key creative elements of digital ads:
- 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
These elements are essentially the same elements that advertisers look at when thinking about their creative. The ad raters1 we worked with in turn used these elements to rate over 1,500 ads that ran in News Feed. We found that different elements will matter more than others based on whether your key objectives are brand advertising or direct response.
On that note, what makes an ad successful at direct response?
Eurry: As we expected, some of the strongest performing direct response ads clearly present the product and its key details — so those ads score high on informational reward. And, as is the nature of direct-response ads, they also have a clear call to action. Our research showed that when marketers did these two things in their ads, the ads didn’t necessarily need to score higher than the average on the other five elements.
One of the most successful ads in our study was for a coupon site. The business’ ads included an image featuring coupons from recognizable brands and the hyperlinked words “Start here.” It was clear to people what they needed to do and what they would be getting if they visited the site.
The study also yielded some surprising findings, yes?
Eurry: The research revealed that a strong focus on the brand was another successful approach for increasing conversion rates. This was somewhat surprising to us.
For example, one personal care brand whose ads we studied was one of the best in driving online conversions. The brand ran two ads that prominently featured the personal care product and another two ads that highlighted its founder in a way that really humanized the brand. These ads rated 2X higher than average in brand personality and brand link. (The ad shown below is not the actual ad rated but is representative of the one that was.)
What best practices should businesses seeking to drive online conversions take away from your research?
Eurry: Advertisers should think about creative that is really focused on the product (informational reward and call to action) or on the brand (brand link and brand personality).
One common pitfall we see in campaigns focused on online conversions is when brands run ads that lack a connection to the brand’s personality. When people are buying things online, they want to know what they’re getting and, at the heart of it, what the brand represents.
In particular, one online furniture store scored more than 2X the overall average in brand link (the ad shown above is not the actual ad rated but is representative of the one that was). That’s because its logo was featured in all of the ads. But the ads scored lower than average in brand personality and focal point. While the ad images featured attractive furniture, there was no focus to any of the images that provided a clear representation of the brand or intent of the ad. As result, the brand didn’t see great results in terms of online conversions.
Any other high-level takeaways on what’s working?
Neha: All in all, we found that the best performing campaigns clearly kept their objective and brand in mind when developing creative. The messaging of the most successful ads informed consumers on what they needed to know — who is this advertiser, what’s their value proposition and how can I purchase this product? They understood what the consumer knows about them — are they a new brand or a household name? And then drove them to the appropriate action — whether that’s signing up for an email list, purchasing a product online, or simply keeping the brand in mind for the future. Every advertiser has a different objective, brand equity and call to action. It’s important for their creative to reflect all of these pieces.
To learn more about this research, download the report from Facebook’s Marketing Science team here.