Ads are everywhere. I think there is a strong consensus across the globe that nobody likes to see ads. Every channel you watch, every website you visit, bus stops, highways, and any other place you can think of, ads are there.
The use of advertising is rooted so deeply in the core of most modern businesses, that it’s hard to imagine a world without advertisements. Despite recent changes in the last decade were subscription-based platforms like Netflix and Spotify offer an ad-free environment in exchange for paid plans, most large companies still rely heavily on revenue from advertising as a main source of income.
As a marketer, I am obsessed with ads. My radar traces every single ad that is visible to me. Funny, emotional, bad, and amateur ads, I give them my full attention. Businesses like Facebook and Google that are “free for users” rely heavily on advertisers as a source of revenue. About 98.5% of Facebook’s revenue is generated from advertising, whereas the rest of its revenue is generated from other sources. Google generates about 83% of its revenue directly from ads. With both internet giants relying so heavily on their advertisers to support their business model, it’s no wonder how far their advertising technology platforms have evolved to ensure advertising on their platform is effective.
Although both platforms compete for the same people, their ad specialties are very different. Google dominates direct search ads while Facebook dominates display banner ads. The main difference between the two is that you come to Google when you know what you are searching for and you come to Facebook to discover. Although their market share is different, they do have one thing in common, They both do an exceptional job at disguising ads and blending them naturally into their platform. Why do they do that? Because they know that users generally respond negatively to information when they know it’s an advertisement.
Here are how ads look on Google:
The only identifier on the ad is the little yellow ad badge that is made as small as possible that it will just be noticeable if you actually look for it.
Above you will see an example of a Facebook ad. Notice that they identify the ad with the word SPONSORED in small grey font, to ensure that most users won’t recognize the fact that it’s an ad. Of course, there are Youtube ads that appear inside videos (that everyone hates) and Google also has display banner ads that are similar to Facebook.
So the question is, why do these advertising giants want ads to naturally blend into their platform without making them stand out? Why do they enforce strict policies to make ads look as native as possible to fit their platform?
Since the beginning, Facebook took a very interesting approach where they limited the amount of text allowed to use in the images or video ads to 20% of the image/video frame. Aside from the fact that you have placeholders for the text, they limited the amount of text to ensure that your ad creatives don’t look like traditional display ads and that they will blend in with other posts. The reasoning is simple, if your ads don’t look like traditional ads and are rich in content, users will not notice that they are ads and won’t feel like their newsfeed is packed with advertisements. Once Facebook removed the 20% rule, they introduced a new policy that limits the amount of exposure an ad can receive if it has a lot of text in it.
Google uses other methods of limiting the language that you can use in the ads as well as limiting capitalization, low relevance text in the ads, excessive capitalization or exclamation points and other practices to ensure Google ads look similar to the other organic high-quality posts that Google suggests to users on the same page.
By now you are probably saying to yourself “OK Jason, we get the point? Can you move on already?” and you are absolutely right. In order to back up my claims about ads, I had to use the platforms themselves as an example to make the following point clear. The best ads don’t look like ads. Focus on showcasing your product, not on selling it.
Below are the following fundamentals that make effective ads in the second decade of the 21st century.
How to make your ads not look like ads
100% product-focused creatives.
Sounds obvious right? Well for most advertisers, it’s not. Advertisers tend to think that everything goes when it comes to creating their ads. They throw in massive amounts of effects, promotional text, and everything else instead of focusing on what they are actually selling. Yes, you might have a great graphic designer or an amazing video editor, but you aren’t selling those services, are you? How about just showing the user your product? If a user has an interest in your product and likes what he sees, you will have plenty of chances to show him more information once he reaches your website. As for the ad itself, keep it simple and 100% focused on your product. I am not saying that ads must be simple in order for them to convert. You can add some fancy effects or special designs, but remember the following. Every element that you add in your creative will take away some focus on your product.
Below you will find good and bad examples of product-focused ads. Notice the difference between Zara and Nike and where Nike’s focus is entirely on the product, Zara’s ad focuses on the brand. Not saying that brands that can afford brand awareness shouldn’t do so, but if you are like 99% of advertisers, performance is the only thing you should care about. The way to maximize performance is to show people what they might be interested in and that’s your product.
Native to the platform
Another important factor is awareness of your surroundings. Aside from the fact that each platform has different ad formats, each platform has a different feel and that should be addressed when creating your ads. The reason Instagram and Facebook are still growing is that they are different. The content that you expect to see on Instagram is different from what you want to see on Facebook. That’s why videos are shorter on Instagram and images are more visual. There is no one size fits all for all platforms and ads are not universal. If most people watch short videos on Instagram, don’t use long videos. Create ads that stand out from the rest but blend in with the platform so they don’t look like a bad ad. Here is an example from a brand that thought that they will get a better value for their money if they mix 6 small product images into one ad while making it very clear that it’s an advertisement. How do you think this ad will perform on Instagram?
Recycling traditional marketing methods in ads
There are drawbacks in trying to replicate ideas from different marketing mediums into your Facebook ads. One common method I repeatedly see is the efforts to transform email marketing creative strategies into ads on Facebook and Instagram. Besides the fact that they are completely different marketing mediums, just think for a second about the logic behind the idea. Is email marketing and social media marketing the same? If they aren’t, why would you want to make a connection between the two when you create your ads? Email marketing is designed on three main elements: Timing aspect and order of sending your emails, strong focus on high open rate, and personalized campaigns based on interaction with users. Email marketing doesn’t cost you whereas social media ads are not free. You can’t show a user 10 different ads and hope he clicks on at least one of them as you will go bankrupt before your first conversion as advertising on social media is CRAZY expensive. Because it’s crazy expensive, your focus needs to be broader and more precise, you need to be on point with your creatives and targeting to achieve the highest impression to click ratio. While email marketing is more about a slow nurturing process with more interactions per user, advertising on social media is maximizing the value of impression per user while maximizing your reach.
Excessive remarketing ads
How many times have you visited a website, viewed an item, and went back and continued browsing, and then you were followed everywhere by an ad that says something like, “forgot something in your cart?” or “complete your checkout now”. Many advertisers think that was in the 2000s were a potential buyer wanted to purchase a product and just before he purchased, his internet crashed and his computer froze and that’s why he couldn’t complete the purchase. Ask yourself, how many times have you wanted something, forgot to purchase it and it was that retargeting ad that saved the day and miraculously reminded you to complete the purchase. Of course, this is a realistic scenario, but does that justify showing a user 10 ads to follow up on his purchase? Wouldn’t those 10 ad follow-ups be better invested if they would be used to bring in other users who haven’t seen your ads yet? Or an even better strategy could be to show the same user different content with different products. He showed interest, wouldn’t it make more sense showing him different ads with different product variations? Be creative in your thinking. Every impression costs money and should be utilized smartly. Find the balance of how much you want to invest in a user and analyze the data to learn when it’s better to invest that impression in a new user or in the same user but with different ad content.
The best ads don’t look like ads.
I can’t stress this point enough. The way you envision the look of your ads might not be the way your users will respond well too. Most business owners think of themselves and how they would respond to ads and craft their ads accordingly. Users might not care about the same things that you care about when seeing your ads. Ads perform really well when they appear organic to the user and when a user thinks he came across an ad organically, he responds more positively to it. When creating your ads, find similar ideas that you came across organically and use that as inspiration for creating your ads. Making an ad organic doesn’t mean it can’t include an offer or a price, it simply means that its the content in the ad the user had an interest in and felt the need to engage with and share. If you can make your ads interesting to users, users will engage with them and the response and performance will be more effective. Being original and authentic is the key to creating high engaging ads.
Effective advertising on Social Media requires you to use your creatives to design ads that feel natural to the platform you have chosen. It’s a combination of creatives and the end goal of the ad. Do you want the ad to be product-focused or raise brand awareness? Users on Social Media don’t want to feel like they are seeing ads everywhere and that is why Facebook and even search engines like Google have stipulations for advertisers which cause ads to appear organic. When you have ads that blend in naturally to the platform is when you win the user over and create a positive experience that can result in a higher conversion rate for your ad spend. It’s about working smarter and not harder.