Something that we’ve all heard repeatedly for the past year: “iOS 14 made my Facebook Ads performance worse”. There are a number of reasons it’s happening. But for most brands, ad creative is the remedy.
The importance of good ad creative is often misconstrued by guru Twitter. Focusing on ad creative doesn’t mean that you should double or triple the number of creatives you’re testing. This often leads to a “throw spaghetti at the wall” approach. Even when you identify a winning concept, it’s hard to replicate if you don’t know why that concept was so effective.
I’m going to outline why the right ad creative has become so critical and introduce a framework you can use to generate an (almost) infinite number of ideas for your ads.
I almost feel bad about giving this one away for free, but the value of this advice can only be realized through thoughtful, strategic execution. I’m giving you the hammer and the nails, but you need to build the coffee table on your own.
What Happened During iOS 14?
If you’re new to Facebook Ads or less familiar with the mechanics of the auction, I recommend that you read this post before reading any further.
Facebook earned its place in the digital advertising duopoly because they are best able to predict which consumers are “in market” for specific product categories. When a consumer is “in market”, they’re in shopping mode. They have driven to the mall, so to speak. Their money is burning a hole in their pocket.
If you’ve ever received multiple ads from multiple brands for a very specific product category–like tie-dye sweatshirts or maternity clothing–you have experienced the power of Facebook’s predictive abilities. Facebook ads don’t create demand. They simply place relevant brands in front of existing in-market demand.
This isn’t a matter of predictive power alone. It’s also a matter of access to online behavior data at scale. And that’s just what iOS14 screwed up. With tracking disabled by default, Facebook has less access to the signals that any given consumer might be “in market”.
To solve this problem, Facebook has started to depend more on signals from in-platform interaction–i.e. which ads users watch and click through. When you hear things like “let your creative do the targeting” it’s describing this phenomenon. So the more you can make your ads speak to a specific customer segment, the easier it will be for Facebook to find more customers in that segment.
A Real World Example
Compare these two ads for skincare products (links will take you to Google Drive where I uploaded a video of the ad):
The first ad does a great job of highlighting all of the product’s features and using social proof to reassure the audience that the product is effective. Two years ago, this would be a slam dunk creative. And frankly, thanks to Gwennie, it probably still is.
One question though: who is the audience? From the information we’re given, we can guess “women who use skincare”. But that’s a really broad audience, so it will take Facebook more time to identify the sub-segment of the audience who is most receptive to the product. Before iOS14, off-platform signals would have done that work. But those signals are less abundant and reliable now.
The second ad leads with a concern–aging–instead of product features. And even better, it features real* women sharing their ages. If you’re a woman over 40 who is concerned about aging, you’re going to stop what you’re doing and watch this.
That’s going to help Facebook find more women over 40 who are looking for skincare that helps prevent premature aging. It’s also more compelling for the viewer. Instead of making the viewer do the contextual work “Is this product for me?”, you do the work for them.
*I threw in an asterisk because it’s unclear if these are real customers or actors/ “creators”.
A 4-Part Framework For Developing Great Ads
Given what we know about the state of Facebook after iOS14, here is a four part framework you can use to develop ad creative that reaches out and shakes your target customer by the shoulders:
Person > Problem > Product > Hook
The customer segment you’re speaking to with your advertising. This is going to vary based on the nature of your brand. It could be demographic or psychographic. Some examples from most broad to least broad:
- Women over 45 (“Person” from ad #2 above)
- Men with sensitive skin
- Hobbyist beekeepers
A list of the key concerns or pain points experienced by your segment. The only way to generate a really good list is to go directly to your customers (or your competitors’ customers).
If you’ve already launched your brand and proven product-channel fit, you can and should reach out to real customers for interviews. This is a great guide for getting the most out of customer interviews; I’ve used it myself, and that is not an affiliate link.
If you’re looking to launch a new brand, you can read competitor’s reviews and (sometimes) forums like Reddit to see what people are complaining about.
The problem addressed in Ad #2 above is premature aging. Many women over 50 notice that their skin starts to lose its volume and glow as they enter menopause. So this is a real concern for the audience.
This is how one of your products specifically solves the Person’s Problem. In Ad #2 above, the focus is on the entire range instead of one specific product. But the ad speaks to a few attributes that address the concern and it features customer testimonials that reinforce the idea that the products address premature aging.
You can also call out specific features of the product that address the concern. For example:
- Person: Hobbyist beekeepers
- Problem: bears break into my backyard hive and steal my honey
- Product: our carbon fiber frames were designed and tested to withstand the power of bear claws
Obviously, this example is completely made up. I don’t know anything about bees.
Something to note: you don’t necessarily have to jump right into the product. Speaking to specific product features is a mid-funnel approach. You are assuming that your audience already has intent to purchase in the category.
As you scale, you may need to take a higher funnel approach where you’re capturing the viewer’s attention and educating them about the root causes of your problem and why your solution is the right one. Ad #2 above does that well: dehydration causes premature aging.
This is the most creative part of the process. The Hook is the thing that gets your viewer to stop scrolling and click through to learn more about whatever it is you’re saying.
Potentially controversial statement: the best hooks borrow their “first principles” from clickbait. That doesn’t mean that the end product has to feel cheesy or brand-dilutive, but it’s going to be the most effective if it evokes curiosity, gets a rise out of people, or makes them laugh.
Hooks can be visual or narrative, and you can combine both in a single ad.
A narrative hook for the Beekeeping example: Find out why black bears HATE this beekeeper.
(I know, this is bad. But I’m trying to get this newsletter out on time. I don’t have time to workshop amazing hypothetical ads for fake products.)
A visual hook for the Beekeeping example: high-quality Ring cam footage of a bear trying to break into the hive, failing, getting frustrated and walking away.
But What If My Product Doesn’t Solve A Problem?!
What if your products don’t do anything other than…look cool? This is the eternal challenge for fashion brands (among others). Your product doesn’t strictly solve a problem, so it’s harder to put any kind of narrative behind it.
There are two ways you can get around this issue. The first is to develop a list of micro problems your products might solve. Maybe your target customer has trouble finding items for a specific scenario, like workwear that is polished but comfortable, or summer dresses that work for multiple levels of formality.
You can speak to these micro-problems in your creative. You would take a less aggressive approach, providing inspiration instead of framing the problem as an urgent issue. This ad is a good example. This approach can be effective, but it’s hard to scale.
Your other option is to use a slightly different framework:
Person > Vision > Product > Hook
You swap out Problem and swap in Vision. The Vision is how your target customer aspires to live his or her life. You can illustrate this via the choice of models, settings and styling in your ads, as well as the narrative. You can also partner with influencers who embody your vision.
A good way to clarify your brand’s Vision: list out what your ideal customer is doing on Wednesday at noon, Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 8am during a typical week. Have a few members of your design, marketing and creative teams write down their answers and compare notes. Then agree on a single answer.
One warning: many brands’ ideal customer can be pretty far off from their actual customer. The more expensive your product, the older your core customer is likely to be. So be careful not to alienate your existing customers with your Vision work. It’s a tricky balance.