There is a rather large thing in paid social that has been undergoing massive change in the past year outside of the rise in CPMs and algorithm changes: creative.
It’s not hard to see why, given how the market has evolved. There’s been an evolution in the attention paid to creative throughout every platform (dynamic creative, auto-creation of ads by Google, etc.) and paid social is no exception. Much like last-click attribution, advertisers have habits ingrained in them from primarily spending money in paid search. Copy was meant for direct response, and the visuals that went with it were somewhat secondary.
Initially, you could get away with this on things like Facebook’s news feed, because there wasn’t much variety there. When video started, it opened up a whole new world and advertisers rushed to get video live. There was healthy inventory on the news feed and Facebook actively sought to fill it with video – so producing video as fast as possible was the name of the game.
Fast forward to now, and the news feed is one of the more competitive placements in existence. This latest report on Statista shows the year over year increase of CPMs for Facebook’s news feed, as reported by AdStage:
Indeed, this is something we experienced with our client accounts last year. Exhibit A:
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Beyond the increasing costs, we also started to notice changes in the creative landscape.
What got us here won’t get us there
One client, in particular, had an absolutely rabid fan base and had relied for over a year on consumer-generated videos. They performed amazingly on the news feed for a long time…until they didn’t.
New ones were produced. They were tested. The poor results didn’t budge.
No matter what was done with them, the watch times were at an all-time low and the prevailing advice that “amateur video actually does better than overly polished video” looked to be on shaky ground.
This was tough for a lot of advertisers, as they didn’t have the budget for anything overly produced. They had bootstrapped to their “boo-yah” results, but when it ran out of steam, they hadn’t put away funds for a rainy day in the world of creative.
So the question then becomes: does everything have to be overly polished, now? Can agencies add value to the bottom line without losing their shirt on creative, or should the onus be on clients to generate creative that will resonate?
Paid social creative is most successful backward
Still today, the mindsets that exist around storytelling in social creative are hard to change. Most creative supplied by in-house teams or the more traditional creative shop’s clients partner with is in the traditional story format: intro, arc and the payoff at the end.
You can’t do that very well when you have eight seconds or less for a user to see your ad. A 30-second spot can use that format, but it’s tough to pull it off in a shorter spot.
Paid social tends to do better taking that model and applying it BACKWARDS. You give the payoff and then lead the user backward down the path of how you get to that result.
A lot of the creative I see is well done and can tell a fantastic story, but I know it won’t resonate on social because people won’t sit still long enough to get through it. Not surprisingly, these creatives are generally thought up by professional video or commercial people who have amazing creative chops but haven’t learned to mold their skills to the different paid social demands.
Let’s take a look at a before and after scenario with these two creative types.
Duking it out
An account was launched, using the client’s video creative. It was 26 seconds long, highlighting a feature of their product by essentially walking through how a user would use it.
It was well-produced, professional and friendly, and visually engaging.
The verdict once it was live?
Yowza. Three seconds, which is essentially someone scrolling on by and not going to work, as this was a top of funnel push to build out a remarketing audience based on video watchers. While we could technically make a custom audience off users who watched three seconds, it was just way too low quality. Remarketing to a group like that would have been basically like going directly to cold traffic.
So, we went back to the drawing board and asked to make our own versions. We pulled away from features and focused on the emotions behind the ultimate thing this product does for its users. We leaned on Adobe Stock Video, manipulating elements within it and created a 28-second spot. It was interspersed with brief headlines telling the story, STARTING with the hook of what the company provides.
The result this time?
Much better! With those watch times and the CPMs we were achieving, we were adding users to the custom audience for retargeting for $0.02! We were still able to achieve this without going with full-on video production but using footage that was still professional.
Formats are multiplying
Of course, this just addresses longer-form video (relatively speaking). We can’t neglect to think about placement-specific needs, such as Instagram, Stories and other formats that are yet to be thought up. Mastering those is crucial since that’s where inventory expansion is occurring. Even though they essentially function as supplemental inventory versus something where you can move your whole buy, maximizing those will help you push your scaling that much higher.
When you find a video version that works, it’s time to recut that sucker so it’ll be compliant for the times in Stories, Instagram, and everything else. Check out this handy guide from Sprout Social for a full reference of specs on all paid social platforms.
Digital agencies need to go old school
For so long, digital agencies have been operating off numbers, CPAs, ROAS and creative was an afterthought in that it was something that was churned out, tested, lather, rinse repeat.
The challenge they face now is more thought has to go into the creative that is made by, or for, clients. This hyper-competitive environment has advertisers vying for a diminishing attention span, so churning out 20 versions of the same creative that doesn’t move the needle wastes more time and money than it did.
The problem is that most digital agencies don’t have strong creative roots. It isn’t their fault – the environment didn’t demand it as much. They now face the opportunity to expand and hire people that can think this way or partner with firms that execute. Both have their pitfalls and perks. Hiring people for creative can feel like extra overhead for an offering that may not be particularly margin-rich for the agency. Working with a vendor can create friction if there are disagreements and different working styles.
There’s no avoiding it. However, agencies that “get” creative are going to continue to inch ahead of those that do not. More and more, we see a gap in performance among the accounts that are willing to stay the course with creative testing, and those who feel the media buy itself is the part that matters. The advertisers who succeed are the ones who understand they both serve different roles that must coexist. You cannot fix a weakness in one with the other. Approach both with like-minded determination, and you’ll be way ahead of the pack.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
Susan Wenograd is Account Group Director at Aimclear, a holistic digital marketing agency. She has spent 14 years in the industry, with the last 10 primarily focused on paid media and all it entails. She’s also had extensive experience in email marketing and content creation in leadership roles for both agency and in-house, managing multiple millions of dollars in the span of her career. She speaks internationally on marketing strategy, and blogs frequently for industry publications.
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