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Why Facebook ads are like billboards

Published: May 14, 2013

Author: Molly Shotwell

Today’s post is by Jeff Sexton of BoostCTR.
facebook as billboardWhen most marketers think of Facebook ads, their most likely comparison points are other digital ads, and frankly, this is a mistake.
Facebook ads aren’t like search-based PPC ads because they are not being delivered to prospects who are actively searching for an item or a solution, as they are when looking at search results. PPC ads begin life already having the searcher’s attention and interest — all they need to do is keep it. Facebook ads can only wish for such a luxury!
And while Facebook ads are closer to banner ads, they’re different enough to warrant a different advertising and copy approach. First, most banner ads are significantly larger than Facebook ads.  You can’t usually target a banner ad nearly as precisely as Facebook ad. Nor can a banner ad rely on social proof in the same way that Facebook ads can.
So then, what kind of ads are Facebook Ads like? What offers a useful comparison when it comes to actually creating effective campaigns?
Surprisingly, the most useful comparison for Facebook Ads is the roadside billboard. Sure, one’s offline and the other’s digital. But they’re more alike than most people think. Here’s why:
– They’ve Got 3 Seconds to Grab Attention. The fact is that scrolling by an ad is roughly the same as driving by a billboard. In both cases, you’ve got about 3 seconds to visually grab the attention of your prospective audience. Of course, a Facebooker can stop and read your ad, while a driver pretty much has to continue driving after seeing your billboard, which is why Facebook Ads can get away with more than 8 words of text and billboards can’t. But in term of grabbing the audience’s attention through the visuals, it’s the same basic challenge.
– They Have Low-Resolution Imagery. A 14’ x 48’ billboard viewed from 500 feet away is seen with the same resolution and perspective as a business card held at roughly arm’s length, which is roughly the same as seeing a 120 pixel by 80 pixel image from screen’s length. In both cases, you want simple but visually striking images that zoom in on one thing. Too much detail or too many elements get obscured and tend not to work out.
– There’s A Quick Rate of “Ad Fatigue.” Sad fact: billboards turn invisible after about a month in the same location. So you either have to change the ad or change the location – which is expensive, but not nearly as expensive as paying for a billboard that drivers have stopped seeing or noticing.
Similarly, Facebook requires a fair amount of ad churn, because Facebook users check in frequently, sometimes “driving by” your ad several times a day, which can make rotating in fresh creative on at least a weekly basis a must for maintaining optimum performance.
– They Work for Branding and/or Direct Response. Yes, billboards can be direct response, too. What do you think a “McDonald’s Next Exit” billboard is, other than a direct response message? And, yet, a lot of billboards are branding oriented for lawyers and jewelers and car manufacturers and more, which is a direction I think you’ll see a lot more Facebook ads heading for in the near future. Which brings us to the fact that…
– They Work Best Combined w/ Other Media. Lots of brands and companies use outdoor advertising, but none of them use it exclusively. Billboards are normally combined with Radio, TV, print, and digital advertising. Similarly, the savviest Facebook marketers, such as aimClear’s Marty Weintraub, agree that Facebook works best when combined with other channels. As Marty puts it: “Our data shows that FB, as a paid channel, usually yields fewer direct conversions at a higher cost than other channels. However, in harmony with other channels over time, the FB channel can be a blockbuster.
So you want to build better Facebook Ads? Stop thinking of them as a variant of search-based PPC, and start thinking of them in terms of targetable, digital billboards placed along the best Internet super-highway of them all.
Specifically, think in terms of:
– Catching the viewers’ attention with attention-grabbing imagery
– Using imagery that’s suitable for small-format display
– Rotating in fresh creative on a regular basis
– Building brand awareness over time
– Combining your Facebook Ads with other media
THEN take advantage of all the things Facebook ads can do that billboards can’t:
– Hyper-target your best prospects
– Use sponsored stories to achieve social proof for your ads
– Split-test ads, offers, and landing pages
– Review your ad performance analytics to see what’s working and what isn’t.
While everyone understands the second set of tips, it’s the first set that most people ignore or fumble. Those are the best practices for billboards that can give your Facebook Campaigns an edge over the competition.
boost ctr– Jeff Sexton is a frequent contributor to the blog of BoostCTR, which optimizes online ad creative across search and social platforms, boosting overall click-through and conversion rates through the creation and testing of superior ad creative.  

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