How often should you change your ad creative? Nothing lasts forever. Especially in advertising. Creative fatigue – when an ad’s performance declines because people have seen it too many times – affects every ad eventually. On Facebook, it happens especially fast. Even an unusually successful ad will start showing performance declines after a week or two.
So, how often should you change ad creative to stay ahead of fatigue? This is the big question.
Advertisers face two critical challenges: how to develop enough creative to stay ahead of creative fatigue, and how to do creative testing fast and inexpensively enough to keep their ROAS (return on ad spend) high.
Developing mobile ad creative good enough to replace your top-performing ads is highly challenging because you don’t just need a new ad. You need a new ad that will beat your control through creative testing. Most new ad creative doesn’t perform anywhere near as well as a campaign’s top-performing ad, aka “the control.” After managing over $3 billion in ad spend, we’ve found it usually takes twenty new pieces of ad creative to find a replacement for a campaign’s previous control through creative testing. Only about 5% of new ad creative performs well enough to make the cut. This has two major consequences:
Most in-house creative teams struggle to stay ahead of creative fatigue by changing ad creative often.
Ironically, the more successful creative teams are, the harder they have to work. Because if their ad creative does well, ad spend usually increases. And as ad spend increases, their new ads burn out faster. They have to work harder to maintain the same results by changing ad creative.
Even if a creative team can keep pace with the demands of scaling up, they’ll often run into another challenge: Getting out of their creative “comfort zone.” This is the inherent tendency of sticking to what works. It isn’t a bad thing – focusing on what works drives performance – but creative teams often get stuck in ruts of just sticking to what’s worked in the past. Eventually, the ad creative gets a little stale, performance dips, and you have to think beyond what’s worked in the past.
One proven way to stretch beyond the curse of “what’s worked before” is to do regular competitive analyses. The Facebook Ad Library is a great free tool for this, but other paid tools can give you insights into how ads are performing.
Doing regular, documented competitive analyses can help creative teams come up with more ideas. But it also helps them to be more data-driven. That’s critical for success right now.
Another way for creative teams to stretch is to participate in an “agency bake-off.” This is where the in-house creative team competes against an external creative team. The bake-off has rules, and information on ad performance is shared between both teams every week. We do agency bake-offs in 30-day sprints, with set rules designed to maximize learning and performance and minimize any downsides of competition. To date, we haven’t lost one. But be aware that 30-day tests often fail.
Then there’s the most common way to expand a creative team’s capacity: to outsource. Our Creative Studio does that for hundreds of advertisers. It gives them access to a world-class team with Disney-level storytelling skills and data-driven user acquisition expertise. We’ve built a streamlined system that makes it easy to request and approve any amount of mobile ad creative you need.
So if you’re ready to move beyond a one-off style of mobile ad creative development, it can be done. Using an outside team like our Creative Studio can be particularly helpful if you want to scale quickly, or if you want to be able to expand or contract your creative development without having to hire (or fire) an internal team.
But just having “enough” is only the beginning of being able to change ad creative often. Next, you have to test it. Finding that new magic ad as efficiently as possible is an advertiser’s best competitive advantage, especially now that Google and Facebook have given every advertiser access to machine learning-driven tools that make many third-party ad tech tools obsolete.
Quantitative Ad Creative Testing is an A/B split-testing methodology we’ve developed specifically for mobile ad creative. It’s designed to be super-efficient with both time and ad spend, to find the sort of breakout ads that can replace a campaign’s previous control.
Quantitative ad creative testing separates new mobile ad creative into two buckets: Concepts and Variations. Concepts are totally new, out of the box ad creative approaches. They tend to fail a lot, but when they succeed, they often blow the doors off everything else. About 20% of the mobile ad creative testing we do is with Concepts.
Variations are just what they sound like. They’re small tweaks we make to existing ad creative to see if we can get it to perform better. Testing Variations is much “safer,” in that Variations don’t tend to tank as hard as Concepts do, thus they don’t risk wasting as much ad spend. Testing Variations also lets us find out which elements of an ad are driving its performance. This is precious information for optimizing the ad and for changing your ad creative it later on. Being able to change ad creative lets us extend its life and thus radically improves the ROI of creative assets. Strategically expanding the audiences we advertise to helps a lot as well.
To do Quantitative Ad Creative Testing for mobile ad creative, we take batches of new Concepts and run them against each other in an ad set. Each new Concept gets about 50,000 impressions before we decide if it’s a winner or a loser. If it’s a winner, it gets moved up into another ad set where it will run against another winning mobile ad creative, including the current control. If the new ad can outperform all the other ads in that ad set, then it gets moved into another, primary ad set and gets the bulk of the campaign’s spend.
In an environment where time is precious, being able to effectively test ad creative faster than normal is a significant competitive advantage. If we can iterate ads faster than our competitors, our campaigns can become dramatically more efficient. That means we can compete against advertisers with ad budgets three, five, even ten times larger than our own.
And the speed is just the first benefit. Being able to do these tests quickly also means they cost far less than traditional testing would require. We’ve saved a lot of ad spend with the abbreviated testing cycle. And, we’ve optimized the budget we did use by not spending money on underperforming ads.
This has one other powerful consequence. Because our ads are so much more efficient than our competitors, we can outbid them. And even while we’re outbidding them, we’re still getting dramatically higher ROAS than they are.
This dynamic can be so extreme. Even a small (but way more efficient) advertiser can sometimes take out a larger, better-funded competitor. If you’re getting 200% ROAS and your primary competitor is only getting 20% ROAS, you can still outbid them and take the best ad placements. Even if they’re a Fortune 500 with a pile of money to burn.
Being able to outbid competitors is especially critical for mobile advertisers, too. Because of the nature of mobile advertising, there isn’t a lot of space on the screen. It’s a winner take all situation. The best ad creative can hog all the inventory, leaving scraps for everyone else.
In principle, any advertiser who can own the top ad creative placement (often the only ad creative placement in an app or mobile interface) can basically own that entire ad platform for certain audiences. And that’s why strategic, ongoing A/B testing and changing your ad creative is the ultimate competitive advantage.