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How to Craft the Best Ads: Best Practices for Creative Testing

Alex Rowe
Jun 4, 2021

How do I test my ad creatives?

In a seminal 2013 Harvard Business Review report, researchers found that highly creative advertising campaigns had, on average, twice the positive impact on sales as less creative campaigns. So, why is it that in the same study, researchers also found that advertising campaigns are massively lacking creativity; with the average creative score being just 2.98 out of 7 according to consumers who took part?

In this digital-first world we live in, where content is curated for us in real time as we scroll through a feed, creating an ad that is truly creative is more difficult than ever before. 

Marketers, let us take the pressure off of you. You can stop waiting around for the advertising muse to deliver inspiration to your fingertips. Modern brands only become creative powerhouses through an iterative process of testing and learning with ads until that eureka moment occurs. We believe that testing your ad creative is the best way to start seeing the results you expect from your marketing efforts.

Why should I test my ad creative?

Adding creative testing to the already daunting to-do lists that media, creative, and marketing teams face can feel stressful. But rest assured, knowing the value of your ads through testing, and having the right tool for that job, makes the process easier. So what are the benefits of rigorously testing your ad creative? 

  • Improve performance. When you know how to speak to your audience in their language, they are more likely to respond. Knowing which creative combination works best for which audience will allow you to move customers down the funnel to purchase more effectively.
  • Save money and time. By understanding what ad creative works (and more importantly, what doesn’t), you can save your business big bucks on creative production and wasted ad impressions. Testing ads up front empowers you to stop producing ads that don't deliver strong results, and get better ads in front of consumers faster.
  • Stay agile. Consumer trends are constantly changing. Keep up with your customers by continuously iterating and optimising your ads. A continual practice of testing and learning—even after a campaign showed positive results—will keep you speaking to them in the most relevant way. 

How should you approach creative testing?

An effective creative test is planned and tailored. Working through the framework below will produce impactful creative tests and help you navigate difficult questions like which tests to run, when to act on new creative insights, and how.

  1. Set goals. Are you going for awareness, conversion or order value? We encourage clients to think broadly about their business goals in this step to ensure every creative test helps support a company-wide strategy. 
  2. Prioritise marketing objectives. Growth or profit? We know, usually both. Our customers have big goals and tons of great ideas on how to reach them, so we recommend prioritising objectives with the greatest ROI.
  3. Agree on an approach to measurement. Last-click, multi-touch, or channel optimised attribution? Engage all stakeholders, including leadership, your agencies, and technology partners, to settle on a primary KPI the success of your creative tests will be judged on. 
  4. Define your testing hypothesis. Too many variables leads to too many unknowns.  We’ve found the more tests you produce, run sequentially, and prioritise to influence your KPI, the better equipped our clients are to move nimbly through a learning agenda. 

If you’re interested in learning more about building a comprehensive approach to testing and optimising campaigns, check out our team’s other posts about setting your dynamic creative campaigns up for success and steps to plan a DCO-driven campaign

What are some best practices for creative testing?

No business or creative test is identical, but through the thousands of campaigns the team has run with our clients, we’ve identified a few creative testing best practices to get you started.

  • Test one element at a time. Only change one creative element so you can be certain that any performance difference is due to the test variable.
  • Have your test in the first frame. Many ads aren’t watched all the way through. Make sure the creative element being tested is visible to audiences in the first frame so you can be confident that the test element is getting measured.
  • Prioritise testing imagery. Imagery drives performance more than other elements in your ad. According to data, varying images on the first frame of an ad is twice as effective as changing a CTA button. For the biggest lift fast, start your tests with images.
  • Prevent the same people from seeing different variants. To be confident of results, make sure your audiences for each test are exclusive and the same people aren’t seeing multiple testing variants. These cohorts or “test cells” allow you to have a control group against which to compare results
  • Limit the number of test cells not creative variations. Too many test cells dilute impression volumes so your creative insights may not be statistically significant. Depending on the test, you should run your creative variations across multiple test cells so your results are more likely to be significant.
  • Share your creative insights. Learnings from creative testing can often be applied across a business in a wide variety of ways. Since creative insights are easily shareable in the platform, companies can access data about their creative across brands, products, channels, and markets instantly.

Even top performing ads can’t run forever. If you don’t keep on top of the creative testing and refreshing, ad fatigue may creep up and drag performance down. Stay proactive and keep the testing cycle going. For example, in just a 4 week period, Estée Lauder refreshed creative 9 times and saw conversion rates increase 69%. That pace of change is critical to make sure your brand doesn’t miss important sales opportunities.

You should have a set of prioritised hypotheses which are measurable, have clear learning outcomes, and a suitable timeline, especially if you want those campaigns to run dynamically. Now it’s time to hit the ground running with creative tests that follow best practices and work through your learning agenda, one hypothesis at a time!

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