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Creative Diversity + Experimentation

July 23, 2023

Marketers talk a lot about prioritizing your tests, maximizing expected value + not succumbing to the fallacy of the better thing. Sure, that’s part of the optimization equation. It provides guidance for when testing [something] might not be in your brand’s / your client’s best interest. 

What it doesn’t help you do is figure out *what* to test, once you’ve identified an area in need of improvement. And that, too, is an area where I think most brands have opportunity. 

Let’s cut right to the chase: most brands test variations on a creative theme, when they should be testing different themes altogether. 

You might be guilty of this. I certainly have been. 

Not sure? 

There’s an easy way to tell: do all of your ads have a similar “look”? Do they all conform to a set of “brand guidelines”? Are they all faux-UGC, or explainers, or hero shots? Do they follow a similar narrative arc and have a similar aesthetic? Sure, you’ve created variants (new creative, new scenery, maybe even a new end card), but does your ad have a “style” to it that is near-instantly recognizable? 

In ~95% of ad accounts, that’s a problem. 

Why? Simple: you’re probably optimizing toward a local maxima, not a global one. 

You’re providing creative that appeals to a specific audience who knows and expects it from you, but not to the ::gestures broadly:: rest of the addressable market that might (a) not love that style; (b) not “get it” or receive information best in that way or (c) resonate with the value prop / style. Ads are educational by nature – and (as we’ve seen), we all learn slightly differently. 

If you’re just making variants on a theme, that’s akin to teaching ONLY by writing on the blackboard. Sure, some students will innately get it! But others – the auditory learners + the experimental learners – might struggle to understand what’s happening + put it together. 

So, instead of testing another iteration of the same ad, try testing a radically different style. 

What might that look like? 

Here are 20 different ad formats I think are worth considering: 

  1. Faux/Scripted User-Generated Content (UGC) – This is what passes for UGC in most cases: a scripted piece of content that mimics UGC. In most cases, this will involve (at least) three things: (1) who the creator is / establish similarity with the audience; (2) their pain points / challenges and (3) how the product addresses those points. Making these is as easy as writing a script + finding an influencer to create it, usually on an iPhone.
  2. Unscripted User Generated Content (UGC) – This is what UGC used to be – before agencies turned it into a commodity. In general, these follow the same script as Faux/Scripted UGC above – though they are more authentic + relatable.
  3. Tiktok Style Ads – Exactly what it sounds like – a creative that mimics a popular TikTok trend or style. These tend to be short, quick-hitting and formatted for consumption on mobile devices (vertical video, designed for sound-off, and usually with some text overlays).
  4. UGC Mash-Up – UGC creation is tough – the “hit” rate is variable, sometimes you have good pieces, but not good final works, and (unlike the Rolling Stones), you can’t play the greatest hits forever. In those cases, consider a UGC mash-up – take parts of multiple pieces of UGC that center on similar angles/concepts (for instance, how a particular product works or the results), and mash them up into a single video. This can also be used to (indirectly) confer credibility on the claims you’re making, as showing multiple people obtaining the same result can create a sense of trust in the product. 
  5. 3D Product Video – These are product images that use renderings (instead of camera shots) to create a video. Add in call-outs or additional graphics/overlaps to highlight key benefits + functionality. 
  6. Comparison – Best used in cases where you *really* want to make the differences between your product and a competitor/alternative crystal clear, the comparison is a must-try. These can be static, video or GIFs – but in every case, they should feature the stand-out aspects of your product/service. Done well, they will help shape the decision-making criteria AND drive prospects in the awareness/consideration/decision phase toward your brand. 
  7. Boomerang – Boomerangs are short video snippets that loop forward, then backward, repeatedly. They’re great to highlight a specific aspect of your product/service that is likely to resonate with your target audience – think storage capacity for a suitcase, or the effect of makeup, or a dish/food product. 
  8. How-Tos/Explainer – If you have a product/service/platform that is new, different or might be confusing to a segment of your audience, explainers/how-tos can be your best (creative) friend. These videos are educational, providing step-by-step instructions for using the product/service/platform in a way that is easily + intelligible to your audience. Done well, they’ll help overcome anxiety and objections, leading to higher conversion rates + more clarity on exactly what your prospect is getting. 
  9. Illustration – Illustrations are hand-drawn (or digitally-drawn) animated videos. These can add an artful, whimsical element to your advertising, as well as enable you to highlight aspects of your product that might be difficult to do in a standard how-to or boomerang. 
  10. Product Reveal – Done well, product reveals are dramatic and suspenseful – two factors that tend to drive higher-than-expected thumbstop rates. These ads slowly reveal what the product is, potentially alongside a before-and-after. This can illustrate (show, not tell) to the user the benefits of the product. 
  11. Shock + Awe / 4th Wall – These have gained popularity on TikTok, but focus on disrupting the user experience in-platform through something dramatic – throwing things at the camera, dropping something, etc. The goal of this type of creative is to lead with something disruptive or surprising, then illustrate how your product/service can achieve it. 
  12. The Hero Video – The thing most brands have quite a bit of – a high-quality, scripted video that highlights product features. To make them more effective, switch from features to benefits (think: Steve Jobs’ famous flip of 1GB storage capacity to “10,000 songs in your pocket”), and hone in on one or two “showstoppers” – what really sets your product apart from the competition + alternatives.  
  13. Screen Recording – Exactly what you think it is: a screen recording of a person using your product/platform/service. These are fantastic for illustrating ease of use or specific features / new functionalities. Combined with low production value + simple text overlays, Screen Recordings can be a powerful tool in your creative arsenal. 
  14. Specs & Call-Outs – If your product/service has a few stand-out features that you need to call attention to, consider the call-out static (or video). It is insanely simple to make (just highlight the thing + add some text) – which limits the storytelling ability, but focuses the audience’s full attention on the one thing that matters. This can easily be combined with the 3D render or product reveal to create an asset that is both intriguing and compelling. 
  15. Reaction – Reaction videos are a subset of UGC that purport to show a real, authentic reaction to a particular product or service. The ones that perform best feature people experiencing strong emotions (surprise, delight, joy). These can (and should!) be filmed on mobile devices with lower production value (which adds to the authenticity of the content). Done well, a reaction ad will serve as a “preview” for what’s in store for your target audience, if they buy your product / service / platform. 
  16. Unboxing – I love a good unboxing video. It sets expectations and allows your target audience to see exactly what they’ll get – all while providing the opportunity to highlight specific aspects of your product that might not translate as well into digital formats (think: the quality of the packaging, the heft of the product, the feel of the leather, the consistency of the makeup, etc.). 
  17. Reviews – People trust people on the internet way too much. Reviews take advantage of that by taking a directly-from-a-real-customer testimonial and making it the star of the ad. These can be done as static images (just the text + maybe a picture of the user or product), or as videos (the person reading their review or showing the review in action (a style that is widely used in the cosmetics industry). 
  18. PR + 3rd Party Credibility – If your brand has obtained any third-party credibility (award wins, media coverage, inclusions in lists/round-ups, etc.), one of the many ways to make that go further is to transform it into an ad. Pull out the best parts of the write-up/award, put it dead-center into your creative, add in a logo or two (especially if the review/award is from a well-known authority/publication), and see what happens. In many cases, these have been the best-performing creatives in an ad account, simply because they are so effective at building trust + de-risking a purchase among potential customers. 
  19. Slideshow – Slideshows are exactly what you’d think: a set sequence of images + content that is animated together. The idea of a slideshow is to quickly communicate either multiple features/benefits or multiple products, all in a way that keeps the user engaged via quick cuts. 
  20. Stop Motion – I love a good stop motion animation – done well, they’re the digital equivalent of a flip book, with each component stitched together in a way that mimics real motion AND highlights an aspect of the product. In a world of video, the stop motion can be particularly effective at highlighting a specific feature / functionality / benefit in an eye-catching, thumb-stopping way. 

Some of these creative formats will result in ads that look very different from what you’ve historically published. Some will even be ugly (h/t to Barry Hott for that phrase). That’s good. Ugly ads can (and do!) work. Some will under-perform your existing creative*. A few will perform fantastically well. 

The key to maximizing your ad account’s performance is to solve for that global maxima – which starts with creative diversity. After all, if you want performance you’ve never gotten before, you have to do things you’ve never done before.