Episode 287

Crafting Ad Creative That Converts: Combining Data & Boldness

Dara Denney - Thesis
July 10, 2024
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You've heard that creative is KING.

In reality, it's probably King, Queen, and more.

In this episode of the eCommerce Evolution podcast, I sit down with Dara Denny, a performance creative consultant who has worked with an impressive array of brands like Speedo, Laura Geller, Daily Harvest, and Condé Nast. Dara shares her wealth of knowledge on crafting ad creative that truly converts, diving into the importance of testing, iteration, and taking big swings. If you're looking to level up your ad creative game, this episode is a must-listen.

Key topics and lessons include:

  • The power of specificity in ad creative, from calling out exact prices to reflecting customer age demographics
  • Why UGC isn't dead, but some of it does suck, and how to garner UGC that works!
  • How to strike a balance between data-driven iteration and taking big, bold creative swings
  • Dara's creative testing methodology, including how to structure tests and identify winners
  • Five ad formats that work, including feature-benefit callouts, "golden nugget" reviews, founder stories, statistics, and educational ads

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Chapters:

(00:00) Introduction 

(04:56) Which Hook Won?

(16:48) Is UGC Dead?

(28:40) Creative Testing - Quality vs. Quantity

(36:42) Dara’s Testing Methodology

(41:35) What Is A Typical Ad Win Rate

(43:22) Five Killer Ad Formats

(53:48) Conclusion

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Show Notes:

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Connect With Brett: 

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Past guests on eCommerce Evolution include Ezra Firestone, Steve Chou, Drew Sanocki, Jacques Spitzer, Jeremy Horowitz, Ryan Moran, Sean Frank, Andrew Youderian, Ryan McKenzie, Joseph Wilkins, Cody Wittick, Miki Agrawal, Justin Brooke, Nish Samantray, Kurt Elster, John Parkes, Chris Mercer, Rabah Rahil, Bear Handlon, Trevor Crump, Frederick Vallaeys, Preston Rutherford, Anthony Mink, Bill D’Allessandro, Bryan Porter and more. 

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Other episodes you might enjoy: 

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Transcript:

Dara:

So number one, I definitely don't think that UGC is dead, but I just think that the heyday of easy UGC getting results and this idea that, oh, people want to hear from other people that are like their friends. It's just no longer that easy. You just actually have to make really good content.

Brett:

Well, hello and welcome to another edition of the e-Commerce Evolution podcast. On this episode, we're talking about creative that converts, and we all know creative is king. Without the right creatives, whether you're running YouTube ads or meta ads or TikTok ads or whatever, you are destined to fail. I know YouTube says that 50 to 85% of your success comes down to the creative. I believe that. And so my guest today is Dara Denney. Now you probably know her already. You may be one of her faithful subscribers on YouTube, or you may have heard her speak at an event. I got to hear her speak recently in Austin, Texas at Ezra Firestone's event. Her talk was my favorite of the show, so we connected and I said, Hey, got to come on the pod. She graciously agreed. So with that, Ms. Dara, Denney. Dara, welcome to the show and how's it going?

Dara:

Amazing. Hey Brett, thank you so much for having me on. It was really amazing to meet you back in Austin, so I'm really glad that we get to do this and talk even more about creative.

Brett:

Yeah, I can geek out about creative. It's one of my favorite topics, so it's going to be a lot of fun. But a couple things to call out. One, you are a performance creative consultant, but you're also a creator. So how does that work? How do you consult and create, because you're kind of doing both.

Dara:

Yeah, I never sleep candidly. No, I'm kidding. Well, I worked in the advertising industry for years and years. I've really spent the last seven, eight years working agency side. So I've been able to work with an amazing array of brands. Initially I was a trained media buyer, and then really as a response to how important creative was becoming over the last few years, I started focusing more and more on the creative portion of meta ads. So at my last role at the agency, I was actually overseeing the entire creative department. So I made the UGC Creator division. I also managed about 15 video editors, graphic designers, motion graphics artists, and also the creative directors. So the people who actually spearheaded the strategy. Now I am very much working to create more educational content for those type of people and for brands and people working at brands and agencies to make creative that converts. But I do still actually do the work. I think it's really, really important because how much our industry changes to really have some skin in the game. So I do actually work with a few brands right now to help them with their performance creative strategy, and that's honestly my favorite part of the week. I love making the content, but I still really, really love the

Brett:

Work. Got to be in the game. We were just talking about that. It happens so quickly that you get rusty if you're not in the game on the daily, you miss out and things change. So core fundamental principles of creative don't really change, but some of the execution does change. And so it's important to be in the game. And I believe it all comes down to creative overall strategy and then execution. So how do we do those three things and do them well? And you've worked with some impressive brands like Speedo, Laura Geller, daily Harvest, Conde Nast, and a bunch of others. And so really excited to draw from your knowledge. And also we found out not only did we share in our affinity for creative, but while we were in Austin, Texas, we did what any good Texan will do. Neither one of us are Texans, but we rode a mechanical bull. So we were at this event, there was a mechanical bull there. There were a lot of people hanging out, and we both braved it, rode the mechanical bull. What was that experience like for you?

Dara:

It didn't last very long, to be honest, but I think we were true to our nature. We were going to test it out absolutely. And we were also just there to win in Texas, so we were just taking the experience and seeing what would happen. And to be honest, the test, it didn't pan out for us, but it was a good learning experience.

Brett:

We did not miss our calling. The rodeo was not the life for us for sure. So we ended up in the right spot. But I brought several team members, several OMG team members with me. I initially said, not a chance am I getting on that mechanical bowl. Peer pressure was there, so I did get on there. Yeah, it was ugly, but it was also fun and funny. So good stuff. Well, so let's dive in. One of the things you led with in your talk, which I love this, you kind of did a witch hook won, and the beginning, the hook of an ad, I know this is true on YouTube, I believe it's true across platforms, the hook is the most important part. You don't get attention or get the right attention. Really nothing else matters. And so you showed multiple variations of a similar ad.

Visuals looked about the same. Headlines were different, voiceover was a little bit different, and you pulled the audience on which test one. And I will say, I did win this one, I picked this one, right? I don't always pick it right. And this is one of the things like this is why you always test because sometimes even someone who's been doing this forever still gets it wrong. But lemme just kind of lay out these winners and so you can play at home, you're driving in your car, listening wherever you play at home. And do you want to set this up? This was for a smoothie client. Can you talk about what the product is real quick and then I'll go through the headlines?

Dara:

Yeah, I've talked about this ad many times. So I'll just say this was an ad that I did for Daily Harvest a few years ago, and essentially we were testing some new UGC creator content and we essentially formulated this test to be a hook test. We were testing out several different headlines and questions. Really the angle to that we were taking is we were changing up the comment that was in the TikTok response bubble for each of these. So that was really the only factor here that was different. So yeah, one out by a landslide. So I'll go ahead and give it back to you so that you can go through the different headlines.

Brett:

So here it is. So headline number one, this smoothie is cheap and tasty. Double question mark. So not just one question mark, two question marks. There we go. If you have ever spent $9 on a smoothie, next one. So headline three, manifesting a healthy relationship with food this year. Any suggestions, thinking, Hey, I'm going to get healthy. What can you recommend to me? That's headline three, headline four, something sweet but healthy. Any suggestions? We got headlines 1, 2, 3, and four. What say you, dear listener, give you a second to guess, and then the big reveal, Dara, which one of those won? It

Dara:

Was B. So this is the one that said, for those of you who ever spent $9 on a smoothie, there's a few

Brett:

And we all have. Yeah,

Dara:

Right. Yes. Especially if you live in New York, which we both do. They're like $14 now, which is astounding. No,

Brett:

I actually live in Missouri, so I want to clear that up. I've stayed in Brooklyn, stay with my buddy Ezra back in the day when he lived in Brooklyn. We love New York City, but no, I live in Missouri, so it is cheaper here. I've spent lucky spent time. Yeah, I'm from the Midwest, so it's like seven here. It's way cheaper. Way cheaper. Yeah. So why, why did that one win?

Dara:

So before I dive into why this one won, I want to give some background on how we chose those

Really great. Initially, we actually went through all of the comments on recent ads and were pulling out primarily questions or comments that people had. And we looked at the ones that, or we looked at the themes that came up again and again. And we also looked at the comments that had the most engagement and we really wanted to find a variety, a big swing. We noticed that it was really important to get people who were manifesting a better, healthier relationship with themselves in the new year because this is an ad that was coming out around January. So we wanted to try and capitalize on that feeling as well. And then we also wanted to look out for the people who were like, oh, I want a sweet treat, but I want it to be healthy. That was something that kept on coming up again and again.

We actually threw in the value prop of, oh, people who spend $9 on a smoothie in there as a totally random last minute one. So it was really surprising to me that one won initially. And what's funny too is daily harvest smoothies at the time were not that much cheaper than $9. I think they were about $7 per smoothie, but I think there was something about people feeling that experience of the $9 smoothie was something that a lot of people had experienced. And when they saw that, they were like, oh yeah, that's me. That's in the morning. Because a lot of Daily Harvest customers were from New York and California, so they were accustomed to paying that higher price. But I also think it was how specific it was too. That stood out in people's minds. The specificity marketing is something that I lean into a lot right now, whether or not it's calling out a specific price range or doing some price anchoring, which is really what that strategy is, but also with people's ages. So I work with a lot of brands right now that target 40 50 plus, and we find that with these age groups particularly they like to say their age in their website reviews and their ad comments. And when reflecting that same strategy and ad creative, that's something that helps a lot. And I just think that the more specific you can be, the more that you're going to stick out in the minds of your users and differentiate yourself from the competition.

Brett:

So $9 more powerful than saying $10 for a smoothie as an example. Yeah,

Dara:

Exactly.

Brett:

Or calling out an age of 43-year-old dude versus a forties, something like that. So be specific.

Dara:

Yeah, yeah. Or even just saying, oh, these are cheaper than, these are cheaper than what you buy on the street. If you can actually just say what the price is, that tends to stick out for people.

Brett:

And I love that you were price anchoring. You were saying, Hey, if you've ever spent $9 on a smoothie, which does indicate, okay, you are serious about your smoothies if you're willing to pay $9, it also says these are less, but then it compares it to the $9 smoothie, which means that's like real ingredients. This is not just a powder, it's not just a kit. This is not like some sugar laden thing. This is a real smoothie. And so lots going on with that headline, which was really cool. Why else do you think that ad won? And we have the disadvantage of not being able to show it on the pod, but what other elements of that ad made it work?

Dara:

Yeah, there are two big elements. I want to zoom in on one, which again, we can't see the ad right now, but the visuals were wildly important. We had a lot of dynamic shots. So the first shot is actually opening up someone doing almost a flat lay looking down into the smoothie, and then the exact next frame was actually the smoothie being poured into the bowl and you are in the bowl. So immediately we have these competing visuals that are drawing people in and getting people really interested. And the frames were changed up pretty much every 1.5 to two seconds. So we were never focused on one visual long. And a lot of people, that video had a really solid hold rate. So people were watching that thing a lot longer than normal. The other thing that was really important to the storytelling of that video was we did use language that was pulled again directly from website reviews and midway through the video we actually have a part of the script that says that it tastes like a milkshake, but it's actually really healthy for you. And that was something I pulled directly from an ad comment. And even though the brand hated that line, we had people in the ad comments that'd be like, oh my god, yeah, it does taste like a smoothie, but it is really good. You need to try the mint chocolate chip. That's the one that tastes the most like a smoothie and the one that tastes most like a milkshake. And we just saw that language being echoed back to us, which showed us that, hey, yeah, this is actually really effective.

Brett:

And sometimes I think we get too cute as marketers or we have this elevated view of our brand, which isn't necessarily bad, but it's way more important to understand what resonates with the customer. And if you see a recurring theme where people say something about your product over and over again, and especially in this case where you put it in an ad and then more people comment on it, it doesn't matter at that point, if you like that phrase or not, that phrase is working and it's resonating with people, so you got to lean into it.

Dara:

Yeah, I wish I could have tested it as a hook. The brand would not let us, but at least I got it midway through the script.

Brett:

You got it in there. And that is a win. And one thing I always talk about for other agency people, agency life is difficult. I love this gig, I love what I do for sure. But when you are pitching an idea, creative idea or campaign idea, whatever, you got to please multiple people, you got to first convince the client and what convinces the client may not convince the user and you got to convince the user and then you got to get the platform on board and all that stuff too. So it's difficult, but I would call that a win for sure that you got it snuck in there in the middle, so that's awesome. I love the fast paced edits as well. This is something we've seen on the YouTube side as well, where sometimes you take the exact same script and a lot of the same visuals make the cuts snappier and or speed up the voiceover, and sometimes you can speed up the voiceover by 10 or 15% and no one notices.

It doesn't sound off at all. It's just a little bit faster. And that almost always increases retention, increases click-through increases conversion rate. And I love the way my buddy Jacque Spitzer from Raindrop talks about this. It's not so much that we have short attention spans, it's just we have short consideration spans. So we will binge watch Netflix for eight hours in a row or we'll watch a three or four minute ad if it's awesome, but if it's not, we're bailing very quickly. And so some of those things, fast edits, unique angles really keeps us considering and hanging on longer.

Dara:

I even think about my own user experience when I'm going through TikTok. I very often will put my thumb on the right side of the screen so that it'll go two x, three x and speed up. And I also hear people being like, oh, I listen podcasts at 1.5 or two x. And I think that we are very much now in, when I think about our consumption habits overall, it's like we need the information faster. So if your own paid ads content is belaboring the point, you're going to lose people if you're not getting to it quickly.

Brett:

Totally, yeah. And I've always heard, and I do the same thing with audiobooks with podcasts, I'm a 1.2 to 1.8 kind of range depending on how fast the voice is naturally. But we can process information a lot faster than most people speak. And so when you're face to face with someone, you're reading cues and you're paying attention to a lot of things and someone's there so you're being polite. But online, dude, we're ruthless. If it's not keeping us, we're failing for sure. So awesome. Let's talk about, you talked a little bit about UGC and this is something you and I talked about before we hit record, but there's kind of this popular thing going on right now where smart people that I know and respect and love are saying UGC is dead, right? Do something else, UGC, it's tired, it's played, do something else. What is your take on that? Why would someone say that and is that true?

Dara:

Yes, so I have a really interesting perspective on this. For the last three months actually, I've been tracking 20 brands, best performing creatives. So every single month I'll take a look at the same 20 brands that I have ad account access to and I'll list out their top three performing types of creatives. And what's really interesting is for the last three months, more than 50% of all of these creatives have been UGC. So number one, I definitely don't think that UGC is dead, but I just think that the heyday of easy UGC getting results and this idea that oh, people want to hear from other people that are like their friends. It's just no longer that easy. You just actually have to make really good content. Another interesting wrinkle to that is I do see UGC creators themselves not being as effective. The brands that actually succeed with this type of content are actually just working with creators.

So these are going to be your micro, not huge influencers, but they are creators that already make content about the industry that your product is in. Those are the people that I see to be the most successful. Going back to my data poll, my own little pet project that I've been doing UGC versus images, images are still wildly important. Totally. I'd say that about 70% of all the brands that I was pulling, so 15 of these 20 brands, they still have images in their top performing creative. So it's not that it's an either or. It's like how can we use all of these formats to supplement the end goal for wherever the brand is In scaling journey, what I've noticed too is that brands that spend more than 500 K per month, particularly those that are spending more than a million per month, they do tend to over index a lot more on UGC and on that creator content to actually still get customer acquisition costs that are profitable for them. And what I see them doing that's really smart is they will rapidly test a lot of messaging points using images and then take those messaging learnings and apply those to their UGC content so that they're not just putting out BS like content from creators. They're actually starting from a really good learning whether or not it's an angle or a specific messaging point, and those are the people that are seeing the most success right now.

Brett:

Super interesting. So using images to understand and the text that goes with it and understand hook to understand what angles are working, and then they're taking that and then they're specifically asking creators to create content based on that, or they're taking existing content and editing it and pulling forward hooks that line up with what they just proved in their image ads.

Dara:

Most of the time it's taking messaging point or angles that are interesting that are great learnings from images and then applying those to the creator brief essentially. And again, when you're working with creators or influencer types that are already making content about that specific industry or niche that comes a lot more naturally than your run of the mill UGC creator who's just trying to make an extra buck, which I respect it and there was definitely a good time for that. I think that time probably isn't now anymore, and we're really just looking to work with creators who love to make content for a specific industry.

Brett:

Got it. So you're not looking for a huge influencers, you're looking for influencers that are really dedicated to a specific vertical or specific topic that they've got a following, they're great at creating content, they're authentic. Anything you would add to that? What are you looking for in a creator that's going to create great UGC?

Dara:

Yeah, I'd say these creators typically have anywhere from 10 K to a hundred K to a hundred K followers on. I think TikTok is a great place to find these people because you can often amass more followers on TikTok versus Instagram, and that's kind of where I initially find really great creators who haven't hit the mainstream yet, but have a bit of a cult following within a certain niche industry. I work a lot with beauty brands right now and TikTok is bar none the best place to find those people. But it's the same thing too. When I'm working with an apparel brand or a supplements brand, TikTok is really just still the hotbed of where to find amazing creators. I've used all of the platforms to find creators and find UGC, but I think that nothing really compares to working with the creators that already have dedicated themselves to a niche in a way

Brett:

That range of followers makes sense because it's showing 10,000 followers. It still means you're doing some unique stuff and you're doing pretty well and up to a hundred K, that's great, but they're maybe not so big that they're demanding a high fee or maybe they lose touch with their audience a little bit or whatever as they get bigger, just harder to work with. I think that makes sense. But I really want to double click on your first point where you said, really the days of just doing UGC, that was the strategy, that was the unlock. We did UGC, that's done right now. It's got to be good UGC, it has to be the right influencer, right creator, the right message, the right editing, you're putting it together the right way, it's following the good principles of marketing, but still UGC at the center of that makes a ton of sense. And I think you proved it there too by those top spenders that are spending 500 KA million, a couple million a month online, UGC makes up a large part of their ad spend. And we see the same thing on YouTube. A number of our bigger clients, their top spending videos are influencer, influencer mashups, like mashups of influencers work really well. Is that something you're seeing on the meta and TikTok side, like a mashup of influencers or is it more individual influencer delivering their content?

Dara:

What's so interesting is actually when we did the talk at Blue Ribbon, so this is only a month ago, and I had done the last two data polls for the month. I had seen that single testimonials were winning across the board, everything was focused on one creator, one influencer, and my hypothesis there was, oh, okay, it seems like people get a more authentic experience when it's just from one creator and they're a little bit more suspicious or it's more like of an ad queue when it's compilations or multiple creators. But in this most recent dataset that I pulled for May, I actually found that compilations were on the rise again. Yeah, my personal belief is that the question of whether or not to go single testimonial versus compilation probably boils down more to it being a factor of how you're doing your internal tagging and your internal strategist being able to pull the right content from the right different creators and knowing when and where to make those mashups, which I find can be really hard for teams, but with some of the brands that I worked with, we've found a solution for that. So that's why I think we're seeing more of those.

Brett:

Nice. Yeah, so I think the edits are simpler. If it's one influencer, you still got to have quick cuts and it's got to be tight and it's got to be sped up. Don't let them ramble, got to get to the point and lead with a wow statement or provocative question or something. But I think it is easier to add just one. And so it takes a unique skillset to do the mashup or the compilation of UGC or influencers. But one reason why I think the compilation works so well or the mashup is as a viewer, if I'm watching an influencer, I'm conscious or subconsciously judging like, well, they're not like me, they're bigger than that person and so this clothes might not work, or I don't really work out like that, so maybe this product isn't for me or I don't like that person's tone.

What are there's reasons why someone doesn't resonate with us? But if you've got multiple people in an ad, there's likely going to be someone there that really connects with you where you're like, ah, that's my person. I see me in that person. And that allows for a much deeper connection, trust, overcoming of objections, wanting to then make that click, but it's a bit of a different art. And so getting that mashup to work is a little bit more difficult, but we like what we call the mashup explainer where it's like, Hey, we've got these three feature benefit sets or these three points we want to make about our product, so let's mash up three or four people making each of those points and kind of string it together with fast edits and B roll and stuff like that. And I think that can work.

Dara:

What I used to see with compilations versus testimonials too is compilations would work really good for more top of funnel audiences or broader audiences because of the point that you mentioned before, people are more likely to find themselves in a multiple cast of characters. And when I see compilations not working for a brand, I actually do dig into, okay, should we expand the ages? Is there more diversity we could inject to the compilation cast of characters there so that we can reach better audiences? But I also think single testimonials inherently target more of a lower funnel individual who are like, okay, I want the in-depth perspective, I want the authentic IRL review. So single testimonials again, could in theory be working inherently targeting a more bottom of funnel audience. So there really

Brett:

Good point.

Dara:

Yeah. Yeah,

Brett:

They may work a little more for mid funnel, bottom of funnel could work for remarketing as well. People want that. Yeah, I'll just sit and listen to you talk about this product. I really want to know. Yeah,

Dara:

Exactly. So it's kind of hard since Facebook is all broad now, and a lot of my brands aren't using many retargeting audiences, so it's really hard to say, yeah, this is a retargeting audience only or this is a prospecting audience only. It's all the same thing now. But when I take a step back and look at, okay, which part of the marketing funnel in theory would this be targeting? Sometimes that helps illuminate more clues for me.

Brett:

Yeah, it's really cool and I'm glad you brought that up. I know for a lot of DTC brands, meta is the biggest platform where most of the ad budget goes and not as many people are running on YouTube. Although I think people, everybody should run on YouTube if you've got the right content. We're still seeing a breakdown of top of funnel viewed video remarketing working well on YouTube, but I totally get now on Met. It's mostly just broad audiences, but you want the content there so the algorithm can do its thing and find the right match of ad to audience, but you got to have all the ads there. And so this is a good time to pivot and talk about quality and quantity of creatives. And I remember hearing someone say a long time ago, I can't remember the context, but you find quality in the quantity.

And it seems like especially on meta and TikTok, you just got to crank out a lot of content. If you don't have enough content, your chances of winning are very low. And I heard this example one time, I may butcher the context a little bit, but it was a class, like a college class. And so one group was given the assignment of create the best pot that you can create, take as much time as you want, choose your materials, whatever, but make the best pot you can make vase, that kind of pot. And then the other group was like, Hey, just make as many as you can possibly make in this timeframe. And it turns out the group that made the most actually ended up creating the best as well because they were testing, learning, trying, failing, doing the next thing. And I think that kind of applies to ad testing as well. You don't know, and so just start creating a whole bunch, but how do you ensure getting the right quantity and quality of creatives?

Dara:

So I think it all kind of backs into a budget that a brand is going to be spending on meta ads. So the way that I like to roadmap out the number of creatives to test per week really does back into that monthly budget. And so if a brand is going to be spending a hundred K per month on meta ads, I'm thinking to myself, okay, that's going to equate about three to four creative tests per week, and I'll roadmap that out for a month so that at any point in time we know what type of creative is going to come down the pipeline for the next four months. And to go to the second part of your question, which is like, okay, quantity, that's the quantity part. How do we focus on quality? Really it's a confluence of prioritizing what you can get out the fastest and what you think is going to perform the best.

So at any point in time, of course, we want to prioritize what we think is going to perform the best while what's also going to be the easiest to produce, but sometimes it's really our big swings that we have the highest confidence in and we have to roadmap those out to give us more time to actually produce that so that we are still hitting our three to four creative tests per week benchmark, because a lot of it is a numbers game. I know when I talk to a lot of my friends about dating, for instance, especially for my friends that are single in their thirties and they want to find the one, it kind of becomes a numbers game at a point. And I think it's the same for creative testing, even though we all get really attached to the creatives that we want to win and the learnings and yada yada, but especially as you begin to scale a lot, you just have to have that volume and you have to get learnings from that volume.

I think one of the biggest things that brands are in danger of though when they start pushing up their quantity and looking for that quality is they get into what I would call iteration paralysis where they only start making content based on the data and based on their learnings. And I can always tell a brand is in iteration paralysis when I look at their ad account or I look at the creative they're currently testing and if I can squint and they all kind of look the same, they're all using the same content, they're all using the same font and they're not materially different. I'm like, Ooh, you are not standing out on the feed as well as you could. Because the reality is people are swiping up pretty quickly when they're scrolling through Instagram when they're scrolling through TikTok or Facebook or whatever, they're having conversations with their partner, they're having conversations with their parents, maybe they're just looking at it while they're in a meeting, they're not really paying attention. And if you are showing up the same time every single time, you're blending in the background. So that's why I really do encourage brands to when thinking about quality, it's not just about being data-driven, it's also about taking the big swing and the brands that I see taking a few big swings every single month, those are the ones that tend to win more often than not.

Brett:

Man, it's so good and iteration will only get you so far. And if all you're doing is little tweaks, why would you expect anything other than just little improvements? Right? And I remember hearing people talk about landing page optimization is something as well where it's like, wait, let's just test every little tiny variable

This test. So let's test. Let's test the button color first and we'll get 'em like, dude, you're never going to get anywhere meaningful. But if you can use the data to then form theories about what people are liking and not liking, then take a big swing, be risky. That's where you're going to find a breakthrough is with a big swing, not with alliterations, nothing wrong with tweaking as well, but if you're never taking those big swings, why would you ever expect to get a big outcome? And so really, really good call out. I've never heard of the squint test, but I like that if you're squinting at the ad library, it all looks the same. Okay, you got to branch out. You got to be a little bolder there.

Dara:

Yeah. Yeah. I'd say too, when thinking about big tests and yeah, I just think that a lot of media buyer types, I work with a lot of growth teams and the number one thing that they tell me they're afraid of when it comes to creative is they're really afraid to give the subjective opinion as to why a creative worked. That's why they're really comfortable looking at videos and being like, oh, this brand had this video had a hook rate of X, Y, Z, and that was better than this one. That's why it worked. The hook was better. But they won't go into more of the subjective things that actually make a big difference. Like, oh, the creator was the creator looked like this or said this. That was really interesting. And the data isn't always going to reveal why a creative worked. So the more comfortable you can get with being subjective and pulling out those bigger learnings, that's where I see creative teams starting to make those much bigger unlocks.

Brett:

And really, I mean, that's what you're looking for in the data. And this is something we deal with as an agency all the time, and I know you have as well where teams can be tempted to just share with the client, here's all the data, here's the data, here's the data from creative A and creative B and creative C. You're like, okay,

Dara:

That's not an analysis.

Brett:

What do you think? What does that mean? What do we do? And so I just on a call with a big brand where we're doing this big YouTube push and seeing what's driving in-store traffic because you can actually track that with YouTube. They're a D two C brand, but also on Amazon also in retail stores. And two ads quite similar. One I actually liked better than the other, but the one I didn't like as well had quite a bit higher conversion rate as we're looking at it because it was in store and stuff. The main thing that we saw that was different was the option two, mention the brand name very quickly and for YouTube. And I don't know that that was the reason, but that was our initial hypothesis. We're like, Hey, let's test this more. But with YouTube, people can skip after five seconds, but if you mention the brand in the first five seconds, that could really trigger people looking up directions to Walmart or some of the things we were testing for this brand. And so that's where the data really matters, and that takes someone that kind knows creative and knows the game and has kind of been in it a while to look at a couple of different creatives and say, this is what the data is indicating why and what do we test now? What's our next swing?

Dara:

That subjective analysis of honestly the gravy.

Brett:

It is. It is, and it takes a little bit. You got to kind of put yourself out there and you may be wildly wrong, but you got to be willing to do it, and that's super important. Can you talk a little bit about your testing methodology? So how do we go about creative testing? So now we're getting these three to four creatives a week. If we're spending about a hundred K, or I'm assuming it just, does it just kind of double as spend doubles? Does it go up linearly with the budget? Is that how that usually goes?

Dara:

Yeah, yeah. I'd say that for every additional 25 grand that you're spending every month, that's another creative test to add per week is my really rough estimation for that. And the anatomy of a great creative test for me is when I'm making a creative test, I'm not just going to be making one asset. I am going to bake in a little bit of iterative variation testing into every single test. So if I'm going to be testing a UGC creator's content for a brand, I'm going to create ideally three unique hooks for that content. So I'm going to edit it down, have the base edit, and then I'm going to test out three really different hooks. And my secret sauce here is I do try to make these hooks fundamentally different. Maybe I'll have the creator, I'll start with a reaction point. So earlier to your point, you were talking about having creators say something about the product that's really surprising or exclamatory, I find reactions, authentic reactions from creators can do really well.

So maybe I'll do that. Maybe I'll have another one that talks about a certain value prop that they really liked about the product. So it'll be really product first and then I'll try another one that's maybe more problem oriented because I find that a lot of times when I look at the hooks that work again and again, they're either product oriented, so they're already talking about a specific product or they're problem oriented, so that is going to be targeting slightly different parts of the funnel as well. So depending on who you're trying to target, they could be different, which is why I like to test those things inside of one unique creative test. So say I have these three variations for this UGC creator's content, I'm then going to deploy that ideally in its own ad set, all three of those so that I can throttle money to that ad set.

I'm not really concerned about getting the same amount of spend between each of those variations. In fact, if I see one variation coming out heads and tails above it, I think that's a really good sign because it means that that version is probably really scalable in some cases. Yeah, I'll go ahead, scale that one up to a different campaign, try throttling money to the other ones, but if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. We've already found our messaging point that is going to be the winner for that one. And for me too, I like testing things on a broad audience that is the most scalable audience. And the idea too is if it's going to work on broad, it's going to work on all your other audiences. And you're also sort of creating a new ecosystem within that ad set too. That's its own unique targeting pool based on that creative.

So I like to scale that up within the ad set. And again, if we're seeing really good results from scaling that up 20% every three days-ish, but if I see a bang an ad, I'll double triple it overnight. It doesn't really matter. Absolutely. Just let's push it and if it continues to work, then we'll put it to the scaling campaigns and see how it compares against other winners and see how long it takes for those to scale up and compete against each other essentially. But yeah, what I do too is after we see that creative winning or losing, I do retros at the end of every month with the brands that I work with to look at a specific test in depth, this is going to go over a lot more of the subjective analysis, but it's also going to force them to pull learnings that they can then iterate on. So okay, what are we going to do in the ad account next? But also, should we take a learning here, apply it to an upcoming static test or an upcoming creator brief? How can we make sure that we're always drawing those learnings from every single test? Sometimes I'll have brands make slide decks for all of this, but oftentimes we don't have time. So it's just something that's done verbally and a meeting. Yeah,

Brett:

Just do the platform, just show the ads in the platform, talk through it, talk about what the next tests are going to be. That's what really matters. I do think sometimes we get hung up in the, are we presenting this data when every, it's just about we get the data, let's make some theories and hypotheses on that, and then let's work on our next test, which I think makes a ton of sense. What is a typical or kind of expected win rate? So we're testing three ads in an ad set, or maybe we're testing six or eight creatives across an account. How many of those are we expecting to be losers? How many are we expecting to be mild winners? How many are we expected to be maybe runaway winners? Any thoughts there? Yeah,

Dara:

I'd say that it looks really different as you start to scale more With some of the brands that I work with, they're spending more than $2 million per month on their ads. And what I'll see is there's a certain benchmark I need creatives to hit, and I'd say more than 50% of those creatives are hitting it, but they're not necessarily creative winners. They're just something that are going to add padding to your ad account, add that newness, add that juice, and then after two or three weeks we turn them off, they stop being as effective. But in terms of absolute banger winner, unicorn ads kind of rare.

Brett:

Yeah, it's rare. They go a few months right before you hit another one. I mean it

Dara:

Can time the creative that hit your benchmark should not be underestimated. And I can count on those, and I see those almost more than 50% of the time. But the real banging unicorn ad ones once a month sometimes.

Brett:

Yeah, I mean it's on

Dara:

How much creative we're putting out.

Brett:

And if it's sale period, it's like a star player, the star student, I mean they're not going to be that many. That's just by definition there's not going to be that many truly exceptional outlier type ads. So Awesome. So let's do this star. We are coming up against times. So we've got about five to seven minutes. I want to go through quickly. You have some ad formats, which I think will be really helpful. We'll lead people with this. This will be good food for thought. So I'm going to need you to give a 32nd explanation of each of these and we'll run through them. So ad format number one, feature benefit, call out. What is that and how would you advise people to execute

Dara:

Those? So essentially what this ad is, is it's a static image ad and it ideally will have your product on a plain background, and then you are pointing out certain key benefits or features of that product. I love, love, love this ad because it is so easy to create. Anyone can create it in Canva. And this is actually something that Ogilvy used to use in his print era days, which I think is really interesting. And based on his research, he actually found that people retained a lot more information about the product or service by using these callouts, which is why it still works today. And my most recent analysis of the 20 brands where I'm pulling their creative learnings, we still had featured point outs in those top performing ad formats. So it's definitely something that's really easy to execute on. And even though for performance creative types, they're like, yeah, yeah, this is not revolutionary. It's absolutely not, but it should still be used.

Brett:

Still works. And that was another reason I loved your presentation because you called out the greats, the classics. Yes, David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising Required Reading for anyone in the marketing advertising space. Yes, some of the styles and stuff don't translate, of course, but the principles and what they're doing, human nature doesn't change. Good marketing principles don't change either. And so I love that feature benefit call out number two, golden nugget reviews. What is that?

Dara:

Golden nugget reviews. Golden nugget reviews are those testimonials from your customers that are just so absurd and memorable and wild that you can't help but just have a chuckle to yourself. Those things often make amazing advertising. These testimonials are not going to be things like, this is the best shampoo, or Oh my God, I loved these shoes. Those things are really generic and honestly are probably maybe potentially faked even if feel like you do get that comment and maybe it feels good as a new business owner, it's not really memorable. So I often

Brett:

You're the only one that likes that comment. As a brand owner, other people don't care.

Dara:

Yeah, I think some tactics that brands can use though to find those golden nugget reviews are like, again, specificity here is key. So if people are bringing up their age, they're bringing up a transformation in a certain amount of time, those type of things can very well be golden nugget reviews. But I actually just had a conversation with a few founders today and I was like, yeah, do you guys ever screenshot reviews on your website and send 'em to each other and text message? Those are probably the ones that you should be using.

Brett:

Totally, totally. Yeah. Yeah, I love it. I interviewed Mickey Agrawal, founder of Tushy on the podcast, been a little over a year ago, but one of these that came up for her, which I just still stuck in my mind, it was Tushy is a bidet company, so you attach the bidet to the toilet and stuff, and really brilliant marketers, but some customer said, tushy is eye candy and butt bliss. And it was like, okay, it's just wild. It is weird. But it was like they look really good and of course your butt has never been happier. And so they borrowed that, used it in ads, it did very, very well. So golden. That's a great example. Yeah, golden nugget reviews. Love it. Number three, founder story. What is that?

Dara:

So a founder story is essentially going to be a video told from the point of view of a founder. It's essentially saying why you created your brand and why it's so important to you. I think there's a few reasons why this works really well. Number one, I think that people don't want to buy from the unknown unnamed corporations anymore. They love knowing the story and the people and the behind the scenes of their brands and their favorite brands. I think the brands that kill it on TikTok are actually just the ones that show the behind the scenes, show their office, show their warehouse. So it kind of goes back to that innate curiosity we have about the big brands that we love. But I also think that these founders are often the ones that are most well positioned to communicate the problems that they had that forced them to make the product.

Something that I talk a lot about with brands right now is the ones that are succeeding on meta ads are the ones that are solving an actual problem because it is just a little bit harder to succeed on meta right now. And if you're speaking to a specific problem that people have, that problem is often going to get people to make an action quicker if you're providing a solution for them. So I often just think founders can really twist the knife a little bit more when speaking about problems and show a little bit more of an empathetic view to people that are looking for that solution,

Brett:

Especially if the problem was very personal to them, and especially if it was embarrassing or just their life was bad. The taboo

Dara:

Helps

Brett:

For sure, taboo helps as well, but, and then I solved it and now this is what my life is like, and that really connects with people. And so yeah, love founder stories when the founder is authentic and even if they just show up halfway decent on camera, but they're authentic and real can work quite well. Number four, statistics sounds like that could be boring, but how do we make this interesting?

Dara:

Yes. So statistics, if I was giving this talk a few months ago, I probably would say something like, oh, if you use statistics and numbers in your ads, that gives people a logical reason to say yes. And sometimes people just need that logical approach instead of a more emotional based one or a buy more button, sort of like if you give people statistics, they're more likely to trust you. I also think that statistics are a different visualization of the before and after experience. So you really have to use statistics that communicate more of that end value and that transformation as opposed to one in four people have this problem. If you instead say, Hey, 97% of these people experience this outcome, that's way more impactful than a statistic about the problem or whatever. So I find that using statistics can just really unlock for people what they think they can expect.

Brett:

And I think statistics also lend to believability. We want to believe the promise of a product, we want the benefit to be true, but we're also skeptical as we've been burned in the past. And so numbers can kind of lend credibility there, but I also think numbers can be emotional as well, and sharing the right statistics can really dial up the emotion and make it a little more concrete. And kind of goes back to the specificity we were talking about. I've got a fresh in my mind just two days off of this, but we did the Murph, the workout on Memorial Day weekend with this one of my wife's family. And so if you're not familiar, you run a mile and you do a hundred pullups, 200 pushups and 300 squats, let's do with a weighted vest. I did not do with a weighted vest.

I thought I was going to die anyway. But you tell someone we did a hundred like, are you kidding me? That's insane. So that number really is more of an emotional reaction than we did a lot of pull-ups, right? And so I think looking at it that way too, does the number communicate something? Is there actually some emotion or some benefit or some believability in that statistic and use that to draw that out. But I actually love this one because it can be super boring. Nobody probably hated a class more than they hated their statistics class, a lot of us. But you pull out the right statistic, emotional connects to a benefit, it just works. So that's awesome. And then number five, last one, educational ads. What are those? So

Dara:

Educational ads back into this idea that people really are looking for content first. I also think that educational content, what's interesting about it is it can be inherently way more top of funnel. You're trying to educate people on a specific problem or a specific solution. I think it can really, really work for brands that are in the supplements industry, but it can really work for anyone because I think that if you can really showcase why you're different through a content first approach, that can be a really big unlock for brands. There's an example I like to share of a brand, and it's a supplement brand that I worked with. And in this ad, the founder is actually just going through certain ingredients that are in her supplement. And what's interesting is she never actually mentions what the product is. She never actually mentions what the brand name is. But because she was going through these different ingredients and tying them to certain problems that people might have, that ended up being a top performing ad creed for them because people were like, wow, actually this sounds a lot like me. I'm going to click more into this. And they were then able to go to the landing page to see, oh, actually there's a solution for me here. And that was a lot more scalable because they weren't just targeting people who were already looking for a specific solution.

Brett:

And I think it's one of those where if you can have this perspective of if someone just consumes this ad, they'll receive a benefit. So they'll receive a benefit from the ad itself. And I think if that's true, then someone's going to be much more likely to talk about that, to share the ad, to mention that little nugget they learned from the ad itself. And yeah, I like that approach where you're talking about, Hey, turmeric, this is what turmeric is, anti-inflammatory does these things and cortis jump into cortis right now. It creates energy, but stable energy and you feel centered and grounded. Anyway, that totally makes sense and I love that approach. Really, really good. So awesome. Dara, this has been an absolute blast. I can just keep going talking about this stuff, but we are up against it. We're running out of time. So for those that are like, I need more Dara de in my life, how can they connect with your content or connect with your company? What's the best way to take next steps?

Dara:

So the best way to figure out what I'm up to is to follow me on YouTube. I launch one long form video every single week there. That's about media buying and performance creative. So yeah, like and subscribe. And I'm also on Twitter at Denney dara. So if you ever have a question or want to see the random things that I'm thinking about marketing on that specific day, that's going to be the place to find me.

Brett:

Awesome. Dara Denney, ladies and gentlemen, Dara, thank you so much. We'll have to do it again sometime.

Dara:

Amazing. Thank you so much Brett.

Brett:

And as always, thank you for tuning in. We'd love to hear from you. What would you like to hear more of on the podcast? Have you not done? So we'd love that five star review on iTunes if you think it's worthy. And hey, if you heard this and you think, man, so-and-so has got to hear this podcast, please share it. Please share the content that would mean the world to us. And with that, until next time, thank you for listening.

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