How to Make Effective Visual Ads in the Digital Age

Visuals were the single biggest social media content contributor in 2017 and 2018. Facebook’s newsfeed is dominated by images and videos. Meanwhile, visually-focused social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest continue to grow in popularity.

The digital age has enhanced peoples’ interest in visuals. By understanding why and learning what kinds of visual ads have proven to be effective on social media, your business can adapt to the changing landscapes and enjoy more leads and higher click-through rates.

We Have Visuals on the Brain

(JD Mason on Unsplash)

Think about the lectures that your teachers gave over the years. Do you remember what they were saying, or did you find their PowerPoints, videos, and demonstrations to be more helpful? When you hear something, on average you have a 10% chance of recalling it three days later. However, when you hear something that is paired with visual content, that number increases to 65%.

We are designed to understand what we see much faster than what we hear or read. According to Study Mode, the brain processes visual information in 13 milliseconds, which is 60,000 times faster than text. Also, 90% of the information that goes to the brain is visual. It’s no wonder that a visual message has a greater power to inform, educate, or persuade someone when they come across it.

Information Overload

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt once said that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. That’s roughly around five exabytes of data—and user-generated content makes up a significant portion of that. For example, in January 2018, there were 1989 posts published on WordPress every minute!

There’s so much information out there vying for your attention that it has become difficult to stay focused. Websites only have a few seconds to grab a customer before their attention span wanes. In order to get your voice heard in the ever-growing crowd, you need to learn what cuts through the noise, how it does so, and why.

Visual Ads That Work

Venngage did an experiment where they tested 35 different Facebook visual ads to see which got the most attention. In their initial test run, the visual ads that performed the best were a meme using Oprah, an ad with a contrasting color scheme, and an ad with a graph.

Now, memes used in advertising can be a tricky situation. To avoid legal issues, you have to check the rights on an image and make sure that you’re not implying an endorsement. You also have to be humorous and connect the meme to your brand and target market.

Visual Recognition

The conclusion was that the visual ad was successful because it was a recognizable image. Visual ads that are recognizable have an inherent advantage over those that don’t because people are already familiar with the image. You know what message the advertiser is trying to convey immediately. When people scroll through the newsfeed and see a celebrity used in an advertisement, it’s almost as effective as if it was one of your friends or family members. When you are planning your next ad campaign, remember that people connect most with what they already know.

Visual Ads That Contrast and Pop Out

The second most popular ad had a contrasting color scheme. The visual was black, which popped out in Facebook’s blue, white, and light grey background. It was a simple image with white text aligned left, where people expect to see words. Because the ad stood out and its message was clear and immediately easy to read, people interacted more with it than with similar ads where the colors blended with Facebook’s tones or the text was aligned right or centered. Remember, when people are scrolling through Facebook’s newsfeed, they are doing just that: scrolling. You have just a second—if that—to grab their attention.

Gather Information – Visually

The ad that performed third best was a graph. Charts, graphs, infographics and the like are visual ads that allow people to gather information very quickly. It should be no surprise that this graph, in particular, got a lot of attention. Like the most popular ad, graphs are images that people are familiar with. Like the second most popular ad, this particular graph has contrasting colors and white left-aligned text.

In later tests, thematic images and CTA’s also proved to be effective uses of visual advertising.

While this test was done with ads on Facebook, the results are translatable on other platforms. Visuals that are familiar, pop out, and/or provide you with quick information tend to me more enticing than those that aren’t.

Also, keep in mind that Facebook’s algorithm recently changed. Not only does the ad have to attract people visually, but it also has to be engaging. The best visuals are those that get comments, reactions, replies, shares, and comments and reactions on those shares.

Text Still Matters

Visuals will be a dominant force in social media content for the foreseeable future. However, ads are seldom only images.

Text plays a huge role in visual ads, but that huge role is about taking up minimal space. Ads that run on Facebook perform better when 20% of text or less fill the space. It also has to be clearly and easily seen in case someone is merely scrolling through. That means that you have 20% of the image’s space to write a compelling message that complements the visual and encourages someone to click-through.

Every. Word. Matters.

You don’t want to direct sell to your customer. You want to give them enough information between the visual and your minimal text to leave them wanting more. For example:

This ad by Domain doesn’t use text to tell you the price of the see-through tent or give you its specs. It merely suggests a way to use a product and calls on the reader to click the link for more information. The image is still captivating without text but lacks context. Thus, even with visuals being the king of content, words are still relevant—perhaps now more than ever.

To summarize:

  • Visuals now dominate social media content
  • Visual information is absorbed 60,000 times faster than text
  • Visuals that are familiar, images with easy-to-read text and colors that contrast and pop, and graphs, charts, etc. garner the most attention
  • Visuals must be engaging to keep up with Facebook’s algorithm
  • Text still matters, and works best in visuals when used minimally

If you want help creating a visual ad for Facebook or Instagram, give our team a call or leave a comment below.

Anthony Greer is a twice-published author and content marketer with a focus in marketing, brand, and product development.

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