Growth Hacks: What Makes an Outrageously Successful Facebook (and Instagram) Ad

Growth Hacks: What Makes an Outrageously Successful Facebook (and Instagram) Ad

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What Makes an Outrageously Successful Facebook (and Instagram) Ad

With the number of Facebook users quickly approaching three billion (with a B), there’s no business that can’t get value from a well-crafted ad on the platform.

But the world of Facebook advertising can be overwhelming for newcomers and veterans alike. There are so many nuanced decisions to make that could impact your advertising campaigns.

Yet, if you get the fundamentals right, the rest is all about organization and mileage.

And that’s what we’ll help you within this post — the core fundamentals of great Facebook and Instagram ads.

Facebook Advertising in a Nutshell

When you’re starting out with anything, it pays off to think in terms of first principles. And the same is true for Facebook ads.

The basic principle of any ad is to produce an action in the audience or increase awareness of your brand (or both).

There’s a little more to it than that, but you should start by knowing exactly what you want your audience to do.

We’ll tackle what to do with that more in-depth further down. But with that in mind, let’s start with ad creatives.

Facebook Ad Creatives — What Works

Essentially ad creatives are any media you’ll serve to your audience. That may mean pictures, videos, audio, and any other format.

There are all sorts of reasons you might choose one type of creative over another. But that’s outside of our scope here. First-principles, remember?

Think about what you need your ad creative to accomplish. How is it helping your audience reach a decision to take action (removing friction)?

Instead of simply telling you the answer, you can probably figure it out yourself from an example of what not to do.

Take a look at this ad:

Can you figure out the mistake?

Think about what the image the advertiser chose is telling you. If you’re honest, it’s not much.

There’s a relatively generic office setting with relatively generic office employees. The CTA tells you to “Apply Now,” and the conclusion is you’ll end up in a similar position as the people in the ad.

That’s a pretty dull story. If you want to tell a more exciting story, you need to introduce a little tension.

Tension demands resolution, and if you can create a little tension between the creative and the copy, your audience will be more inclined to resolve that tension by clicking on your ad. If there’s no tension, there’s no reason for someone to stop scrolling.

Notice in this next ad how there’s tension to be resolved.

The video mentions Eater. Fans of that publication will most likely want to know what was featured in it and why.

It’s also unclear what’s happening in the video, generating curiosity.

Here are a few more quick tips and tips and best practices for ad creatives:

For images:

  • Bright colors are your friend
  • The text should take up less than 20% of the space
  • Always square images for slideshows

For video:

  • Always include subtitles
  • Get to the CTA in 30 seconds
  • Holding image needs to generate tension and stop people from scrolling past (see above)
  • Capture attention within the first three seconds

Talk to Your Audience in the Headline

There are no hard and fast rules about writing headlines that will consistently deliver outstanding results. Ultimately, you can only guess what will grab your audience’s attention until you run tests.

Plus, the type of ad you need depends on what your goal is.

But there are a few minor “hacks” you can apply to give yourself the best chance at success.

The first is to treat your body text as the headline. It’s the first thing most people read in your ad, so that’s where you need to grab them. The headline in the Facebook ad builder is the second or third thing people actually read.

Instead of jumping right into benefits, start out conversationally in the headline.

Like this:

Getting your audience to stop scrolling is the biggest challenge.

And you’ll overcome that a lot easier with a conversational tone than by jumping straight into a sales pitch. Tread carefully, though, because you can wear out your welcome fast if you’re too broad.

Again, it’s important to point out that these aren’t rules written in stone. It’s important to consider where your audience is in the buying process and who you’re marketing to.

Here are a few quick and dirty tips:

  • Keep paragraphs short (one to two sentences)
  • Use (but don’t abuse) emojis
  • Keep the tone light

Tackle Objections in Your Copy

Moving on to your ad text, the point should be to remove any objection your audience has to take action.

What objections does your prospect have?

If you do your research correctly, you can make educated guesses. And you’ll refine those guesses as you test different ads.

Since most of the time, you’ll eventually want someone to buy something, here are some common objections to that and how to remove them:

Remember that your goal is to remove friction, never to add to it. Never put up barriers between your prospect and the action, and be smart about which objections you focus on.

Don’t Overthink The CTA

A call to action is precisely that, and not much more. If you did your job right in the rest of the ad, the CTA only needs to act as an open door for your prospect to walk through.

Now, let’s be clear. Exposure and brand awareness are essential. And if you succeed in improving awareness without driving action, that’s still a win.

But, you’re almost always going to want either one or the other. Assuming your point is to drive action, the ultimate expression of that is the CTA.

Your CTA should always be crystal clear. If a prospect has to wonder about what to do for a second, you’re doing it wrong.

A basic call to action formula goes like this:

Action → benefit.

  • Sign up now to get 25% off
  • Enter code XYZ50 to get half off
  • Get all your vitamins in one scoop
  • Shop now while supplies last

A few more tricks you can use right now to charge up your CTA:

  • Use brackets to draw attention to something you want the audience to see
  • Look at what works for other brands in your space
  • Think hard about the most important benefit for prospects
  • Never generalize in the CTA; being vague gets you nowhere

Audience Targeting

Many beginners make the mistake of assuming they’re going to reach the right audience by luck or chance. Let’s dispel that fantasy right now.

To get the right eyes and ears on your advertising, you need to know who to target.

Audience targeting is part art and part science, and it’s the aspect of Facebook advertising that most clearly separates the goods from the greats.

Think of it this way:

If your car needs gas, you could open the gas hatch and drench your car in gasoline. Some of it will end up in your gas tank, and most of it will end up on and around the car.

A great example of that would be advertising an upcoming in-store promotion for California stores to people in Florida.

Or, you could do the obviously smarter thing. Put the nozzle directly into the hatch and only pour in the tank.

That’s how you should think of audience targeting. The more precise you are, the less you’ll waste by serving ads to the wrong prospects.

The simplest way to do that is to start with a lookalike audience.

It’s a safe assumption that people who already purchased your product or service have some common characteristics. You can use that information to serve ads to other people who look like them.

All you need to do is choose a source audience of your best customers when you create your ad, and Facebook will identify how they’re alike. You can even use several lookalike audiences for the same ads to expand your reach.

From there, you can start to refine your audience. At this stage, you can begin to learn what the best use of your ad spend is by tweaking what you’ve already done.

You’ll also generate a lot of information about your audience that you can use to adjust ads. That’s going to feedback into the educated guesses you’re making about what their objections are.

Facebook’s targeting options are massive. You’ll need to experiment with many different targeting approaches to figure out what your most profitable audience is.

With constant optimizing and a data-driven approach, you may discover targeting options you never thought could work!

Refine, refine, refine.

Instagram Ads (Same but Different)

Many of the same guidelines for Facebook ads apply to Instagram as well. After all, you’re using Facebook Ads Manager for both… However, they’re slightly different beasts.

For starters, Instagram ads tend to have a marginally higher cost per action. The good news there is that you can get a lot of absolute value from Instagram ad spend.

On the flip side, you could end up wasting a lot of money.

Let’s look at some key differences you should focus on when creating for Facebook versus Instagram.

1. Get to The Point

Attention spans on Instagram tend to be even lower among users. You’ll have to be even more concise and speak directly to the customer.

Plus, most people want novelty in their feed. If they see the same ad a few times, they’ll tune it out completely. You’ll want to change up your ads frequently to keep them compelling for the audience.

2. Brand Matters

If you’re reading this, it should be clear to you that branding is important. After all, when people buy your product or service, they’re also buying into your brand.

To that end, you’ll want to hammer home your brand’s values and image in every Instagram ad.

Check out how a visual thread runs through these Ads:

Once you’ve established a brand identity, don’t stray too far from that. Use every ad as an opportunity to reinforce it. That will help audiences associate your brand with that identity and make future ads more impactful.

3. Don’t Skimp on Quality

Instagram is a visual medium. That should be pretty clear to anyone who has spent even a few minutes on the platform. Users’ brains are primed to receive visual information.

The best way to lose someone’s attention in that state is to use poor visuals.

Here’s what that means in practice:

  • High-quality images always
  • Square images or portrait (1080 x 1080–1350)
  • 30 fps for video
  • No longer than 60 seconds

And rely on tried-and-true marketing strategies, such as:

  • Our eyes are drawn to people’s faces
  • Color psychology
  • Emojis, font choice, and other visual language👀

4. Important Details in the Image

This practice is valid for Facebook ads as well, but crucial for Instagram.

If you want to focus your prospect’s attention on something, put it in the image.

Things like limited-time offers, free samples, and other conversion-focused promotional strategies should pop instantly in the ad. Like with Facebook, though, it shouldn’t take up more than 20% of the creative real estate.

5. Emotion and Urgency

You’ll want to drive a sense of urgency in your Instagram ads. Remember that you’re competing with a lot of other attention-grabbing stimuli.

Getting people to stop scrolling is directly linked to how urgent they feel something is. If they can file it away mentally in the “laterbase,” you’ve lost them.

Use any tactic you can think of to make people feel like they need to click on that ad before it gets away.

  • Deadlines
  • Warm colors
  • Offer incentives
  • Remove any barriers to action
  • Product scarcity


As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to creating and implementing Facebook and Instagram ads. But it’s not a secret code that only a select few can crack.

It’s all about being organized, following best practices, and thinking in terms of first principles.

Ready to learn more? I’ve got a whole course dedicated to teaching you everything you need to know about paid advertising on Facebook. It’s full of actionable tips, tricks, and processes I learned, spending over $200 million on Facebook advertising.

👉 Get access to the course now. 👈

Jack Paxton is the founder of Top Growth Marketing ad agency, and co-founder of Vyper,, & Hyax.

What Makes an Outrageously Successful Facebook (and Instagram) Ad was originally published in Growth Hackers on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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