Ad fatigue

Ad Fatigue in Digital Marketing

If you’ve ported your traditional ‘brand guidelines’ to the digital world, you should be reading this before your start putting your feet up.

Digital and Social Media advertising has a problem. Too many advertisers looking to market to the same audience. Easy to get in on the action. Low barrier to entry.

Recently, I was in discussions with a colleague on how a 2-month daily post boost on Facebook didn’t make any sense. The promotion was structured to post every day, with one of five branding visuals, then boost the post for $20-$30 to target an audience of 15k-30k fans every day. The boost would exhaust in 24 hours, and the next post and boost would kick in.

Eventually we started the Facebook promotion. The first week was great. Impressions were high - boosting works! But in week 2, I noticed some problems. Interactions started dropping. Impressions were still high though. History has taught us that boost = reach = visibility. So what was wrong? Did we need to increase the $ value of the boost, given that our prospective audience was still the same.

For weeks prior to kicking off the campaign, I had been looking at the same ads coming in from Creative. The design was applied to web banners, mobile banners, print ads, Facebook, twitter, Instagram, everywhere. It looked so consistent and to be honest, great! Brand gurus would be proud.

But soon the novelty factor wore off. Every piece of art seemed like a blur. I began to miss the message.

By week 2 of the promotion, I began to think it would be the same for our Facebook fans as well. Ad fatigue? But how? We had a total audience of a million fans available in the pool. 15–30k per day would take us a long way before Facebook did a rinse-and-repeat. Right?

One late night, I decided to find out how Facebook actually reaches your audience.

According to some sources, Facebook’s algorithm does not show the same ad in an ad set to the same person more that 4 times per day. At best, the average per day would max at 1.5x to 2.0x. This seems to be true.

Facebook’s algorithm also determines the best audience who would interact with that ad/ad-set and shows the ad to that bunch from the total possible audience. It uses factors such as how frequently you are signed in, when, your preferences, what you like to view regularly, etc. - you know, that big data stuff you’ve been hearing about.

But that’s per ad-set.

I tried to track our promotion using the hidden ‘Frequency’ column in Facebook’s Ad Manager tracking ad delivery stats.

Frequency = The average number of times each person saw your ad.
Even so, all seemed fine - 1–1.2x frequency. Which translated to maybe 1–3 ad impressions or less per person per day. All kosher, right?

However in our case, we’re not doing ad sets, instead we were boosting separate daily posts with the same/similar visuals every day. For all purposes, Facebook considered each boost as a separate ad set and could possibly be boosting to the same audience that it has predetermined as the best audience.

Let me put it in an easier way.

You’re at a cocktail party.
A waiter comes to you with some canapés. You take one.
After 10 minutes another waiter comes with the same canapés. OK. You take another.
After another 10 minutes another waiter comes with the same canapés. You still take one. Coz you’re hungry.
Now you’re full.
After 10 minutes another waiter comes with the same canapés. You say no, thank you.
After 10 minutes another waiter comes with the same canapés. No.
After 10 minutes another waiter comes with the same canapés. Hell no.
After 10 minutes another waiter comes with the same canapés. No way, get lost.
Then you start hiding from waiters.

This is what was happening to our campaign. Ad Fatigue.

By the way, did you ever wonder why Facebook started allowing multiple visuals per ad set? This single decision must be netting them some serious cash.

Over the years, Social Media vendors on the internet have recommended consistency in imaging and visuals. It’s good for the brand they say, taking the cue from traditional marketers.

I’m beginning to think otherwise.

While in traditional marketing, a brand could get away with using the same ‘brand guidelines’ and ‘brand look’ across traditional platforms like newspapers, magazines and tabloids, the actual reach of these mediums did not surpass what we are seeing on digital today.

Plus of course, there’ always that pesky algorithm that cherry picks an audience from the millions to view your ad - just coz they like clicking on things. In a way, they’re cheating you of your money. But it’s so minuscule that you don’t feel the pinch.

So how can you work this to your advantage?

Simple. Instead of using the same guidelines, break your brand look and try something different. You’ll be surprised at the results.