The Secret To Marketing Success On Facebook? Advertise Like Your Grandfather

A new study of Facebook ads shows that what’s old school is new school again.

A new study by Facebook brings some big news that, curiously, at first blush might not seem like much news at all. It's this: If you want to create successful ads for the social network, just do the same thing you would do if you were advertising on TV. Or in magazines. Or on the radio.

But here's the thing: Until now, Sean Bruich, head of measurement at Facebook, tells Fast Company, marketers have been unsure about how, exactly, to advertise on the social network. It's a new medium, and a whole conventional wisdom has emerged about do's and don'ts, telling brands they need to interact differently with consumers on Facebook than they have in other forms of media. Be conversational, for example, or be interactive.

And as a result, some advertisers have thrown out the book on how to create a great campaigns in the hopes of unearthing some new formula that works uniquely well on the new medium.

"Marketers were asking us, 'Are the fundamentals of advertising on Facebook the same as the fundamentals elsewhere?'" Bruich says. The results of the study point to yes, he says, and that means "the experience they've built up over the years and the instincts they've had can be applied to making more successful ads on Facebook."

Bruich is presenting the results of the study in a paper called "What Traditional Principles Matter When Designing Social" at the Advertising Research Foundation's Audience Measurement 7.0 conference today.

The study had professional marketers evaluate 400 Facebook ads against six traditional criteria for advertising creative: Whether the ad has a focal point, how strong its brand link is (ie: how easy it was to identify who the advertiser was), how well the tone of the ad fits with the brand's personality, how noticeable the ad is, how effective it is at getting its point across, and whether there is a "reward" for reading it (ie: Did it make you feel good? Did you learn something?).

Then the study looked at how well the ads performed, using two traditional advertising measures: ad recall and purchase intent.

The study found that the ads that performed best were the ones that also did the best job of hewing to advertising fundamentals, especially focal point, brand link, and tone. The most important criteria, says Bruich, was that the ad needed to have some kind of reward. (For more on this, see below.)

That it should be news that advertisers should follow time-tested principles when advertising in newfangled media highlights how confusing social media has been for many marketers.

"With any new medium, we focus on the differences," Bruich says. "But some of those core aspects of being successful in marketing—how to clearly communicate your value proposition, how to communicate new information to the consumer—those are not changing."

Strong Facebook ad

This ad, which Fast Company grabbed from our own Facebook account (and was not necessarily included in the study), includes many of the elements Facebook says are key to driving performance. It has a strong focal point (the image) and a strong brand link (AT&T is clearly identified as the advertiser). The tone hews to the AT&T brand tone. And there are two "rewards": the happy family makes the viewer feel happy, and the promise of saving money draws the reader in.

Weak Facebook ad

This ad (again, pulled from Fast Company's own account and not necessarily in the study) falls down on a number of criteria. It doesn't have a strong focal point, and it takes some effort to identify the Disney as the brand. The tone is fine, but it doesn't have a strong "reward."

E.B. Boyd is's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email

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  • Richard Brooks

    Isn't it kind of sad that the entire marketing industry is still focused on banner ads?  There has been ZERO innovation out of this group for the last 15 years.  

  • Brian Merritt

    If the study measured the success of the ads using good old fashioned marketing terms and concepts, why would we expect any different results from the study.

    This study is more a way for Facebook to say "it's OK to use your good old marketing techniques with us" and generate more revenue than a revelation.

    What I love about Facebook advertising is the control you get in terms of who sees the advert and what their interests are - something that TV, Radio and Google struggle with...

  • iloveyou

    " What I love about Facebook advertising is the control you get in terms
    of who sees the advert and what their interests are - something that TV,
    Radio and Google struggle with..."

    Google struggles with?? lmao.... Is this your first day on the internet?

  • David Borch Hansen

    This goes fundamentally against everything Facebook is preaching. 

    At the Preferred Marketing Developer Conference in London a couple of weeks ago, we were told, that it's called stories instead of ads because the format is so different. Instead of the classic attributes sponsored stories should involve a brand message with focus on how your friends are reacting to this story.The philosophy is that ads are just amplifications of the conversation on the Facebook Page. If I were Facebook, I would stick to this story, as their "normal" ads are performing way below par.

    I wrote an article about Facebook's social brand philosophy here:


  • Magnus Strømnes Bøe

    The two ads here is not the same, and like comparing apples and pears. 

    However, you could argue that the Boyd states that the format of page ads is better and should be prioritized over external page ads. Do you? I have not really seen evidence of either way in my work but have had monetizing success for my clients on ads on Facebook promoting external pages.

  • Martina

    That comparison of Good vs Bad ads is totally incorrect-- An ad that promotes a Facebook page (such as the AT&T ad) is required to have the brand name & logo at the top of the ad. An ad that links off of Facebook (such as the Disney ad) cannot. You can't compare those two and say one is wrong when they have two totally different objectives (and different requirements from the Facebook platform). Has the person writing this ever actually used Facebook ads?

  • Charlotte Leanna Sanchez

     If you're promoting a page to get likes you can use any photo and title.

  • Richard Lipscombe

    The banner advertisement for this article was was simple case of false consumer experience of Fast Company after reading this article is one of anger....being angry not enlightened tends to happen a lot with FC articles lately .... FC does not deliver what it promises...the content is sub-standard and these types of articles hurt the FC brand...this was once a well respected magazine but now it is just another glib attention seeker....get your act together Fast Company...

  • Jessie

    If they measured the results using traditional advertising measures, wouldn't that skew the results towards traditional advertising techniques?

  • Marcus Goodyear

    Our small Facebook page has added 40K fans over the past few months, and the growth has largely been fueled by ads of various kinds.

    What you say here is definitely reflected in the ads that worked for us. Including our logo and brand name prominently in the ad (by purchasing page post or page like ads or simply using the logo as our image) had the strongest impact of any one element.Like Matthew Manning says, though, a conventional ad strategy doesn't change the social nature of the medium. Our growth would mean nothing without continued engagement of the growing fan base. We aim for 10-20% engagement, which takes a team of five people and a secondary ad strategy focused on engagement.

  • Wize Adz

    After reading the headline, I assumed that the article was going to be about how my grandfather (a watch repairman and jeweler) behaved like a member of his community and built a reputation by treating his customers with respect and doing the work that he said he would do.

    But, no, the article finds that a bunch of advertising professional agree with themselves.  While it does show that human nature doesn't change when we use new tools to talk to each other, it doesn't really help you figure out how to break away from the pack.

    Facebook is an online community.  Businesses that behave like they're part of a community will build strong reputations, just like my grandfather did.  But advertising is what it always has been...

  • Christina Trapolino

    I wish I could high five you for this.  Jeff Jarvis says that "companies will soon measure their worth more by the quality of their relationships than by the cost of the things they own."  Speaking as someone who works in social media for a national brand, I could not agree more.

  • Denise Iordache

    I have to agree. I was expecting a different kind of article after reading the title...
    Indeed Facebook is an important advertising medium today and the good old advertising concepts are crucial, but we also have to remember why this medium is different. 

  • atimoshenko

    Yup. If everyone is trying to ignore your ads, the most remembered (or, more precisely, least forgotten) ads will be those that get their point across with the smallest amount of cognitive effort required on the part of the people who view them. So do advertise like your grandfather, but don't expect your grandfather's results.

  • lynnvsalton

    Of course we won't expect my grandfathers results... the BEST social media campaign has a 2% to 5% success rate, which was the same as direct mail and my grandfather hated the pathetic response rate of direct mail.  Back in my grandfather's day, when there were fewer ways to advertise, even bad advertising could be moderately successful.  However, in today's hyper fragmented advertising world only good advertising can be moderately successful.  But today's young advertisers need to get over themselves because the fundamentals of good copy writing, and good design & layout haven't changed since my grandfather's day.  Know your audience and know your medium.

  • Matthew Manning

    This article will surely confuse the codgers again.

    Yes, perhaps there is a "conventional" element to how one should arrange the advertisements that they pay for on Facebook, which may increase their take click-through rate by some marginal percentage.

    The problem is, of course, that any social media skeptical CEO that reads this article is going to feel validated in their antiquated direct-marketing insistence, when this doesn't in fact apply to how one should act on their Facebook brand page.  What's next?  With that "Mad Men" picture up top, you might as well insist that we go back to telling consumers how many dentists use their product.