Facebook released their new mobile-only ad creation tool Canvas to the full ad community in February (after beta-testing with brands as early as December 2015), and since then we’ve seen hundreds of big brands jump on board and start using the full-screen, immersive mobile content feature. Canvas, as the name would lead you to believe, is a fully customizable digital space (canvas) for advertisers to let their multimedia minds run wild. This digital ad medium is still relatively new, and so many advertisers without major production budgets haven’t had a chance to fully jump in or didn’t think that Canvas was the right fit for their brand.

Full disclosure: I was skeptical around the initial launch. Sure,  I marveled at the “cool factor” of what major brands were producing. But was this just a playground for them to show off creative, or was it a new digital ad type that could actually capture viewer attention AND convert? There were lukewarm results and opinions in the ad community. Here’s a look at a Canvas ad example from Coke to illustrate the dynamic content features.

The Canvas Ad Results That Turned Me Into a Believer:

We recently partnered with client Boulevard Brewing Co. on a paid media campaign around their annual beer and music festival, BOULEVARDIA, and I’m pleased to now report that I’m a full Canvas convert, and it’s not the Boulevard beer talking… (probably).

Our team executed a cross-channel paid social promotion on Facebook and Instagram with the goals of driving ticket sales, event awareness and volunteer sign-ups and branded mobile app installs – targeting the KC Metro area where the three-day event was held and surrounding DMAs that are high-indexing with music/craft beer enthusiasts over a two-week period leading up to the event. Our execution ad plan included a mix of standard image ads, 15-second video ads, carousel image ads on Facebook and Instagram and our new favorite Canvas ads on Facebook.

The below infographics shows off a handful of the killer campaign results that turned me from Canvas skeptic into Canvas EVANGELIST.

Facebook Canvas Takeaways + Learnings:

Average time spent by users engaging in the canvas ad unit was a ridiculous 45.5 seconds.

To reiterate, that’s full-screen engagement within the ad unit, on a mobile device, for three-quarters of a minute.

45 seconds is flat out STUPID long engagement for a social ad, people. I’ve read case-studies where major brands have run Canvas ads with 90+ seconds in total view time.

Remember, Canvas only run on mobile devices, meaning they do not have the same placement opportunities for maxing out impression/reach that other Facebook ad units do on desktop browsers. Despite being limited to mobile, it still blew away the other ad sets in a number of key areas, while only receiving 12% of the total budget spend.

Split Testing Canvas ads across different audience segments, creative and calls-to-action in the future will help yield deeper data into exactly what pieces of content were driving the most clicks within the Canvas ad unit. Additionally, testing and optimizing these areas will also help increase the relevancy score that Facebook assigns based on ad activity within your target audience. i.e. the higher the score, the more preferential treatment that the ad receives from the Facebook algorithm.

Facebook Canvas Best Practices for Your Next Campaign:

Plan + Budget Accordingly

Allow plenty of lead time to plan the narrative and design of your Canvas ad. Storytelling is a key differentiator for this ad type and what will allow yours to be successful. Be sure to allow ample time (and budget) to test, optimize and shift spend around to the best performing ad sets for each medium and channel.

Make it Pretty + But Also Actionable

Craft simple and clear calls-to-action so that viewers are taking the actions that you want them to. That may seem like a no-brainer, but an immersive and beautiful canvas ad that doesn’t convert is nothing more than a pretty user-experience. Make sure that you’re getting your audience to engage and take the desired actions to maximize the experience.

Target + Test Your Audience

Include separate, trackable links for all clickable content areas within the Canvas ad to determine what the largest drivers to the website were. Track all of your ad unit’s call-to-action buttons, clickable images, carousels, and video. Furthermore, tag each piece of clickable content differently so that you can accurately track what the best performing creative is.

The importance of split-testing audience response to your Canvas was very evident in the performance of the Boulevardia campaign. We saw different target audience segments spend between 45-60 seconds in the Ad unit and view between anywhere between 57% and 94%. Those are big swings in performance, and underscore the importance of testing, optimizing and refining so that you are serving the right ads and messaging to the appropriate audiences.

Campaign Learnings + Everything Else

At this point, you should be excited about the opportunities that Facebook Canvas ads present for your brand and rightfully so. However, it would be short-sighted not to look at these metrics in comparison to the other Facebook and Instagram campaign ad results that ran alongside it. While Canvas may be the next frontier in baller social ads, it’s important that you don’t lose sight or abandon the other available ad-mediums just yet – as they still have a ton of value.

Facebook + Instagram: Carousel, Video, and Image Ad Takeaways + Learnings:

Video Ads: The campaign ad’s :15 “sizzle reel” video ad with music overlay from Boulevardia performers, had an impressive 82.7% completion rate, with a CTR of 2.25%.
*Industry averages between 2.5-3.2% on desktop/mobile*

Image Ads: Testing and optimizing a variety of static image ads to various audiences performed well above industry standards, under $0.13 CPC and a 3.75% CTR. Industry averages CPC at $0.50 and CTR of 0.119%

Video ads may be en vogue right now. However, impactful image ads, with the right copy and audience targeting, can still deliver exceptional performance.

Instagram: This channel disappointed in the engagement and click-through metrics when compared to how well similar strong creative resonated with the same audience on Facebook. The audience size was smaller than Facebook’s, but the channel performance was well under what was expected with our audience.

Instagram has since rolled out a much more streamlined clicks-to-website feature to help alleviate these types of low CTR issues.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, with a relatively quick roll-out and minimal time to test and optimize mid-flight, we were extremely impressed with the functionality and flexibility to customize the Canvas to suit different brand needs. Canvas is a highly immersive mobile experience for customers and has more bells and whistles than just about any other native ad type (save maybe for branded Snapchat filters).

Much like we saw with carousel and video ads, I believe strongly that Facebook will ultimately roll this feature over to Instagram as it continues to gain traction with advertisers.

The engagement results that we saw from the Boulevardia activation when compared to the standard ads validate that not only is it “cool”, but it can also drive quantifiable results. The best part is that designers and non-designers can use the tool to push creative boundaries to tell new and engaging stories.

So, what do you say, is your interest in Canvas Ads now effectively piqued?  Do you want to find out more about successful Facebook Canvas ads and how to put them into your social marketing mix? Drop me a line and we can talk more about developing social ads that are engaging AND impactful.


2015-16 Smart Insights Channel Ad reports


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