Competition isn’t the greatest Facebook advertising challenge you face. It’s inertia.

People aren’t on Facebook to shop. So simply getting them to take notice and take action is extremely difficult.

It takes an amazing offer that’s too good to pass up. A compelling value proposition summarized in a headline which can’t be ignored. It needs to be backed up by the perfect hero image and descriptive ad copy. And the CTA needs to be on-point so people know what to expect.

That’s a lot of moving ‘creative’ pieces you need to get right, not to mention the right campaign settings or audience targeting. Even if most of it looks good, missing out on just one or two of these elements can depress click through or conversion rates, costing you tens of thousands in lost revenue.

The last thing you need, is to make simple, dumb mistakes on top of it all.

Here are 30 Facebook advertising mistakes to avoid.

Weak Offer with Poor Execution

The ‘offer’ is everything in an advertisement. If it’s the right one, to the right audience in a particular part of your sales funnel, you get magic. Otherwise, crickets.

It’s also tricky, because your offer needs to be compelling enough to stand out from the crowd, but also valuable enough to support your sales goals. Otherwise, the ads themselves seem to only target Likes.

And as we’ve seen before, that’s a losing proposition. Here are a few examples of what happens when you start with a weak (or nonexistent) offer, and combine it with less than stellar execution.

1. FiveStars

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At first blush, this video ad looks good. But two problems quickly pop up.

The first is the opening question asking if the person own’s a restaurant, cafe, or retail boutique. If your targeting is setup properly, you should already know the answer to this question and it should be a foregone conclusion.

But the second, ‘… time to get rid of your punch card’, doesn’t explain why, or what a better solution is. Yes, videos get higher engagement than text. But you can’t assume somebody already has the punchline (pun intended) from the video in the ad copy being used to get their attention in the first place.

Overall, that leaves this ad feeling a little lost. It’s not quite grabbing attention at the top of the funnel, yet it’s not really driving leads either.

2. Costa Sunglasses

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Costa Sunglasses, presumably sunglasses for outdoors people like fishermen, uses a fish in mid-flight for their ad. We can pick apart the vague copy, or the fish image which blends in with the background, making it seem like one of those pictures where you have to cross your eyes to know what the hell you’re looking at.

But the real kicker is the objective, or more appropriately, the lack thereof. Using ‘unbranded’ content to get attention is good! But paying for an ad where the only discernable CTA is a ‘Like’, isn’t the best use of resources.

3. Wendy’s

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There’s nothing wrong with the video Wendy’s uses.

I mean, you can get Type 2 Diabetes by just watching it. But we’re in a free country, so you can stuff your face with whatever you’d like.

No the problem here is the ad copy. I still have no idea what it means. It sounds like a prophetic Yoda response, or like a bad game of jeopardy where you blurt out the first nonsensical thing that comes to mind. Also, no CTA. So… Liiiiiiike?!

4. Max Life Insurance

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Compared to pitching artery-clogging “food” (and I use that term very loosely), advertising life insurance is extremely difficult.

So Max Life almost gets a free pass. Using the value proposition of ‘protecting your family’s future’ is good, although it could get a little more specific.

The big issue here lies in the first ad highlighted, with copy that reads “You lied to your wife when you said…”. I get that we’re trying to drive home that whole ‘unsecured family’s future’ thing, but making your customers feel (a) stupid or (b) ashamed isn’t the best way to go about it. Borderline fearmongering isn’t a great substitute for a solid offer targeting a specific sales funnel step.

5. Ogilvy & Mather SA

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This ad reminds me of the joke: “How do you know someone is vegan/paleo/gluten free? They tell you”.

Apparently, the South African office of Ogilvy & Mather SA won some meaningless ad award. We know that, because of this #humblebrag advert. Promoting your award win and giving ‘thanks’ to others is a good idea, but the entire execution here is a little off.

When the Ogilvy name is on the building, you get held to a higher standard. Maybe we should send them one of the old man’s books. Cmon, at least dig up a few quotes and try to follow those words of wisdom.

6. Affordable Luxury

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The video here is good, and the copy is OK. Sure, we can quibble about a few small things here and there.

The only sticking point is the ~$200 price point, which might be a little steep for this medium, depending on who they’re targeting. A custom audience of past customers would be ideal, but if this is a general ad to a general audience, the return might be lackluster. Advertising high-end products, directly with a sales offer, gets exponentially more difficult the more that price point rises.

7. Indian Celebrity Selfies

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True to form, this next ad practices what it preaches. Selfies of Indian celebrities. The first thing that jumps out at you (after staring longingly at the beautiful women) is that there’s no headline, no copy, and no CTA. Interesting approach. But the main issue, again, comes down to the fact that the only objective for this ad is Likes.

8. SOCA on the Seas

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This should be quick. The copy is an illegible mess. It gets truncated because, well, who needs punctuation?! There’s no image. And no CTA. Just re-read the last line from above.

9. NCB Jamaica Limited

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This last one in the bunch is pretty good! Finally, we’re getting somewhere!

Yes, the man in the image doesn’t look very pleased. However it’s the ad position, Legal Counsel, which raises eyebrows. Facebook advertising is great for many things. But filling the difficult role of Legal Counsel might be tough, unless you just happen to be specifically targeting out of work lawyers in a very specific area. Even then, the medium here might not be a great fit. Surely there’s a recruiting strategy in place better suited to sourcing senior-level people than Facebook?

Ok, that was fun.

Kinda like the first few weeks of American Idol when you can laugh at all the crazy people who can’t sing.

But you didn’t come here just for laughs. Otherwise, we owe you a refund.

Instead, we have more serious business ahead, starting with analyzing how well headlines do (or don’t) convey a perfect value proposition.

Headlines & Value Props

Headlines are the succinct, persuasive outcome of a successful value proposition. Like the tip of the iceberg, but enough to convey the general idea.

Most importantly, good headlines answer one simple question: why should the reader care? What’s in it for them, or is so beneficial, that they can’t do anything else but read and act on your claim.

Effective headlines are part art, part science. You can learn a lot from the best in the business, like swiping Buzzfeed headline tricks.

And you can learn a lot by looking at bad examples. Here are a few.

10. Popslate

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Whenever in doubt, err on the side of specificity over cleverness. Bnonn (whose name just blew up my spell check) does an excellent job highlighting the ‘SHINE’ headline acronym on Kissmetrics: ‘S’ stands for specificity while ‘I’ stands for immediacy.

Popslate’s ad here is decent, but the headline falls short on both of those counts. ‘Your New Second Screen’ is like a clever tagline, but it doesn’t really tell people why that’s important, or what they’re going to get from it. There’s also no urgency to act on it, because the value proposition isn’t clear.

11. Live on Kickstarter

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Flying robots sound awesome in theory. Males aged 16 – 35 just had nerdgasms everywhere.

But let’s be honest: has anyone ever thought to themselves that a ‘drone’ needs to be reinvented in the first place? Are there any drone historians out there who care deeply about the ‘future of flying robots’?

While attending a start-up event, one drone manufacturer told us about how his were specifically designed to help save the lives of outdoor adventurers (like hikers, etc.) who’d gotten lost or injured and were in peril. He gave harrowing statistics about how first-responders are often too late, which was backed up by a sobbing audience member who lost a friend and wished they had a product like his.

THAT is a value proposition delivering on Specificity and Immediacy.

12. Netflix

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From what I can gather, Jessica Jones is a comic book heroine with ‘tude.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about comic books. I’m not a virgin.

The problem here is that the headline assumes you know some backstory or context. Which you probably don’t, because an ‘awareness’ or top of the funnel ad usually targets people who probably aren’t brand aware. As a result, it lacks the entertainment, surprise, or other psychological underpinnings of other great headlines.

13. Privacy Pop

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Like most of the ads we’ll see from here on out, this is a pretty good one. There’s an exclusive, limited time offer that incorporates urgency. The image is good and you can immediately tell what it is or does. The CTA is correct.

Only problem is… why do you need a Privacy Pop? The headline is direct, but it lacks Bnonn’s ‘H’ or Helpfulness, in explaining to the reader what a Privacy Pop tent will do for them (or their children).

Another thing to clutter the house and get thrown away a month after purchasing? Or an ingenious tool designed to help kids share a room but not wake each other up at night, meaning the parents get to actually sleep through the night?

One of those things is worth paying big bucks for.

14. Veeam Software

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Technical, B2B companies are often guilty of ‘talking past their customers’ (as McKinsey puts it). The end result is marketing messaging mistakes that end in confusion or increased price competition.

Veeam is guilty of that here, with an ad loaded in technical jargon and empty business clichés. Their headline might as well be in Chinese.

Jargon works only if the vast majority of your customers know exactly what it means and implies, according to Robert Bly in The Copywriter’s Handbook.

If webinar attendees is the objective, a conversion-tested headline (like these from Joanna Wiebe) might be a better approach.

15. Little Helping Hands

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There’s nothing more pathetic than a grown man picking on a nonprofit. So I’ll be nice.

One of the most powerful words in Facebook advertisements was found to be ‘You’ after analyzing almost 40,000 Facebook ads. The reason, Andrew excellently points out, is because we humans have this funny egocentric point of view.

Therefore ads in general, but especially headlines, need to tell people what’s in it for them. And that’s where this one, while very well-intentioned, falls a bit short. Because it’s all about their needs, their fundraising goals, and supporting them, as opposed to the reader’s own selfish desires.

16. State Farm

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Insurance companies, on the other hand, I have no issue making fun of.

Especially the same saints who tried to cheat Katrina victims. A little ironic then, that they’re encouraging people to ‘prepare for the storm’.

Cheap shots aside, this headline fails to answer ‘what’ storm, or ‘why’ people should prepare. Generalized statements like this lack Bnonn’s ‘N’ – Newsworthiness – which means actually having something to report. A stat might work wonders here, to help drive home the exact percentage of homes at risk or the specific dollar amount the average person in that area might stand to lose.

17. Nike Women

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The ‘original content’ angle from Nike is inspiring and should be applauded by marketers everywhere. However this trend is still in its infancy, and ‘A Nike Original Series’ might only appeal to the aforementioned ad geeks.

A direct headline like that can only stand on the idea, or concept of an ‘Original Series’, to appeal to viewers. The series itself is more of a lifestyle play, so they’re not specifically advertising a product where you can fall back on the standard statistic, feature, or end result.

While the series itself is undoubtedly creative and speak for itself, it’s still up to this ad to sell people on watching it in the first place.

But cleverness alone, as Ogilvy pointed out in the 60’s, doesn’t sell by itself. “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

18. Celebrity Cruises

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Joanna at Copyhackers laid out a five-point headline writing scorecard to help you measure the effectiveness based:

  1. Matches expectations
  2. Grabs attention
  3. Speaks clearly
  4. Gets to the point
  5. Highlights a benefit

‘Our best offer just got BETTER’ is kinda like saying your software is ‘Our software is better/faster/cheaper’. It’s meaningless. It doesn’t explain what the offer was in the first place, how it gets better, or why customers will experience an improvement over the original offer.

Again, specificity could go a long way here.

19. PPI Check Me

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PPI Check Me does a good job where Celebrity Cruises falls short, using a specific number to represent the value someone stands to gain. But… that’s about it.

What, explicitly, about that average claim amount should be interesting to people? Now that you’ve gotten some attention at least, what’s the major point or benefit. Are customers saving this amount, or throwing that amount down the drain, or… what?

20. Lower My Bills

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The headline in this ad from Lower My Bills isn’t a headline at all. It’s not even a good subhead.

It’s critical to the ad because they need someone specific who fits their criteria, so it’s importance is elevated. But if we’re critically evaluating it’s effectiveness as a headline, it falls short on grabbing attention or highlighting a benefit. It forces you to go back to the big wall of text above the image to see what the point is, and even that is clear as mud.

All of that can be avoided with a simple formula like:

  • “Here’s How [Specific Homeowners] are [Getting/Saving/etc.] [$Dollar]

21. The Brace Orthodonitc Practice

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The Brace Ortho practice falls victim to the same mistake we keep seeing over and over again: not explaining why. Sure, most people know what Invisalign is.

Sure, free is always good. But unless someone is specifically looking for Invisalign (which on Facebook, they’re not), this ad won’t resonate. Instead, this line reads more like an AdWords description which works perfectly if someone’s showing intent by searching for related keyphrases.

Using an ‘AdWords’ style strategy is one of the biggest Facebook advertising mistakes you can make.

22. My Top Kickstart Projects

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A declarative statement a headline does not make. The image in this picture opens the door for a brilliant, negative-based headline that could talk about avoiding or protecting yourself from inadvertent spills. But instead, the empty, hyperbolic statements fall flat. In addition, the mismatch in value propositions between the original description, the headline, image, and ad copy leave this entire ad feeling a little disjointed.

23. Nebraska Youth Summit

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This last ad looks pretty good! Short, concise copy (which we’ll dive into next). Nice hero image. Only issue? The (Postponed) in the headline is confusing. Was this event postponed from the advertised date? Or is this making up for a previously postponed event? Even something as simple and small as a single word can throw an otherwise solid ad into disarray.

Ad Copy

Studying 37,259 Facebook ads taught us one thing: simple and straightforward copy works. That means ~14 words for ad post text, and another ~18 for the link description.

Your ad copy is there to sell the click through, not the product or service. So don’t go on a long winded explanation of features, benefits, outcomes. Instead, (a) grab attention and (b) create enough intrigue so people click through for more. That’s it. Nothing less, and nothing more.

Here are A LOT of ads that get this wrong.

24. M.Gemi

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This ad is pretty good, except for one thing: ‘Our client’s favorite shoe’.

Nitpicky? Yes. But why the need to add this detail, which only goes to create confusion (are they talking about their customers, like you – the person reading – or some other ‘client’?).

Concision is the most important element of copywriting you’ve never heard of. The point is to say as much as possible in the shortest amount of words. Here, that means lose the extra qualifier and introduce some action to get people to, “Browse these 17 rich new…”.

25. Man Crates

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I almost didn’t include an ad from Man Crates. Until I saw a few of them all lined up and a pattern emerged. The images were great. The headline ok, and the CTA on point.

The problem? TOO MUCH damn writing. Seriously. The description is trying to sell you every single product they have. Honestly… count them:

  1. Holiday gift for man (general)
  2. Grills
  3. Gamers
  4. DIY guys
  5. Alcohol
  6. Ammo cans
  7. Cigar boxes
  8. Concrete Bricks

And that’s just ONE ad! Instead, create individual ads around each. We learned in the last section that the key to a strong value proposition is clarity. Now you can test these against each other and pick a winner. Problem solved.

26. eTrg.net

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How do you critique an ad you can’t read? It’s easy when the copy is too long, and formatting poor, causing your message to get truncated and cut off the screen. In a ‘display’ style advertisement where you have a few precious milliseconds to get your point across, there’s no room for simple mistakes like this.

27. Sahara Motors

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The goal of the first line is to get people to read the second. So goes every lame copywriting article. Then you come across an ad like this, and the cliché comes back to mind.

It’s bad enough that the ad text is so long. But when the first line is a run-on sentence of meaningless features, well there’s no reason to stick around for the rest. When the competition is increasing and business are paying 122% more than a year ago, your ad performance needs to shine to stand out.

28. Marvel’s Jessica Jones

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Hey, it’s Jessica Jones again! This new ad from the TV show (as opposed to Netflix earlier) falls into some of the same traps as before, assuming people are character-aware to understand the ad copy tone.

However if, like most people, you aren’t familiar with her character and the show, the ad copy comes off slightly condescending and backfires.

Snarkiness works in longer forms when you have enough time to set the tone, however it’s tough to pull off when people are getting an incomplete version without the context.

29. Times Media Films

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The best ad copy and descriptions should support the primary value proposition with extra evidence to boost the credibility of each claim. Easy enough on a B2B ad, but consumer ads for entertainment are a little trickier.

Still, there should be a unified message here to support seeing the new Fifty Shades Black movie beyond ‘it’s been a long week’. The first angle could include piggybacking on Marlon Wayans more, centering the message around how his brand of comedy or past movie examples are the perfect cure for a that stressful week.

30. Victoria’s Property Secrets

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This ad from Victoria’s Property Secrets (best name ever BTW) reads exactly like a real estate ad you’d find in a classified or print magazine. Not that those perform well, but on this medium in this context, it’s especially problematic. Again, we see the simple and avoidable mistake of having your ad copy truncated. We also see 22(!) images attached.

Similar to the Man Crates example above, the cure here is to pick one. If the top performing Facebook ads have descriptions within 14-18 words, something’s got to give. Pick on the one feature to emphasize, like the view that the copy describes and then, oh I dunno, ACTUALLY SHOW A PICTURE OF THE VIEW!!!

People form first impressions in about 1/10th of a second. There’s no way people have time to sift or filter through endless information and images. Help them. If done properly, they’ll click to find out more.

Conclusion

Companies obsess over what ads their competition is running, or what creative they’re emphasizing. But your primary objective isn’t to beat the competition. It’s to get people to sit up, take notice, and take action eventually. Getting people to do something – anything! – is incredibly difficult. Don’t make your life even more difficult by making simple, avoidable mistakes. Vague headlines, truncated ad copy, confusing images or no calls to action, can kill any credibility or momentum your ads have. That extra focus has absolutely nothing to do with the competition. And as we’ve seen, many times doesn’t require any crazy ninja marketing skills either. Instead, it has everything to do with attention to detail. Or lack thereof.

Post appeared on AdEspresso