Let's Chat

How to Make Video Ads that Sell

Insights from Spending $10 million+ on Creatives

The secret to unlocking rapid growth for your business isn’t some kitschy marketing masterclass or a photoshoot starring international supermodels. In fact, when executed correctly, exponential growth is a lot more simple than that

On Facebook alone, the number of daily video views is… any guesses? 8 billion. Yep, with a B. That’s more than the entire global population (Omnicore).

Throw in Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Spotify ads (and don’t even get us started on YouTube) and you can start to see that the scope for video as a digital advertising vehicle truly is enormous.

But making a successful video ad isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it’s certainly not the same as crafting a movie trailer or a TV commercial. The best digital video content fuses consumer psychology with scroll-stopping visuals, calculated marketing frameworks, and a whole lot of creative testing. 

It’s a beast of a topic that we’re excited to unpack; and with nearly a decade worth of experimenting, spending tens of millions of dollars in the process, it’s safe to say we know what it takes to make video ads that sell and convert.

Cinematic does not equal converting

You could have a double-degree in cinema studies and visual composition, or be the next Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, but that won’t necessarily get you far in the world of digital marketing.

Why? Put simply, high quality does not always equal high-converting. 

Owning a top-tier camera doesn’t guarantee ad clicks, having ten people on set doesn’t ensure a breakeven return on ad spend (ROAS), and just because you’ve got some sweet drone footage, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to soar above your marketing-minded competitors. See where we’re going with this?

A strong marketing strategy is crucial to a successful video — one that capitalises on human psychology; digital trends; and arguably, most importantly, understands the audience, their pain points, needs, wants, and desires. 

That said, the two aren’t mutually exclusive; perfection and performance can coexist, but if you’re after clicks, purchases, or leads, the focus needs to be on the latter.

Perfect is the enemy of good

Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without”. Loosely translated, the French poet Voltaire said “Perfect is the enemy of good”. 

What’s this got to do with video ads? Absolutely everything. 

The more time you spend nitpicking finite details, the less time you have to do what’s most important in the early growth stage of a business (pre-8-figures): run intelligent creative tests. Let’s dive into that idea a little deeper…

It’s no secret that e-commerce is awfully competitive. If you’ve successfully managed to find a unique product-market fit, address an unmet need, and put yourself in a position where you already stand head and shoulders above your competition on a quality basis alone, then that’s brilliant.

In cases like these, as our founder Max Hertan regularly says on the MegaMinds podcast, a great product can take the burden off great marketing

In other words, if you hit the nail on the head from the outset, the product will, to a degree, sell itself.

Of course, that’s easier said than done — nearly all e-commerce and service-based businesses are faced with competition.

That’s where Voltaire comes in.

While you might be debating font weightings, scouring the internet for that perfect song, or deciphering which baby blue background should feature in your video’s opening shot (hint: probably neither, as soft colours are proven to be less eye-catching than stronger hues), your competition is pumping out ads, running creative tests, and increasing their level of ​​audience understanding. 

For the majority of e-commerce businesses, an overweight focus on visual composition (if not approached correctly), can pigeonhole your brand and restrict your ability to create content at rapid speeds, flexibly test angles, and prove/disprove assumptions — and in the e-com world, speed and flexibility are everything.

Aesthetics are vital and quality is paramount, however, the secret to maximising video as a digital advertising medium is taking a step back, considering the bigger-picture angles (that is, finding what resonates with your target market) and testing said angles.

You might be steadfast on using a bright yellow, but perhaps a deep red initiates a higher click-through rate (CTR) with your viewers. Aspirational lifestyle footage is wonderful for brand awareness campaigns, however, sometimes selfie-style user-generated content (UGC) is more effective when looking to build trust.

The bottom line? Quality is important, but it isn’t the be-all and end-off of your videos, just one of many factors to consider. That brings us to testing…

Test, test, oh, and did we mention test?

Alright, so now that we know not to get too obsessed with branding (at least, not before you reach $10+ million in revenue), where should our focus lie? The answer: intelligent split testing — otherwise known as A/B testing or creative testing.

There is no room for hunches and assumptions in digital marketing. The proof is in the pudding, and in this case, the pudding is the data. How do we source this data? Through tests.

First, ask yourself these questions: what does my target market really care about? Which of my product’s benefits are most important? Which marketing angle — hype, scarcity, saving money, saving time, improving health, and so on — will drive my audience to purchase?

If you don’t know, it’s time to run tests. If you do know, then it’s time to run more tests and confirm those assumptions (because what worked last year may not work this year) and take your understanding to a deeper level.

Let’s use an example. 

Let’s say your company sells a direct-to-consumer (DTC) toothpaste subscription service. Using the same actor/influencer, same location, and same UGC selfie-style review video, you could create six different videos that each focus on a different benefit:

  1. Convenience of home delivery
  2. Competitive price
  3. Free shipping
  4. All-natural ingredients
  5. 10% charity donation
  6. Excellent customer service (backed by reviews)

By running six different videos that look the same but focus on a different message, you can analyse your results to see which message encourages more clicks or purchases.

From a visual perspective, the most important aspect to test is the opening three seconds of the video — the “hook”.

In fact, did you know the first three seconds of a video delivers 47% of your creative’s value?

Visual elements like colours, ad dimensions, emojis, text overlay, music and the model used can all have a huge impact on your overall video engagement. 

The best way to approach creative testing is by creating a content library and dividing your videos into sections. This way, you can drag and drop sections of videos into one another to play around with structures and messaging. 

For more on intelligent creative testing, check out the MegaMinds podcast here

Squeezing the most juice (content) out of every orange (video shoot)

As the saying goes, “write to edit” (brain-dump all the thoughts onto the paper as quickly as possible, then fine-tune the details at a later date). In marketing-specific video production, it’s a similar process. Sure, you have initial concepts and plans (in the form of storyboards, mood boards, and shot lists), but after you’ve checked every item of your shot list, the job isn’t done. Be sure to capitalise on the set-up and experiment in front of the camera.

Remember all that stuff about testing? Well, just because you have a killer idea, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll convert to purchases or leads — which is why you need to squeeze as much content from a shoot as possible. How?

Take photos as well as video — this will come in handy for carousel and static ads you probably haven’t thought of yet.

Have a second pair of hands on set to take behind-the-scenes footage — audiences appreciate being able to connect with your brand on a less polished, more personal level. Plus, it makes for great organic social media content. 

Capture stop-motion content that can easily be edited into GIFs. Video may not be your highest performing medium, but you won’t know until you try.

The more content you can get from a shoot, the more assets you can create off the bat. That means you can test faster, test broader, and not go through the complicated (and often expensive) process of reshooting. 

The go-to framework

While not a one-size-fits-all approach, a video framework that works is typically one that takes the viewer on a journey. To have the highest chance of success, it needs to be two things: engaging and relatable

Let’s unpack a popular video ad framework: the hook-problem-solution-trust-CTA. 

Hook

The only way you’ll ever sell something is by grabbing your audience’s attention in the first place. When a prospect is aimlessly scrolling, you need something that stands out — as we’ve mentioned before, you don’t know what will stand out until you run creative tests, but here are some tips.

A good hook should do one or more of these things:

  1. Spark curiosity
  2. Catch the viewer by surprise
  3. Visually stands out from the feed
  4. Make the viewer say “WTF is that?”
  5. Immediately identify a relatable pain point or problem
  6. Evoke an emotion or response — laughter, cringe, shock, etc.

Hot tip: your video may automatically play or be introduced with a thumbnail. While often overlooked, eye-catching thumbnails can make or break a video’s success.

Problem

The problem section of any video works to address one or more viewer pain points. By showcasing the problem early in the video ad, viewers are typically inclined to continue watching in hope of finding a solution and making their lives easier.

Problems can be illustrated through visuals, text (for example, asking a question), or both.

How do you know what problem to showcase? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you’ll need to test as many real and relatable audience pain points as possible in order to find which one resonates the most. 

Pain points can typically be found online in reviews, forums, FB groups, surveys, or competitor reviews. The key is to find common themes within the above.

Solution

Now that you’ve hooked your viewer in to watch your video and you’ve made them curious about a pain point, it’s time to introduce the solution: your product or service.

Besides proving how your product solves the problem, you also need to communicate why a viewer should choose your product and not someone else’s

This is where your key unique selling propositions (USPs) come into play. What are the benefits of your brand VS another one? What makes other brands sub-par?

From a copy perspective, when showcasing the solution, it’s important in any video (and any ad, in general) to focus on benefits rather than features. What’s the difference between the two? 

A feature is an aspect of your product or service; a benefit is a positive impact it has on your customer.

Here’s an example: key features of a new Macbook might be that it weighs 1300 grams and has a 20-hour battery life — these are merely statistics, there’s little room for emotive connection. The benefits are that your customer can now lead a more flexible life in whatever city they choose, taking their work with them instead of being cooped up in an office. In a broader sense, the benefit is freedom. 

Read more on high-converting ad copy in our blog here.

Trust

Okay, so we’ve identified the problem and provided a solution — you’ve piqued your viewers’ curiosity, but now you need to convince them to buy. 

With such a congested e-commerce space in 2021, instilling a feeling of trust is vital. In brick-and-mortar stores, you can touch and feel the product and get a tangible sense of its quality. Online shopping is an entirely different ball game. .

There are a few ways to communicate trust:

  1. Reviews (high-quality reviews that prove that pain points are solved)
  2. Showing media features (as featured in…)
  3. Testimonials
  4. UGC*
  5. Showing the founder and their story — a human connection to a brand helps with relatability

*As viewers become more and more desensitised to influencer-style reviews, taking a stranger’s word as gospel is now unrealistic. A before-and-after photo can be photoshopped, but showing the 6-week journey with regular check-ins — showing the objections along the way — is more authentic (because it is authentic) 

Call to Action (CTA)

The final piece in the puzzle comes down to basic marketing psychology: adding a strong call to action. If your viewer is still on the fence, they need a direct instruction to help them make up their mind.

CTAs can be strong (“Buy now”, “Shop now”, “Buy now before stocks run out”) or subtle (“Browse our new catalogue today”, “Click the link to explore the possibilities”, “Check out our handmade range today”). 

There is no universally successful CTA — again, it comes down to testing what connects best with your viewer. 

The six main types of ads

In most cases, video ads can fall into one of the following six categories. The hook-problem-solution-trust-CTA formula we just dissected can be adapted to any of these creative vehicles. 

Case study

Almost like a “compare the pair” ad, a case study video should be all about proof and evidence. Coming across as professional (although that’s not to say you can’t use comedy), these videos showcase controlled product studies or tests which prove that your product is lightyears ahead of the rest.

Unboxing

We don’t really need to explain this one too much, do we?

By showing the packaging and the product, you’re allowing viewers to live the experience of receiving the product.

This concept is especially effective if you have premium or sustainable packaging.

Lifestyle

A lifestyle video — typically involving models or actors who match your target market — shows the product being used in everyday life, communicating an aspirational feeling.

If your product is sunscreen, for instance, a lifestyle product shoot should take place at the beach in summer, therefore communicating feelings of warmth and happiness; drawing associations between product and situation. 

Product Demo

A common video style for electronics, product demos work to highlight the product’s features and USPs. Of course, it’s not all about features as we already touched on — the best product demos manage to interweave benefits and trust along the way.

The type of viewer who makes a purchase decision based on a product video does so because it is clear and concise. Avoid complicated structures and explanations; your prospective customer should be able to watch the video once and answer a quiz about it the next day.

Social proof

Trust is essential — that we already know. This is where dedicated social proof ads come in. 

Ideal for MOTF and BOTF (middle and bottom of the funnel) ads when your audience needs some extra convincing, social proof videos aim to communicate the overwhelmingly positive impact that your product or service has had on real people.

You can do this by collecting community opinions from influencers, blogs, consumer reviews on your website or social media, news articles, testimonials, and a combination of all of these.

The key to social proof ads is addressing any points of scepticism or hesitation. 

Are your customers worried about the quality of your product? Use reviews that illustrate and address those concerns: “I’ve used these slippers every day for 2 years and they still feel brand new. Amazing!”

The best social proof puts the spotlight on the positive while simultaneously eliminating the negative.

Closing ads

True to their name, closing ads are the final stage of the purchase journey.

Targeting people who have already seen and understood your product or service, these ads are typically short and sweet and, above all else, focus on the offer (10% off; Buy one get one free, etc.)

A closing ad isn’t the time to talk about benefits, feature models, or use lifestyle footage. Make the call to action the focus of the frame — in most situations, simple product imagery with bold text overlaid will do the job.

Hot tip: If filming or taking photos, make sure to leave room in the frame to include the offer text in post-production.

A million ways to skin a cat

If your aim is to create video ads that sell by building trust with your audience, then by looking at the six ad types above, you’d lean toward creating a social proof video. But the decision process doesn’t end there.

You’ve established your aim (build trust), but what’s your delivery method? That’s where the term “ad vehicle” comes into play. Exploring social proof further, here are a few of the ad vehicles (AKA the different styles) you could explore:

  1. Screenshotted website reviews on a solid colour background.
  2. Animated reviews in the foreground with the product being used in the background.
  3. Split-screen of testimonial (left) and product demonstration (right).
  4. Screen recording of the website review page, followed by a CTA.
  5. Compilation of UGC reviews

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are a million ways to skin a cat, and, as you can see, it’s no different in the world of video advertising. 

A few bonus tips

Captions

85% of videos watched on Facebook are played without sound (99Firms). That means, if you’re planning on running ads on Facebook, captions are king. It’s worth testing organic-looking subtitles (you can even use FB’s auto-caption feature) against more colourful, in-your-face text to see which resonates more with your viewer.

Text Vs. Visuals

A lot of brands fall into the trap of relying on text to share their message, but that defeats the purpose of video in the first place.

In most situations, the text should be complementary and call out key benefits. While there’s a time and place for testing varying degrees of text, the general rule of thumb is if you have a choice between text and visual, opt for the latter!

Orientation

Long gone are the days of landscape video (unless you’re creating YouTube, website, or TV ads). On social media sites, vertical videos generate the highest engagement rate (sproutsocial). And, according to social insider, “between landscape, square and vertical formats, vertical wins out on the highest average engagement rate of 0.35%.”

How to create video ads that sell

If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer possibilities of video advertising or would feel safer having an expert take the reins, you’re not alone, and we’re here to help.

From identifying your potential customers’ needs and wants to targeting them with the right content, and nurturing them into lifelong customers, Megaphone has a proven track record in smashing our client’s video and content goals.
Let’s chat!