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Creative 101 for your Paid Social Campaigns + Tips

Erika Cole
By Erika Cole
By Erika Cole,
May 3, 2022

The bread and butter of any successful campaign is the accompanying creative, whether that’s an image or video. It’s the first thing that a prospective customer sees, and the “hook” that entices them to at the very least, acknowledge your ad. Your ad text could be incredibly thoughtful, interesting, and enticing, but what does that matter if it’s scrolled past?

The weight creative carries can make selecting the right images and videos feel like a daunting task, especially if you don’t have a team or team member dedicated to it. So when you’re starting out (or in the midst of doing something new!) how do you go about selecting the right mix to get the ball rolling? 

Shoelace works with brands across just about every industry and vertical, and we’ve seen it all. While there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to creating the “perfect” ad (and any article or guru who claims otherwise will only disappoint), there are certainly things you can do and MUST consider despite the platform you’re on or the types of products you sell. 

Consider this your lesson in Creative 101, or a checklist of things you should think about when determining the images and videos you use in your next campaign. 

The creative types you need, defined 

There are 4 main “types” of creatives that you should be using in your ads: product shots, lifestyle imagery, video (gifs/motion), and user-generated content (UGC). While for some brands, product shots always come out on top, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should omit using lifestyle images altogether - it could just mean the way their budget is allocated will favour product-centric images. Like we mentioned above, there’s no one size fits all solution or strategy, but if you’re just getting started, we’d urge you to round up at least one of each of these types of creatives so you can look at each of them independently and make assessments of their impact in the future. 

Let’s get started!

Product Shots

A product shot is exactly what it sounds like: photos where the focus is on the product. While in some instances, this is as simple as a product against a white or otherwise, plain background (imagine a flat lay, for instance), it doesn’t have to be

Product shots are a classic and considered more modest vs the other types of creative that can be produced, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still have a serious impact on your revenue. 

Herbivore Botanicals uses pretty but subdued backdrops that are not only eye-catching, but compliment the product they're showcasing.

Lifestyle Images

Think of lifestyle images as your product in action. The difference between a model in a lifestyle image vs a product shot is that in a lifestyle image, the model (and there is always a model involved) will typically be using the product vs simply wearing it. Aka, they’re not simply wearing your leggings, they’re wearing your leggings outside while they’re hiking. With lifestyle shots you want to show your product in its “natural habitat” a place that potential customers can identify with and say to themselves: “hey, that’s what I do” or “hey, that’s what/who I want to be”

Lifestyle images are generally more costly to produce, but depending on the nature of what you’re selling, could make all the difference. Think back to the above example, you say your leggings are waterproof, but an image of someone wearing them while they’re hiking in the rain will really drive that point home. 

Ray-Ban capitalizes on it's effortlessly cool appeal in these lifestyle campaigns.

Videos

Videos are a great way to show your product doing what it does best, and with the rise of platforms like TikTok, having well-produced videos in your arsenal is becoming more important than ever. 

While longer-form videos are good for things like landing pages or a Youtube channel, when it comes to ads, you want to try and get your message across in a direct manner. Rather than obsessing over the length of the video, focus your efforts on making it engaging and direct. The other caveat to consider? You really only have the first 3 seconds to grab a consumers attention before they scroll on, often referred to as the hook. 

A video we stopped scrolling for:

Arc'teryx understands that one of the best ways to show off its gear is via video to really show it in action. Note that they created different formats of the same video to ensure no placements were missed.

User-generated content

User-generated content, or UGC, is anything that wasn’t created by the brand (i.e., you). It can come from customers, brand advocates, even employees. It is original, curated content, and encompasses many forms such as images, testimonials, videos, etc. 

UGC gets a special call out here because of the level of authenticity it adds to a brand. While we advocate for the importance of hiring professionals to produce your assets, UGC is a beast of its own that helps a brand not only increase revenue, but build community and trust. That’s why it’s important to look at it independently of the other types of creative we mentioned above. A product shot created in-house, and a product shot taken by a customer are not the same. UGC makes a brand feel more human, approachable, and connected with its audience. Best of all, it’s free (unless you have an influencer program going), and more often than not, the creator is more than happy to have a brand use their images. It’s a win-win.

Fuchsia Shoes and jewelry company, Mejuri, leverage two different styles of content made by their fans and advocates.

Best practices & tips

Now that we’ve covered the types of creatives we suggest using in your creative mix, let’s go over our list of creative best practices that we’ve picked up over the years:

  • When opting for lifestyle images, make sure to include faces! Facial expressions can have a greater impact on your audience and can help them better relate to your brand and product. The more ‘organic’ you can make these images look, the less likely they are to stick out as a ad right away 
  • Keep devices in mind! How does the ad look on desktop vs mobile vs a tablet? 
  • Remember your audience. Understanding your buying persona(s) should guide every creative decision you make. Gen Zs are less partial to super edited creatives, for example.
  • Use contrasting, bright colors to stand out… but
  • …Keep the overall design/concept simple! You don’t want your potential customers confused or unable to identify what you’re selling. 
  • Be aware of trends in social, but always pick your brand over everything. If there’s a way to incorporate both, great. If not, your brand trumps all. Lifestyle-esque memes might be huge on Facebook, but if you’re selling a sensitive product, memes won’t appeal to your audience. 
  • Show your product! This might sound obvious, but make sure what you sell is on the forefront - don’t make your customer go looking for it.
  • If you’re adding text to your images (and bear in mind, some platforms/placements won’t allow you to use text at all), keep it short and to the point. Focus on the important aspects: a clear CTA, the details of a sale, etc. Anything longer is what ad copy is for.
  • Only user high-resolution images (duh!) - consider hiring a creative studio or professional photographer.
  • If possible make your videos vertical or 1:1 at the very least! They’ll take up more space on a Facebook news feed, and make it easier to repurpose them as stories, on TikTok, Snapchat, etc… ensure your product, logo, or brand is shown within the first 5! 
  • But to that point … triple check the image/video dimensions of the platform you’re showing your ads on! Sizes that work for a Google Display ad might look funky or off on Instagram.

The final and most important thing to remember is that you always need to be testing. Just because photo x has been raking in the revenue doesn’t mean there isn’t a new idea or concept around the corner that could reap even better results. Platforms like Facebook offer ad types such as DCOs which allow you to test multiple images at once so you can get an idea of what resonates the most with your audience (ps, we recommend going after a broad audience on Facebook if you’re doing this!). 

The best part is once you have a creative baseline, you can iterate on it. UGC produced videos absolutely crushing it? Consider incentivizing some of your biggest fans. Product shots performing 5x over lifestyle images? Test five different product shots against each other and see if you can pinpoint why. The options are endless. Just make sure you're dedicating the time to make it happen.

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