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How to Conduct an Effective Competitive Analysis of Ad Creative

Brian Bowman

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A breakdown of the best ad-spying tools and techniques to get ahead of the competition

Competitive analysis is the single most important step to generate better creative for your user acquisition ads.

Whenever we start work with a new client, we begin by evaluating the ads of their top competitors. Why? Because creating a winning ad is very hard—only one in 20 new ads will beat a control. With a 5% success rate, you have a tremendous amount of work to uncover a fresh, winning concept.

Don’t look to create just “another ad.” Make one that will blow the doors off all prior results. That will require a lot of testing, as well as the creation of some strong new concept ads. Competitive analysis is especially good for developing these types of bold new concepts, completely new approaches that haven’t been tried before.

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Because high-performance ads are so challenging to create, it makes sense to use every trick you’ve got. The best trick is competitive analysis.

Your competitors have already poured a ton of resources, ad spend and testing time into creating their own high-performance ads and they’re failing at 95%, too. Why not “borrow” from their best ads and customize them to create fresh ideas for your campaigns?

Once you know how to find and identify your competitor’s high-performing ads, you’ll have an endless supply of tested concepts ready to either make new ads from or to use in your ad tests.

Not Everyone Can Do Competitive Analysis Well

There is one caveat, though … it matters who does the competitive analysis. User acquisition managers typically aren’t good enough at evaluating creative concepts and the creative team normally isn’t proficient enough with analytics to assess that part of ad performance.

The ideal person for this work will have both quantitative and creative skills, or you can create a team of two or more people with the optimal skill set.

Once you have your creative analyst or team, the objective will be to reject as few ideas as possible so you can increase your creative library. Be data-driven, not opinion-driven.

To do this, you’ll need a few tools. The first and best two tools are free and easily accessible.

Facebook’s New Ads Library Tool and Other Competitive Analysis Devices

Facebook’s new ad library tool just launched. It’s an aggressive move toward transparency for the ad platform, sparked by ongoing calls for more openness.

The tool will let you see:

  • Every ad that’s active now or that has been since May 2018
  • How much a page has spent on Facebook ads
  • Which pages’ ads reference a particular keyword
An example of a Facebook Ad Library search.

You can run daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly reports with this tool. You don’t even need a Facebook account to access the information.

Clearly, this is a gold mine of competitive information. You want to be reviewing your competitors’ ads for trends like:

  • Messaging
  • Offers
  • Use of motion
  • Calls to action
  • Colors and backgrounds
  • Text placement
  • Characters
  • Logos and stickers
  • Anything that looks like a new element in an ed, or an old element used in a new way

The Facebook ad library tool may become even more useful soon. That’s because Facebook developer accounts can now have access to the ads library API. This, of course, means developers can built tools to sift through ads and data, and means we might be able to spot trends faster, and build better ads and better tests.

The one thing Facebook is holding back on is data. We still can’t see performance data about the particular ads, just the ads themselves. But it’s fairly safe to assume that if your competitors are smart and an ad has been running for more than a couple of days, it’s doing well.

The Facebook ad library leapfrogs what used to be one of our favorite competitive analysis tricks: visiting the Facebook page of a competitor and clicking “Info and Ads” in the left-hand column. You can still do that, but the new ad library is vastly more powerful.

But what about that performance data? You may still be able to get it, but from third-party tools. We recommend all of these Facebook ad spying tools, ones which we’ve used ourselves:

As you review competitors’ ads, make a log of what you find. It’s probably best to organize your research first by competitor, then by the ads they’re running, what you notice and what you specifically want to create or test. Create a table for each competitor with dates.

A table like this could be a starting point. Adapt as necessary and consider adding another column for screenshots or even captured videos of ads that especially interest you.

Keeping a log like this takes time, but you don’t have to have a table for every competitor. And if you set aside even one hour a week to do a review like this, you’ll have all the news ideas you can handle.

If you’ve got the time, consider following the ads of a few non-competitive advertisers whose work you admire. Sometimes, really great ideas can come from outside your niche, though don’t expect miracles… outside the box ad concepts can work really well, but often they flop pretty hard, too. Use your testing methodology to minimize how much exposure you give any ad until it has proven itself.

Conclusion

Why miss out on a ton of actionable information—proven ads that are working for other advertisers’ in your niche? Doing even basic competitive analysis can be highly profitable, especially now that Facebook’s ad library makes it so much easier.

Brian Bowman is CEO of Consumer Acquisition.