Holiday Advertising: How to Build Creative Content that Converts Before & During Christmas Season

by Common Thread Collective Collaborator

Oct. 08 2019

The holiday advertising countdown has begun. And for brands facing a crowded social media landscape, we know three things…

  1. Conversion rates are about to explode 
  2. Likewise with customer acquisition costs 
  3. Your creative will make or break performance

Using these revenue-backed insights, the key to developing ad creative that makes money this holiday season is simpler than you think. Consider this your gift guide: unwrapped and ready to go… 

Oh, and on top of laying out a creative strategy for you in this article, we’ve also put together an actionable Black Friday, Cyber Monday Campaign Calendar (in Google Sheets) so you can edit it and keep everthing running smooth.

“Tis the Holiday Season for Stories”: Build Creative For Your Lowest Acquisition Cost

There’s a reason you’re not running television ads. And there’s a reason Facebook is placing your auto-placement ad creative in Instagram Stories. 

The reason: lower CPMs. 

Wait, what?! Did we just say lower CPMs on Facebook ads? If you don’t believe us, we created this in-depth holiday e-commerce marketing report to dive deeper into why this is happening… not last year, this year.

Here’s the short version: Instagram Stories represent the opening of a new ad placement, which means there’s a supply of cheaper ad inventory available. 

Don’t believe the hype? Open your Instagram Story feed and see for yourself. If you’re running your account using Facebook’s Automatic Placement feature, you’ve probably noticed that some of your ads that were designed for the in-stream feed are suddenly appearing in Instagram Stories.

(It’s that fugly-looking 4x5 aspect ratio jammed into a vertical format, with the AI formulated color boxes above and below your ad.)

Like this…


Why would Facebook do this? There’s a reason. Facebook is so certain of the power of Instagram Stories placement that they’re willing to machine-learn the ish’ out of auto-placement creative. This is because it will lead to better performance in your account.

When your brand’s advertising wins, Facebook wins. 

(We can’t stand the way that ads look when they’re auto-placed inside of IG Stories. But hey... it’s working, and that’s what counts.)

Now that you know this, why not develop holiday shopping ads specifically for the best acquisition placements while your competitors wonder why their “traditional” formats aren’t performing?

If you’re driving mobile traffic, build for behavior. 

Instagram Stories represent a less competitive placement paired with a more captive, target audience (thus the lower CPM opportunity).

Here’s the kickers that’ll have your creative team tickled pink. 

Do You Hear What I Hear? Holiday Campaigns That Jingle

Facebook feed content is watched 80% of the time without sound whereas Instagram Stories viewing is completely different behavior than feed with a 70% “audio-on” watch rate.

Yup… your creative gets its voice back – caption free. 

    Santa’s Good List: Holiday Marketing that Feels Native

    With fewer advertisers competing for attention on Instagram Stories, consumers who are served ads utilizing Instagram Stories’ native functionality in ad creative (swipe, poll, tap) will find lift in engagement.

    Hark! E-Commerce Ads with Room to Announce Good Tidings

    Vertical mobile-first Creative takes advantage of fast consumption behaviors. Thus you can pack more infotainment in less time. For Instagram Stories, 15 seconds is the new longform.

      Hopefully the Instagram Stories features will have your creative team doing backflips — they can finally lose some of the creative shackles of the Facebook feed.

      If not, here’s a way to give your creative team the resources to show that the proof is in the pudding... 

      Creative Metrics that Matter: The Holiday Gift You Give Yourself

      When developing ads for your marketing strategy, orient your creative objectives around the behaviors that matter most to your consumer: Watch and Click. 

      These two behaviors indicate whether your video creative is earning the attention, interest, and driving action that yields the performance you want.

      The key issue with using ROAS as your only creative KPI is that this standalone metric is too general to guide the creation and iteration of video that performs. ROAS as a standalone creative metric is subject to many outside factors impacting purchase behavior beyond your ad (website, inventory, pricing...) 

      So how do we measure the success of our ads specifically? Average Watch Time and Outbound CTR. 

      Simply put, ask yourself: 

      1. How interesting is my ad content? 
      2. How long is it interesting to someone? 
      3. Have I earned someone’s click? Does this piece of creative shows them something that makes the prospect of learning more irresistible?

      Wanna know a little secret that only $200M+ in ad spend will tell you? 

      There’s no gold standard for average watch time lengths — rather, you must compete against your account’s unique set of benchmarks.

      Why? Your consumer is completely unique, and has a set of behaviors that only your account will reflect. The only way to measure your success, then, is the yardstick that you create.

      Setting Benchmarks: If this is your first BFCM rep, pull a window that reflects the best data set to calculate your Average Watch Time and average Outbound CTR. If not, pull your previous year’s BFCM data set to understand what your creative benchmarks should be. 

      The Game: Challenge your creative team to outperform your Average Watch Time and Outbound CTR benchmark. (This is all the more valuable as the holiday shopping season packs social media feed more and more.)

      How does your creative team do this? Let’s break it down.

      Fight For Every Second of Attention

      With mobile-first creative, you have a split-second to capture your consumer’s attention — and once you have that attention, you have to work to earn each additional second afterward. Build a story that is unique, entertaining, surprising, and delightful for your consumer from start to finish.

      Don’t Subvert the Payoff

      Traditional story arcs (30 second TV ads) follow a subverted payoff format, where the payoff of the story, and sometimes the reveal of the brand or product, comes last. MFC works best in non-linear formats to create payoff immediately and consistently throughout.

      70/20/10 Rule

      It’s a cliche to say that people on social have short attention spans, but does this mean they’re less interested? Nope! Rather, the behavior is different, so you have to meet people where they are.

      Recent heat-mapping and eye-tracking studies show that 70% of the time, mobile audiences are in “browse” mode, where they process information and scroll content at an alarming rate – nearly 5 miles of scroll per year. (Check out One Mile Scroll to see what this looks like.)

      Build content to disrupt this constant-scroll behavior. We use this ratio as a reminder...

      70% Browse, 20% Engage, 10% Immersed

      Gamechangers: Find Creative That Unlocks Your Account

      There’s no such thing as a “silver bullet” ad. Particularly this time of year.

      Solving creative problems for your brand is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. If an “unlock” video format worked for one brand, it’s easy for a content vendor to sell you on the same thing. If you find yourself being pitched on a silver bullet… well, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

      One of the most confounding, and exciting, features of transactional creative in Facebook ads is that single pieces of creative have the ability to completely transform an account.

      We’ve seen this happen time after time. Let’s take FC Goods, a brand that CTC owns and operates, as an example of the transformative power of creative. 

      The brand had been struggling, and we’d bent over backwards trying to figure out how to unlock the account.

      Was it product-market fit? Better buyer personas or custom audiences? The landing page? Ad placements? Budget optimization? Should they turn to Google Ads or Amazon for discovery? Maybe some special offer?

      Turns out, the key to the account’s explosion was this video. Check it out... 

      This single piece of creative resulted in breakaway creative performance for the account at scale – 10X plus the spend scale, while holding a ROAS above success. 

      The takeaway: Long-form product education was the creative ad type that FC Goods’ consumer was looking for to earn attention, gain interest, and disrupt the scroll. 

      Cory Card Case MetricsAs the legendary advertising creative director Bill Bernbach famously said, “Today’s smartest advertising style is tomorrow’s corn.” The creative formats that worked last BFCM will make a great corndog.

      If your digital-marketing team is in a creative bind and looking for help holiday sale season, don’t wait until the last minute. We’d love to hear from you. There’s nothing that gets us more fired up than developing content to fuel massive revenue.

      Remember, your holiday advertising strategy is only as good as the holiday content that accompanies it.

      Wanna see this in action? Check it out. 

      Common Thread Collective | Transactional Reel