Note: The following post was written by Jeff Sexton of Boost CTR. Jeff is in charge of Optimization Management for Boost’s writer network. This is the first in a weekly series of articles by Jeff where he’ll dissect and analyze ads he sees various places online. We hope that this in-depth look at the philosophy and strategy behind ads you see various places online coupled with a hard look at what actually generates clicks in our Win of the Week column will provide a lot of actionable advice for anyone looking to improve their ad copy.


I snagged this image of two Facebook ads yesterday because they were both for very similar products and provided such a striking contrast in both style and strategy:




And although each ad has some good and bad points, one of them is clearly superior.  Can you guess which one?


Before giving you that answer, let’s take a look at each ad individually.


Kaplan’s Facebook Ad


First, Kaplan University’s ad gets points for using the “like” feature.  And while Kaplan doesn’t have complete control of that feature – Facebook automatically implements it for any ad that drives people to a Fan Page rather than an offsite landing page – Kaplan couldn’t have taken advantage of it without driving the campaign to their Facebook Fan Page.




And really, what a great form of social proof the “Like” is, allowing the ad to gets its very own “endorsement” from one of my Facebook friends.  Unfortunately, it’s the ads only real good point; everything else goes downhill from there, starting with strategy.


Kaplan University’s Questionable Ad Strategy really starts with a bad match-up between target and message/call to action.  The ad seems to invite Kaplan University students, alumni, and faculty to visit Kaplan’s official page.  But really, it’s inviting me to JOIN all those people over at their fan page, which makes sense since I’m neither an alumnus nor a faculty member of Kaplan University’s. And yet, in a quick read, the impression I got from that list was not of who I’d be joining, but to whom the ad is speaking.  Doh!  And again, since I’m not a student, alumni, or faculty member of the university, I dismiss the ad.


Then there’s the Ad Headline and Picture, the two most important elements for gaining the attention of an online viewer – especially a viewer who’s primary goal on Facebook isn’t to look at ads.  For a headline, the plain “Kaplan University” hardly grabs my attention.  Nor does it entice me to keep reading.  It’s also redundant to the picture, which, instead of being an engaging or interesting photo, is merely a text-based logo.  Hardly eye-catching.  And indeed, my eye wasn’t caught by that ad – I didn’t even really notice it until the picture of the ad directly below it (i.e., the UNC ad) drew my attention.


Finally, the ad’s entire body copy is one giant call to action.  And the length of that CTA, broken up as it is by the long list of “Student, Aluni, and Faculty” left me feeling like the ad didn’t have a call to action.  It wasn’t until I thought to myself, “that ad is missing a CTA,” that I went back to re-read the copy and realized that I had missed the invitation to “join” the Kaplan University community.


So this ad:


  • failed to grab my attention,
  • failed raise any interest in what Kaplan University could offer me, and
  • muddled their invitation with an overly long list that stood between “join” and “on our official page.”


Not so good.


UNC’s Online MBA Facebook Ad




UNC nails several very important things right off the bat:


1)     They have an interesting picture.  No it’s not earth shatteringly good or creative, but it is engaging.  Why?  Because it’s a picture of a person’s face, largely cropped in to work with the small picture size of Facebook ads.  Humans are hardwired to find faces interesting.  We stop to look at pictures of them to a far higher degree than bland logos, especially when the face in the picture is looking at you.  Moreover, the sideways MBA UNC capitalizes on that attention, causing the viewer to try to actively look at and translate the acronyms.
2)     The headline offers a promise: that there’s finally a prestigious or top-rated MBA program online.  Now if it were me, I’d have replace “Top” in “Top MBA Program” with “UNC.”  Typically speaking, specifics are better than generalities.  I’m suspicious of “Top MBA Program – Online!” because I suspect that the advertiser may have taken liberties in stretching the meaning of the word “top.”  But UNC has a strong enough reputation that I can infer “top” from those letters.
3)     The body copy isn’t perfect, but it at least makes a value proposition: earn your MBA from a top-rated school from home.  I can live with that, even if I wish that the copy included a definite call to action.