Shoppable ads need to tone down the sales pitch

Source: Everlane
Nov 01, 2018

New research shows that mobile shoppable ads with a call to action work better than those that do not include that type of message.  But as to what the call to action should be, the same study says that marketers should focus first on letting customers “learn more” about their product or service before asking them to “shop now.”

The study, The Interactive Ad Effect: CTAs in Mobile Video Shoppable Ads” from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and its Digital Video Center of Excellence, sought to understand how consumers engage with interactive ads and what steps, in the short and longer term, marketers needed to take to drive awareness and sales. Researchers used biometrics, eye-tracking and survey tools to measure engagement and attention of 70 participants from Austin, TX and Chicago who participated in the study. 

One of the key findings of the research is that consumers like being presented with ads that allow them to shop. But before they click-through to shop, consumers typically want access to more information.

Eye-tracking of the study participants found that more than 68 percent followed “learn more” call to action messages. That’s significantly higher than the control group without a call to action (59.2 percent) and marginally higher (64.4 percent) than those viewing “shop now” messages. Interestingly, a sweepstakes call to action did not do any better than no call to action at all.

“It’s clear that a brand’s first ‘handshake’ with a consumer should focus on letting them learn more about the product before transitioning to ‘shop now’ language,” said Eric John, deputy director, IAB Digital Video Center of Excellence. “This study is a reminder that it’s important for advertisers — especially direct brands — to pay attention to calls-to-action used in interactive and shoppable video ads and then to test and learn to understand what works best and why. A data-driven approach is table stakes for effective creative innovation.”

Sue Hogan, senior vice president, research and measurement, IAB, said the research findings show that shoppable ads not only generate revenues, but also provide an opportunity for marketers to engage in “smart retargeting” that can help “build direct relationships with consumers” that lead to sales.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your take on marketers’ use of “learn more,” “shop now” and other calls to action in their interactive ads? Do you see an opportunity for marketers to use “smart retargeting” to build relationships and sales?

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"The CTA is heavily dependent on the complexity of the product."

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14 Comments on "Shoppable ads need to tone down the sales pitch"

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David Weinand

The CTA is heavily dependent on the complexity of the product. Shop Now CTAs for basics are probably fine. When you have variables like technical specs, or fit/size – absolutely the CTA should be to “Learn More.” Retargeting is still pretty rudimentary — I constantly hear complaints about companies that re-target for the same or similar item that they just bought. There’s definitely an opportunity here but the offers have to get smarter.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Give shoppers the choice – make both a “learn more” and a “shop now” button and let them choose.

Bob Amster

As a consumer who doesn’t like aggressive marketing, I have to say, the less aggressive the better. Let me decide if I want to buy or just get more educated.

Brandon Rael

Instagram has become the theater of our lives and represents the single best social commerce platform for retailers and brands to engage, entertain, and build a community with their loyal followers. The social sharing platform has evolved into a community of influencers/micro-influencers and retailers would be wise to capitalize on this significant opportunity.

The delicate balance for retailers is when to transition from the entertainment side to incentivizing your followers to become customers or entice loyal customers to buy more of your products. Those who do it extremely well do it so seamlessly the customer will want to engage and shop your products. In fact, statistically speaking, the brands with the most robust social following will in all likelihood incentivize their followers to shop and engage with their brand in all channels.

With that said, there will plenty of trial and error as retailers and brands learn from their social commerce experiences.

Anne Howe

I’m glad to see the call to action shift from “sale” or “coupon” to learn more. Relationships give brands a fighting chance to move beyond price (aka race to the bottom) and focus on benefits and attributes of the products!

Phil Masiello

The answer to the question is simple: It depends. Each ad should be A/B tested between the various calls to action. If the product is well known with a great deal, SHOP NOW would more than likely work better. Also, it depends on how well the ad gets across the value proposition.

For new products or products about which a customer would need more information, LEARN MORE may be a better choice. That is why testing is important before rolling out ads.

All of this has to be weighed with the number of steps to get to the final checkout. Whether it is shop now or learn more, the steps need to be clear, easy and minimized to convert at a high level.

Retargeting and other retention strategies are necessary in e-commerce. You have to remain close to your customers and learn as much as you can so you can personalize the experience and turn buyers into advocates.

Cynthia Holcomb

Personally, every “retargeted” ad I receive is dumb and annoying — as recently as today. A product I already dismissed is now following me everywhere. That’s the heavy lifting for “smart retargeting.”

“Shop now,” based on experience, seems to be the code word for endless retargeted ads of the same product(s) over and over again. “Learn more” on the other hand touches discovery before committing or so it seems. A time to interact with the brand or product. Ads are not interactive to the shopper, they are traps — like quicksand. Once in, it’s very difficult to get out.

Michael La Kier

Whether it’s “learn more” or “shop now” the important thing to note is that social media is moving more towards higher engagement and interaction on its way to social commerce. Making the connection to get “viewers” of social media to become “engagers” is a critically important step for brands.

Doug Garnett

There is no answer. I spend a couple of decades projecting and analyzing numbers like this and the true answer is “it depends.”

This is exactly the same question which direct marketers have fought with for 100 years — without clear resolution. In part, it depends on what’s being offered and what kind of additional information consumers need.

It’s no surprise that “learn more” will get higher response to the ad. But that doesn’t necessarily mean “better overall effectiveness” — it measures ONLY the clicks on the ad. Sometimes direct response teaches us that asking for the order right away generates better profit. Other times we learn asking to “learn more” generates better profit. Understanding which YOU should use is a matter of testing.

But there’s another lesson we should learn from direct marketing: being too aggressive with calls to action seeking high interaction with an advertisement OFTEN reduces sales in the store by turning away those who are interested but do not want to interact online.

This is tricky territory — don’t trust simple rules.

Ralph Jacobson

The words used or not used in these ads are absolutely everything when it comes to the productivity of the ads. Extensive A/B testing has confirmed the results in the article, and often the “learn more” approach shows even higher effectiveness than the “shop/buy now” CTA.

Jennifer McDermott

Sure, targeted ads can miss the mark but when it’s the right product/service delivered to the right person, “shop now” and “learn more” can be helpful for those who want them and subtle enough to not annoy for those who don’t. I think the smart retargeting discussion needs to be more around the quality of data than the CTAs.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
4 years 4 months ago

As David Weinand pointed out, the best CTA depends on the type of product, as more complex products require more research. The path to purchase is also different based on the shopping style of different consumers. With AI, it may be able to predict the shopping style based on an individual’s browsing history.

Another option, which may not be possible today, is to offer two buttons simultaneously — “more info” or “buy” — which would give the consumer the choice.

Min-Jee Hwang

The best CTA depends on the product in question, but in general a softer sell typically works better as consumers are smarter than ever. Many are turned off by hard sells and buy-now language. Instead, marketers should make sure the CTAs are tailored to their target audiences and treat them as educated consumers. “Learn More” works well for that.

Susan Viamari

Consumer familiarity with the brand and product should also be a consideration. If you’re advertising a well-known brand but a newer product, shoppers are certainly going to want to learn more before they buy. And that goes without saying for new brands. And of course, test, test, test, measure, and adjust as needed. YouTube just added new shoppable ad formats and new ways to measure ad performance and actual sales lift from ads. The tools are there. Try them. Keep what works and keep the others in your back pocket. Just always think consumer-first. We’re all consumers ourselves, so boil it down to what YOU would want to know before you buy.

"The CTA is heavily dependent on the complexity of the product."

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