Classic digital advertising has been in rough shape for quite some time. Once highly influential, it’s been weakened by hammer blows from an ever-increasing reluctance to engage with banner ads (plus the accompanying growth of ad blockers), driving brands to embrace new tactics. And it’s a good thing, too, because modern social media PPC represents a vast improvement.
Where banner and sidebar ads were static and clunky, Facebook ads are dynamic and flexible. Instead of manually arranging placements on specific sites (or using a mediocre programmatic network), you can set your parameters and let the system handle everything for you. And with the reach of Facebook, plus the weight of its analytics, you gather incredible feedback.
But the article isn’t about the introduction of Facebook advertising. In truth, I’m commenting on the rate of change in the digital advertising world as a lead-up to the subject of this piece: sequential storytelling ads. I’m going to briefly outline how sequential ads work, then explain why it’s so important to use them for narratives. Let’s get started, shall we?
How sequential Facebook ads work
Here’s the essence of sequential advertising through the Facebook platform: instead of setting out a range of ads to be distributed evenly, you can arrange for a maximum of 50 ads to be shown to your chosen audience in a specific order. The first time your automatic bid wins out with a suitable viewer, the first ad in the list will be shown — and when you next win the ad bid with that same viewer back on Facebook, they’ll be served the second ad in the list.
The viewer doesn’t need to take any action, whether clicking on your ad or even just hovering over it. By default, you don’t assume that much control — you just trust Facebook’s system to choose the most useful times to deploy your ads. With a full 50 ads lined up, you can have a truly long-form marketing funnel that steadily develops interest — and anyone who sees every ad without developing any desire in whatever you’re offering is clearly the wrong target.
If you need more control than that, you can achieve it through remarketing: setting subsequent ads in your chain to display only when certain criteria have been met. This can be limiting, though. What’s nice about conventional sequential advertising is that it grants the appearance of sophisticated campaign planning without necessarily needing it — just queue up 50 ads of escalating significance and let them run.
You need a plot to build momentum
What’s the one thing you’d need to avoid with your 50-ad sequence? Aside from the ads all being bad enough to taint your brand (which is unrealistic), it has to be the lack of a central thread: something that not only connects them closely but also follows a logical progression. In the event that someone actually makes it to the end of the ad sequence, you want the 50th ad to have more impact than any of the ads that preceded it.
And when you’re looking for mounting importance (and even tension), it’s very useful to turn to masters of the craft — authors — for inspiration. In the world of writing novels, it’s crucial to keep readers paying close attention: as noted in this Jericho Writers how-to-plot guide, a major life challenge gives rise to increasing jeopardy until everything is paid off at the end (and in the case of your advertising, the eventual payoff shouldn’t be metaphorical).
Stories get readers invested in the events and characters featured, keeping their interest steady (or even climbing) as developments unfurl. Given the diminishing returns of most ad campaigns — the first ad catches your eye, the second seems familiar, and the third you barely notice — this is enormously important. With cliffhangers sprinkled throughout your sequence, you can push people to keep looking out for the next instalments.
The rising value of brand storytelling
Regardless of the medium, it’s becoming increasingly essential for brands to tell stories. This is largely due to two things. Firstly, consumers want the brands they support to be likeable, ethical, and responsible, and those qualities are far easier to convey through narrative structures. Secondly, the sheer weight of companies out there keeps going up, heating up the level of competition —meaning that everyone must do everything they can to get attention.
But what should your story (or stories) be about? Well, you can build narratives around your products and/or services: you could document the development process of your newest product, for instance, or even script — then film or animate — a story about someone starting to use the thing you’re offering and having their life changed as a result (it would probably be fictional, but you might be in a position to invest in a long-form case study with a real customer). Here are some useful examples courtesy of Single Grain.
Alternatively, you could largely avoid direct promotion and use a more slow-building story. It could painstakingly detail some kind of problem that the target audience faces, leading up to the reveal of your solution at the end of the sequence. Or maybe it could just feature your brand in an effort to build your reputation: tell the story of how your business came into existence, and let people know what you’re currently working on (and why it’s significant). You have a lot of creative freedom, both in concept and in implementation — after all, you could build your sequence from text posts, images, and videos — so get experimenting.
To recap, then, there are two core reasons why a sequence of Facebook ads needs to be supported by narrative structures: it needs a central line to hold it together and keep attention rising to combat the typical dropoff on interest, and brands without stories to tell are likely to struggle in today’s consumer landscape. If you want to take advantage of this potent tool, first find a story to tell — it’s worth your time and effort.