Alan Darer is the Education Project Coordinator at Mercy For Animals (MFA). Among other activities, he oversees their online ads program.
The following is a summary of a conversation that took place on February 24, 2016 as part of our investigation of online ads. Alan spoke with Jacy Reese, ACE Research Associate.
Alan’s Role as Education Project Coordinator at MFA
In creating any given ad, Alan determines the target audience, content of the ads, and advertising budget. This involves a large amount of experimentation, making small and big changes to find more cost-effective ways to run ads. He oversees day-to-day maintenance of the ads, deciding which are doing well and making adjustments to the funding and/or continuation of them dependent upon their performance. For the most part, the ads are solely Alan’s responsibility. MFA created Alan’s job position because the last person running ads and other education programs had too many other duties.
Alan sometimes gets help in other MFA departments, e.g. their IT department when MFA needs to create a new landing page. The landing page is where people are sent when they click on the ads, which usually has information about the benefits of meat-free eating and their free Vegetarian Starter Guide (VSG) (see Veg Starter Guide Ads below), and sometimes has video like What Cody Saw (previously, the video version was more common). In both types, viewers are presented with an opportunity to pledge to try vegetarianism and download the Veg Starter Guide by submitting their email address. Pledgers are then sent a series of 14 emails over the next 3 months with information on the “hows” of veg eating and encouragement for their new diet.
Alan usually spends about 10–20 hours per week working on ads in total, and another MFA staffer, Krystal Caldwell, regularly tests different landing pages in order to maximize the percentage of viewers who pledge.
Online Ads Funding
In 2015, MFA spent $400,000 on online ads. In 2016, they’ll spend more—approximately $550,000—because MFA’s budget is increasing overall and online ads still appear to be very cost-effective. MFA focuses their ads on Latin America because of the high cost-effectiveness, including cheap ad costs and high conversion rates, i.e. the proportion of people who pledge to go vegetarian and sign up with their email address after viewing an ad. In 2015, about 75% of their online ads budget went to running online ads in Latin America. In 2016, MFA hopes to bring that up to 80%.
Veg Starter Guide Ads
A big part of Alan’s job is to test new ideas and approaches to online ads, including both small changes (e.g. different variations of text, different pictures) and substantially different approaches (e.g. different platforms like Twitter and Instagram, new types of Facebook ads like Lead Generation Ads, multi-image ads).
One of these new approaches tried in 2015 was creating a landing page that allowed people to pledge to go vegetarian and download the VSG, but did not have the factory farming video. This also allowed us to make the text and picture of the Facebook ads reflect the offer of the free VSG instead of the video. Running this type of ad led to a massive drop in cost per conversion (initially to about ⅕ of the previous cost) and MFA’s cost per conversion has continued to decrease over time.
A VSG ad shows an image of vegan food with accompanying text such as “See why millions of people are ditching meat.” and then “Order your FREE Vegetarian Starter Guide”. The landing page has a few paragraphs describing the benefits of going vegetarian and the growing number of people who are vegetarian, but no video like the standard ads. The viewer then has the opportunity to pledge to go vegetarian, order the starter guide, and receive MFA’s email series.
These ads probably have cheaper cost-per-conversion because they have a clear offer of something free, which is compelling to users. People who click on these ads might also have more existing motivation to go vegetarian and just need more information on how, which leads to higher pledging rates once viewers are on the landing page. There also might be fewer viewers who leave the landing page because of the graphic footage in the video.
Tools/Skills Needed to Run Online Ads
The strategy MFA uses for such a cost-effective online ads program is very replicable, but it requires a broad understanding of the program goals and methods, as well as the right set of materials and support (for MFA, materials include the vegetarian starter guide, veg eating email series and newsletters, a consistent and high-quality social media presence, and systematized one-on-one support for people who respond to emails in the veg eating email series with questions on how to be veg). Running ads on Facebook to expose people to pro-veg resources or a factory farming video without having all of these other materials in place probably makes an online ad campaign far less cost-effective.
Logistically, an organization needs money to purchase the ads and someone to spend some time on oversight and testing out new approaches. Cost-effectiveness can be increased with more time spent optimizing the ads, testing different versions, and having a well-informed ads manager who researches good advertising practices. An organization might get the most out of their money by working with another group who already has a cost-effective ads program.
Ads managers should check how the cost per conversion for a given demographic has changed on a daily basis, as well as overall performance. Styles and methods of advertising are adapted to a target audience and other factors like placement (mobile vs. desktop), country, and type of ad (e.g. single-image, multi-image, slideshow) over time. An advertiser’s persistence at analyzing the changing relationship between these factors and successful ads, and constantly testing new approaches and ideas, directly relates to success in sales (or veg pledges in the case of animal advocacy).
Facebook has several benefits as a platform for ad programs. For example, an advertiser can create an audience on Facebook of people who’ve bought a particular product, and then learn the demographics or characteristics of that audience from their Facebook profiles. Facebook then has an algorithm to compare the demographics of that audience to others with the same characteristics—a so-called ‘lookalike audience.’ Advertisers then target this lookalike audience for sales of the same product, since those characteristics and a preference for the product are evidently related. This allows an advertiser to target their ads specifically to the lookalike audience based upon their characteristics, leading to a lower cost of conversion.
Room for Growth in Online Ads
The experience and expertise one can gain from overseeing the ads make a big difference, so cost-effectiveness can be expected to increase over time. Veg ads have not yet reached saturation, where ads managers must choose less cost-effective ads and demographics because the higher cost-effectiveness ones are already funded, or the audiences seem no longer interested in the ads. Because ads are so easy to scale, people can earmark donations to MFA’s online ads campaign, which will directly result in more ads being run.
- Cost per mille (CPM) is an important advertising statistic. This is how much money an advertiser spends to get 1000 impressions. An impression is when an ad is fetched from its source, and is countable. To be included in this count for Facebook, an ad probably must enter a browser window and be viewable on screen, known as a “viewed impression.”
- Another metric used is cost per click. This is how much an advertiser must spend to get people to click on the ad. Cost per click in Latin America is just 1–4 cents, whereas in America it can range between 15–25 cents.
- Running ads on Facebook leads people to like the advertiser’s page as well, which can allow MFA to reach users with more pro-veg content.
- A common practice is targeting users who like the page of a particular vegetarian or vegan celebrity with ads referring to that celebrity.
- Images of animal cruelty are used in some advertising for MFA (although most of it features tasty-looking vegan food), though Facebook admits that their policy on this is a gray area. Animals with open wounds, bruises, or blood cannot be shown. Facebook may pull an ad if many people report that images are offensive. If an account has this happen repeatedly, Facebook could shut the account down. MFA no longer has this issue because they understand what content is acceptable, but groups with new online ads programs should consider this.
- One study suggested that most of the value of Facebook ads lies in just the initial impression created by the ad, more than you get from the clicks or conversions. After discovering this article, MFA changed their approach to ensure the Facebook ads had pro-veg/anti-meat messages (as opposed to messages only intended to get clicks, e.g. “Click here to see the shocking video!”), so they could get more value out of impressions in addition to the impact of clicks and conversions.
After the call, Mercy For Animals sent ACE the following data for their online ads program, including information on both the standard ads (usually sending users to www.carnevideo.com) and the new Vegetarian Starter Guide ads (usually sending users to www.chooseveg.com/vsg-landing):
Jan 1st 2016 – March 31st 2016
- 53 cents CPM
- 2.00% CTR (click through rate)
- 4.1 cents per click on the ad taking them to our landing page
- 19.8 cents per conversion
- 11.5% of people who clicked on the ad also liked our Facebook page
- 56.1% of people who convert like our Facebook page, i.e. for every 35 cents worth of Facebook ads we run, 1 person likes our page in addition to all the other benefits
- 9.5% of people who clicked on the ad also shared the ad (or, 46.2% of people who convert share the ad), i.e. for every 43 cents worth of FB ads we run, 1 person shares the ad in addition to all the other benefits
- 20.6% of people who clicked on the VSG ad, pledged to go veg on the landing page
- 34 cents CPM
- 1.94% CTR (click through rate)
- 2.6 cent per click on the ad taking them to our landing page
- $1.10 per conversion
- 4.2% of people who clicked on the ad also liked our Facebook page (or, 181% of people who convert like our FB pg), i.e. for every 61 cents worth of FB ads we run, 1 person likes our page in addition to all the other benefits
- 2.3% of people who clicked on the ad also shared the ad (or, 96.7% of people who convert share the ad), i.e. for every $1.14 worth of FB ads we run, 1 person shares the ad in addition to all the other benefits
- 2.4% of people who clicked on the ad, pledged to go veg on the landing page.
We asked Mercy For Animals a few questions over email after our first follow-up. These are our notes from that email conversation:
Click Rates for Pro-Veg/Anti-Meat Messages in Ads
MFA decided to incorporate pro-veg/anti-meat messages into their Facebook ads messages that show on Facebook (not just the landing page), instead of messages that just optimize for click rates (e.g. “Check out this crazy video!”). This can increase the impact of the ads for people who see, but don’t click, on the ads, because there is some evidence that non-clickers make up a large portion of the impact of online ads.
However, one could be concerned that pro-veg/anti-meat messages might have lower click rates. In practice, MFA did not notice a difference in click rates when this change was made, so it seemed like the pro-veg/anti-meat messaging was the best thing to do.
Email Responses from Ad Viewers
MFA currently receives about 800 emails a week from people replying to the email series (sent to users who enter their email address on the landing pages) who have specific questions about veg eating. MFA provides personalized support and answers, and many people also thank them for the meat-free tips and recipes.
The History of Online Ads
Before Facebook ads existed, The Humane League (THL) used automated programs on Myspace to drive people to videos of farmed animal cruelty. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), MFA, and other groups had used online display ads to also drive people to landing pages with videos of factory farming and resources on veg eating.
PETA and MFA started using and testing Facebook ads soon after they were released. MFA stopped using them at one point, but restarted them once Nick Cooney joined the organization. Eugene Khutoryansky also ran a similar type of Facebook ads with his own money.
VegFund liked these ads, and provided modest funding to a few people and groups including Khutoryansky and THL to test them. Because the results were promising, the programs got more funding and have continued growing. Today, roughly 70% of funding for these Facebook ads comes from VegFund, 20% from MFA, 5% from PETA, and 5% from THL.
We also received the following information from MFA on their Brazilian ads:
PORTUGUESE – BRAZIL
March 1 st – June 23rd
- 74 cents CPM
- 2.20% CTR (click through rate)
- 3.4 cents per click on the ad taking them to our landing page
- 10.1 cents per conversion
- 8.8% of people who clicked on the ad also liked our Facebook page (or, 26.3% of people who convert like our FB pg), i.e. for every 38 cents of worth of Facebook ads we run, 1 person likes our page in addition to all the other benefits
- 9.8% of people who clicked on the ad also shared the ad (or, 29.2% of people who convert share the ad), i.e. for every 34 cents worth of FB ads we run, 1 person shares the ad in addition to all the other benefits
- 33.5% of people who clicked on the VSG ad, pledged to go veg on the landing page
- 63 cents CPM
- 3.88% CTR (click through rate)
- 1.6 cent per click on the ad taking them to our landing page
- $0.36 per conversion
- 2.6% of people who clicked on the ad also liked our Facebook page (or, 56.2% of people
who convert like our FB pg), i.e. for every 63 cents worth of FB ads we run, 1 person likes our page in addition to all the other benefits
- 4.4% of people who clicked on the ad also shared the ad (or, 95.5% of people who convert share the ad), i.e. for every $0.37 worth of FB ads we run, 1 person shares the ad in addition to all the other benefits
- 4.6% of people who clicked on the ad, pledged to go veg on the landing page.