Bethan Rainford runs the day-to-day operations of the paid media team and heads up the paid media offering. Bethan has spoken at a host of ecommerce events and has been working in paid media since 2015, previously managing accounts for the likes of BMW, Nintendo and MUJI.
Each year Black Friday approaches faster than the last, and the period synonymous with deals and Christmas gifting is by far still one of the biggest shopping periods of the year. And with the macroeconomic events of the last twelve months that affected consumer behaviour and spending, there was some level of uncertainty around which way it would go.
Here at Vervaunt, our client mix generally sits within the luxury, premium fashion space and in fact many of our clients had some of the strongest results to date, smashing targets and last year's performance. So now that our brands have had a few weeks to evaluate, we explore some of the key learnings and takeaways which made this year so successful.
One of the big takeaways from Black Friday 2021 was that when it came to creative, keeping it simple and ensuring that the offer was the hero was the best way to leverage the best performance out of sale periods. This year, we continued to see that approach adopted by a huge number of advertisers.
While this led to some eye-catching and appealing ads when high percentage discounts were pushed, it did result in news feeds becoming devoid of products, and therefore context.
We saw dozens of brands pushing ads that had the offer as the hero (per our best practice), but sitting on a plain background. While this can look striking, if you’re doing this in a prospecting campaign where people are unfamiliar with your brand, you’re giving no context as to what you’re actually selling.
While brands like Nike can safely assume that people know what they’re selling, not including products in the images and videos themselves risks lower CTRs, or uninformed clicks from disinterested people unlikely to purchase.
Neom Organics: An eye catching ad, but no clues as to the products being offered, and using a code rather than discounting the products on the site can add unnecessary steps to the sale process.
Face Theory: The black background can stand out, but if you use dark mode, this can look more like a glitch than something that could make browsers want to click.
Rodd & Gunn: Same styling as the previous ad, however the “four days only” and specific end date helps a feeling of urgency and FOMO which is nice in a year where some sales lasted for weeks on end.
Stance Europe: Definitely eye catching, though using the term “sitewide” if there are exclusions can feel like a bait and switch if best sellers aren’t included.
Some advertisers didn’t focus on the offer details, and so we saw plenty of ads that boasted sales and deals without any insights into how juicy they may be.
There was a fair amount of press this year regarding fake or disingenuous Black Friday deals, and specificity is your friend when trying to stand out as a brand with serious offers.
Float Spa: Another ad with no products on show, but the lack of offer details could discourage customers from clicking through to save wasting time with a potentially poor discount.
InSinkErator: This ticks all the boxes mentioned so far - no products, basic or plain styling, lack of offer specificity. However, they do use specific dates to push FOMO.
Only and Sons: Here we do see the offer mentioned in the headline beneath the images, however on a social media platform as visual as Instagram, if you want people to read something, it needs to be on the image as well.
John Lewis: The collection ad allows context to be provided by the products (although it’s fair for John Lewis to safely assume people are familiar with their brand), though not showing the old price or percentage discounts in the product images was an opportunity not taken here.
Ruggable: Another case of a promo code requirement and offer details slightly hidden in the headline rather than the image.
Much of the commentary from Meta in the lead up to Black Friday was that expectations were that buyer behaviour and sales would start earlier. Many advertisers took this to extremes, with Black Friday ads going live at the start of November (if not earlier in some cases).
Clients who took this approach broadly reported shorter peaks, but an overall uplift across November in terms of year-on-year results. Shifting offers across an overall longer offer period can help prevent fatigue, especially for peak days. One common strategy is to stage offers on selected lines in the lead up to Black Friday, transitioning to site wide discounts from Black Friday to Cyber Monday.
Some advertisers tried to get the best of both worlds, with “coming soon” ads being shown ahead of time in an attempt to plump up remarketing pools. The impact of this will be hard to isolate, and you should expect far weaker returns if direct response is what you base your main KPIs on.
Decathlon: This is a nice example of how to take advantage of the earlier kick offs we’re seeing to Black Friday - the offer is definitely the hero here. Some products (or even a collection ad) would be great here.
Ted Baker: The “coming soon” style ad is likely aiming to push spend ahead of the Black Friday period while CPMs are slightly lower, building remarketing audiences to be deployed when the offer starts, however without offering early access there isn’t too much incentivising a click through or sign up here.
Across the Black Friday week, we saw the expected uplift in CPMs across Meta, with our clients seeing an average 93% increase year on year from £5.94 to £11.51. In order to drive any year on year improvements in this market, advertisers need to be really strategic with their spend through the channel. We saw a few different strategies really work for our clients over this year's retail peak which we will definitely be re-looking at next year.
One of the key strategies we saw to help combat this increase was an exploration of different campaign objectives.
The vast majority of our clients ran lead generation campaigns at some point during the Black Friday period with strategies ranging from ‘Sign Up for Early Access’, ‘Sign Up to Save Your Basket’ and even ‘Sign Up to Shop’, requiring users to sign up in order to shop the sale page.
One of our clients ran a sign up campaign throughout the duration of the Black Friday period. The incentive switched from ‘Sign up to be notified of sale starting’, to ‘Sign up for an extra 10% off sale’ throughout the Black Friday week of 21st to 28th.
The data from this campaign showed favourable CPMs vs. conversion-led activity. Initial CPMs were very strong, so our real learning for next year is to really double down on lead generation early on in the month where we can get the most efficient cost per lead.
For many of our brands, we always have some level of the budget allocated to campaigns with the traffic objective but this is an area where we really doubled down during the Black Friday period.
The CPMs for traffic campaigns were much more steady throughout the course of the month, with a small peak over the promotional weekend but very favourable in comparison to the conversion campaigns - helping to combat increasing CPMs and retain session numbers year on year.
The last and potentially most powerful tactic to maintain efficient CPMs is to utilise reach and frequency campaigns. These campaigns are booked ahead of time, and secure a CPM from Facebook at the time of booking.
As these campaigns are a lot less conversion focused, it is important to be strategic with audiences in order to get the most value possible from ad spend. My consideration here would be which audiences do you want to achieve maximum visibility. For many of our clients, these would be remarketing and retention campaigns, along with the smaller but top performing prospecting audiences which have proven to convert throughout the year.
For accounts which ran reach and frequency, these pre-booked campaigns saw CPMs 75% lower than ad space bought in the auction over Black Friday week.
Let’s look back at what we think worked well across wider Black Friday campaigns; be it on-site sales UX, stand-out campaigns, marketing messaging and more.
One of the highlights of what I saw over the week of sales was from New York based apparel brand The Arrivals. Taking a different approach to the status-quo helped them stand out from the crowd with an innovative take on advertising with $0 growth hacking.
For context, The Arrivals launched a 24 hour long Instagram livestream: for those who don’t know, livestreams on Instagram have a persistent state, meaning you can go off the stream after viewing and it will still appear first and foremost in your list of stories - for their 125,000 followers, this is definitely a clever way to capture attention as soon as your target customer lands on the app. Within the stream you are instantly notified of the on-going sale and have the chance to browse their products by taking advantage of the Instagram product catalogue (see attached video).
Next up was something we really liked from the brand ButcherBox, a store offering meat delivery straight to your door. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday, they ran a sales campaign offering two free of charge ribeye steaks with every single order a customer places in the next 12 months.
In terms of retention strategy, this is as good as it gets for strengthening Black Friday offers so that their lifespan transcends beyond just a solitary week of the year in Q4. Bringing valued customers back and having skin in the game could not be more important at present time. The journey to purchase is incredibly streamlined with the chance to add additional items and flavours to your cart before hitting the checkout - ensuring maximal value is achieved.
One final example we’d like to highlight is from beauty and cosmetics brand, Hero Cosmetics. This example embodies not only understanding and utilising the tech stack available to a given brand but being able to leverage a solutions feature library to build a strong coherent journey for the customer.
Looking at the attached video, it’s clear to see that Hero vitally understands the tech stack available to them, being able to offer free gifts with purchase over X, rewards with point-spend well positioned in the push cart and finally an easy to grasp and familiar shopping experience which contrarily can often become convoluted.
So that’s a wrap for another year of Black Friday and some great lessons to have been learnt this season:
Focus on simple creative but ensure your offer and product is clear
Test different campaign types to try and maintain a greater level of efficiency
Nurture loyalty and retention mechanisms through this period as demonstrated by ButcherBox and Hero Cosmetics
Focus on customer lifetime value beyond just the week-long sales period
However, as we head into ‘23, there is no doubt that brands will face more challenging times, so key considerations around budget planning, strategic campaign types to keep costs down, strong creative and focus on driving greater value and loyalty for customers, a few of the things we have touched on above, should continue to be a pivotal focus for success.