The Creative Sandbox Of Facebook Ads
Updated: Sep 8, 2023
Advertising online has evolved at a rapidly changing speed. Estimates say that by 2025 ad creation and optimization online will be 99% automated.
Imagine that instead of spending hours crafting and creating your campaigns, you could just add the URL of your website, and platforms like Facebook and Google will auto-create your entire campaign from scratch using information from your website and social media accounts.
By that time, every single website will be pixelized and will send massive amounts of data about your relevant audience, best-performing products, top-performing keywords, and placements to the advertising platforms. Then, using world-class algorithms and machine learning optimization, campaigns will be created.
Well, we are in 2020 and that technology doesn’t exist yet. Computers still can’t produce creatives and that’s where humans still have the upper hand. Creatives are called “creatives” because they require creativity.
The “creative sandbox” is a term that I use to describe how the Facebook algorithm takes your ads and matches them to the most relevant audience so that you get the best outcome for your ad.
One of the biggest challenges that advertisers face with Facebook Ads is the need to control the structure and timing of which creatives are shown to which audience. Methods like “top to bottom-funnel” which show ads to users based on their level of intent, or “cold to warm ad funnel” where users are first shown the value and brand building ads before being shown actual product offer ads, all aim to propose the perfect way to deliver ads to users.
But enough about other strategies, let’s get to the core idea of this post.
To understand how the sandbox works, consider the following fundamentals:
Facebook recommends making your targeting as broad as possible to maximize the performance of your ads. The broader your targeting, the more flexibility the algorithm will have to find the best cost-effective conversions in a given market. In other words, more freedom leads to better results. This means that Facebook doesn’t want you to restrict an audience size or restrict who sees your ads and when.
You have no idea how many ads a user needs to see to make a conversion. If one user will convert on his first ad, why pay to show him several warm-up ads or decide on a specific order to show him ads that aren’t based on data.
Users convert best when they click on ads that they didn’t realize were ads. Sale ads and aggressive offer ads might create a negative experience whilst ads that you least expect to perform well on cold traffic might turn out to be your best ads. That means, that the traditional way of setting up your ads might hold your performance back.
Unless you are being extremely restrictive with your audience segmentation and exclusions, your warm and cold audiences are likely mixed into the same targeting groups and see the same ads. Even if you left your audience broad doesn’t mean that Facebook won’t be showing your ads to previous customers or website visitors. Facebook simply targets whoever they predict is likely to meet your outcome at the best cost.
To understand the creative sandbox concept, I challenge you to rethink the way you create and manage your ads. Imagine having a virtual sandbox into which you will put all your ads. That includes direct offer ads, product showcase ads, testimonials ads, sale ads, dynamic ads, video ads, and everything else that you can think of. Then, instead of deciding who sees each ad and when to give the algorithm full control and complete freedom to learn about and deliver your ads when and where they perform best.
Here is an illustration to demonstrate the concept of creative sandbox.
Traditional campaign setup.
Examine the traditional campaign setup that many advertisers use. The setup shown in the illustration above is an example of an intermediate campaign structure. I’ve seen more complex structures that segmented the structure even further.
The setup above shows all main targeting options and creative formats and categorizes them under cold and warm traffic ads. Some ad formats can be used both for cold and warm traffic which complicates the structure even further.
Consider your campaign’s targeting and structure as rules. Every campaign you create is another rule that the algorithm must follow when optimizing your campaigns. The more rules you assign, the less value and authority the algorithm has.
There are some other drawbacks from using the traditional campaign setup structure:
Overlap in the ad auction. When you create many different campaigns, you are assigning each one of them a daily budget and a goal. That means that Facebook will aim to spend your entire budget and meet your campaign’s objective. When you have many different ads from different campaigns, they might compete for the same ad placements, which will cause an overlap in your auctions that can lead to reduced performance.
Scattered learning phase. Learning happens within each ad set in your campaigns. The more conversions an ad set has, the more effective targeting and optimization will be. When you have a vast amount of ad sets with limited learning in each set, your performance won’t be steady and it won’t reach its full potential. Plus, it will take longer to exit the learning stage.
Working against the algorithm. This is the biggest drawback of them all. The more complexity we use in our structure, the more barriers we put on the algorithm to find the most cost-effective results. When creating your campaigns, you will notice that in most fields there is a recommendation to keep targeting and restrictions as broad as possible. There are indicators everywhere to support this claim. Here are some examples of messages suggesting to give the algorithm more control for better performance:
If you think you can outperform the algorithm by indicating which ad to show to what user and then ask yourself if you properly a/b tested your methods to ensure that they have a high confidence level. In many cases when I audit similar campaigns, the advertisers always swear that they have the winning formula but never tested any other method at the same time.
It’s not enough to say that your campaigns are doing well. The success of your campaign might be because of other factors such as your product.
Creative sandbox method
Unlike the traditional campaign setup structure, the creative sandbox resolves the drawbacks by adding all active ads together under one campaign to ensure the following advantages:
No ad overlap. Because ads are all under the same campaign and ad set (under one roof) Facebook decides which one fits each ad auction and, therefore, ads don’t compete against each other.
Flexible delivery. Using all ads under the same campaign allows Facebook to decide which user sees which ad. If ad A performs better for one type of audience, it will get delivery. If ad B performs better for a different audience, it will get delivery. By giving the algorithm a range of creative options to work with we provide it with the ability to alter between many different variations so that it produces the most cost-effective results. You will notice that delivery is scattered around many different ads. This works better than in a traditional campaign setup where each campaign tries to force delivery for a specific ad even on days where it won’t be cost-effective.
Shared learning. Learning is the most important factor that impacts performance on Facebook ads. When all of your ads are under the same campaign, learning is shared and the learning stage is achieved faster. Imagine the difference of having 500 or even 5,000 conversions per campaign per week instead of 50.
Time management. Consider how much time you spend by creating the campaigns and then optimizing their bids and budget. Move everything into one budget and you will not only get better performance but save massive amounts of time and money.
Complete automation: Yes! Use the power of data machine learning and only worry about feeding the machine with ads then let the algorithm do the hard work for you.
There is a reason the value of data is more expensive than gold. If all these platforms didn’t know how to use the data, it would be worthless. Understanding the core of how the Facebook Ads optimization works are the first step towards the automation and effective delivery of your ads. It may sound and look simple, but what goes on behind the scenes of ad delivery and optimization is what sets Facebook Ads apart from any other platform.
The traditional ad campaign setup is overly complicated and can work against Facebook’s algorithm. Also, it can cause ad overlaps and a waste of time and budget.
By using the sandbox method, where all your ads are placed under the one campaign, you allow Facebook to determine the best audience, the best time and best use of your advertising spend in delivering your ads. It’s a much simpler setup that overcomes the drawbacks of the traditional structure.