Ad Performance Sucks? Ask These 5 Questions

Michelle Mire
Senior Content Marketing Specialist
Published20 Apr, 2023
5 Reasons Your Ad Performance Failed - Superside


Failure doesn't mean defeat. There are several common reasons digital ads underperform. Sure, the quality of your creative matters, but so does planning and paying attention. If you take the time to look at the causes and ask the right questions—victory can be yours!

With all the work you put into launching your digital ads, failure is agonizing. But, it doesn't have to be.

Once you get past the initial sting of despair, take a deep breath and get down to the business of finding out why your ads, well… “sucked.” Consider it an opportunity to do better next time.

Stating the obvious: Water is wet, fire burns and quality is the strongest predictor of campaign success. For digital campaigns, quality is not only how good the ad looks, it’s also how well it captures attention and triggers the desired response.

However, sometimes even the slightest miscalculation has a huge impact. As you prep yourself for your retro and regroup to try again, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to improve ad performance.

5 Questions That Can Take Digital Ad Performance From Nahh to Nailed It

"I feel like consistency is the glue that holds a campaign together. Originality is a big factor and a lack of creativity can be the kiss of death in a world where attention is a scarce commodity. And, I question the campaign's timeline. Was it a well-cooked meal or a last-minute microwave disaster?"

Piotr Smietana
Piotr SmietanaDirector of Brand and Marketing Creative, Superside

At Superide, our very own Director of Brand and Marketing Creative, Piotr Smietana, channels his inner Sherlock Holmes to dive into the mystery of underperforming campaigns. With his magnifying glass, note pad and uncanny knack for detail, he tracks down: if the planning was on point, whether we were really listening to our audience, any unintended disconnects or blandness—and, of course, the ever-important timeline.

In the clip above, Superside's Director of Brand and Marketing Creative, Piotr Smietana, talks about some of the questions he asks himself and his team when a digital campaign misses the mark.

1. Did You Define What Success Looks Like?

Digital marketing’s measurability is part of what’s made it a modern mainstay. But, if you don’t set your measures of success correctly right from the start, how will you know what success really is?

It’s sort of like planning a trip without a destination in mind. You’ll always wind up somewhere, but, when it comes to your ad performance, exactly where you land really matters.

You’ll have quantitative metrics, like total impressions and cost-per-impression, click-through rates, etc. And you’ll have qualitative measures, like comments based on how your creative is perceived.

But your true North Star metric is the one that ties most directly to your growth model. For example, Amazon’s North Star metric is sales while HubSpot’s is signups.

Ensure you’ve identified your North Star metric, benchmark against previous digital advertising campaigns to set realistic expectations, set specific timelines for reporting and continually refine what signifies success or that it’s time to try something else.

Develop your own scoring system for your ad creative

As performance and growth marketers and their fellow creative teams continue to refine their approach to programmatic ad campaigns, many businesses have started to use their own proprietary ad scoring systems to evaluate the quality of their concepts and designs—the good, the bad and the “maybe not”— even before they’re ever tested in front of a real live audience. Using what they already know, these companies are able to further maximize the ROI of each marketing effort.

2. Did You Listen?

"You need to suspend judgment and be curious. You need to be empathetic and always serve the customer—wondering what it is they want, they need, and ultimately figure out who they are."

Catherine Blair-Timothy
Catherine Blair-TimothyGroup Creative Director, Lightspeed Commerce

Humans are more than marketing personas and there’s a mix of logical and emotional reasons that affect how customers relate to your brand.

In addition to responding to what your click-thru rates are telling you, you also need to be attuned to how they really feel about what you’re saying.

Spoiler alert: This means taking the time to interview actual prospects and customers about their brand perceptions. Your customers also have a lot to say within online communities, social media and review sites.

Get More Great Ad Design Tips
Get More Great Ad Design Tips

Get More Great Ad Design Tips

Delve into an all-encompassing online resource with case studies for Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Amazon, Google Display and other emerging channels.

3. Were You Consistent?

All of the elements of your ads, the visuals and the narrative, written or interactive, have to work together to send the same message. If your ads send people to your home page or a landing page, these pages should clearly relate to and reinforce the campaign, as should any supporting email drips.

Keep an eye on simply making sense as well. Sometimes the rush to production can eat away at quality and cause even the savviest marketer to forget the end user—the audience.

Cognitive dissonance is no joke. The greater the disconnect, the more your funnel will leak like the plumbing of a turn-of-the-century building that hasn’t been maintained since the discovery of electricity. You also don’t want to be considered part of the junk ad epidemic.

4. Were You Boring?

"When you're thinking about performance branding or work on digital platforms, you have to think about your approach. When you're thinking about risk, the good news is everything's moving very, very fast now.

You can pretty much take any risk you need, within reason, to learn a ton about your brand and about the messaging that might work. And so the way that we approach it is to put several messages in feed and learn from what they tell us."

Cailen Guhl
Cailen GuhlGroup Creative Director, Matterport

In the clip above, Cailen Guhl, Group Creative Director at Matterport, speaks to the race to create relevancy in increasingly competitive online spaces.

Regardless of the study you read, the trend is clear. It’s harder and harder to capture attention and even less time to do it. Not to mention, people have become even more skeptical of ads that well, look and feel like ads.

What’s a brand to do? No matter what you decide—speed, experimentation, variation, adaptation and optimization—are all essential.

Digital ad performance, whether display, social or other platforms, requires a steady stream of high-quality, always fresh creative.

It’s a non-stop circle of life from concept development and production to A/B testing and channel-specific formatting to discover what your audience actually finds interesting.

It could be UGC-style videos or something else entirely. But you won't know until you try, test, measure, look at what went right...and wrong (sigh)... and try again.

3 design elements that trigger ad breakthrough

A proper combination of relevance, originality and impact leads to higher rates of brand recognition—the innate recognition of your brand, such as Apple or Google for phones or Liquid Death for cutting-edge water.

Breaking through noisy, saturated channels is a cumulative battle wrought through success and failures large and small. The magic formula is pace + quality + quantity = success.

How Heinz and Absolut cooked up a breakthrough

Heinz and Absolut joined forces to promote a limited-edition vodka sauce made with the famed condiment and spirit in the United Kingdom. Branded ads give a nod to Absolut’s iconic 80s print ads featuring photography by Andy Warhol, juxtaposing the bold Heinz ketchup red with the silhouette of Absolut's signature liquor bottle.

Showing that they’ve been paying attention as celebrities like model Gigi Hadid shared her own version of the recipe on TikTok, the online campaign is further boosted by influencers sharing their reviews using #AbsolutelyHeinz.

Heinz has even employed humor with their Director of New Ventures Caio Fontenele quipping, “While it may have taken over 150 years of tomato expertise to launch our first Heinz pasta sauce, we’re determined to continue innovating and delighting consumers at the speed of social media trends.”

There’s also no leaky funnel in this campaign with a completely on-brand landing page that lets you preorder your own jars of sauce.

5. Were You Rushed?

"Classic agencies don't have the ability to do multiple iterations or make changes where the product or team needs. Having a model, like Superside, that allowed for multiple iterations really did change the game."

Anisha Murarka
Anisha MurarkaDirector of Paid Acquisition, Articulate

A vast majority of in-house creative teams can’t keep up with ever-increasing numbers of design requests and turnaround times that keep getting shorter and shorter.

The new reality is being strapped—having more to do than you can do on your own and doing more with less—without sacrificing speed, quality or strategy.

Outsourcing isn’t optional, it’s a crucial part of your DesignOps process and your best solution is Creative-as-a-Service (CaaS).

Rather than daisy-chaining a network of inefficient creative agencies and freelancers, CaaS providers, like Superside, can work alongside (or even replace) your current partners to help you concept, produce and perfect multi-channel digital ad campaigns that’ll have you talking for all the right reasons. The only time the words “suck” or “sucks” will come into the conversation is in reference to life before you discovered CaaS.

Client Spotlight:

How Kins worked quickly to boost CTR ⁠by 200% and website conversion more than 40%

Unlike Heinz and Absolute, Superside client Kins was new to the market and struggling to build awareness for its virtual physiotherapy model.

Kins Growth Lead Paul Worrell wanted to experiment with humanizing the brand via its Facebook ads. Together Superside and Kins developed a series of concepts to A/B test.

Through this series of rapid iterations, the ads featuring people enjoying athletic activities had the best performance. Those who clicked on the ads were then taken further down the funnel with personalized landing pages.

Learnings from the landing pages were then applied to targeted pages within the Kins website. Based on the successes earned, Kins went on to develop 30 more location-based landing pages.

Read the Kins case study and other customer stories—and click on the banner below to see our full portfolio of ad design work.

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Michelle Mire
Michelle MireSenior Content Marketing Specialist

Michelle enjoys learning from and empowering ambitious marketers and creatives focused on scaling design and fueling growth.🚀 With more than two decades of experience, she’s worked at both agencies and in-house teams at companies of all sizes in the United States and Canada. She began her career as an advertising copywriter, remastering these skills as a content marketer and becoming a subject matter expert on everything from frozen pies and financial statements to SaaS and now CaaS. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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