Inspirational ad copywriting: Behavioral science uses insights to drive better

Did you know that ad copy, which uses insights from a behavioral science discipline, can significantly improve the effectiveness of a Facebook campaign? In a recent experiment, we ran for a UK retail client, the variation of the ad reported by behavioral insights was 75% more attractive than the original ad copy.

Creative and ad copy testing is common practice on social media platforms. However, the variations should be meaningfully different to get the most out of your ad copy test. This is where behavioral insights come in, helping us to frame the same message in different ways to maximize our learning and effectiveness.

But first, what do we mean by ‘ad copy’ on Facebook?

On Facebook, ad copy refers to the text displayed as part of the ad (such as the initial text, title, and description). After the creative is displayed (e.g. image or video), people focus on the message.

Source: Facebook Blueprint: Add lightweight motion to stills

How to equate your ad copy with behavioral science

Behavioral science is an academic discipline dedicated to uncovering the patterns behind human decision making. A large body of academic work investigates the factors that influence consumers when deciding what to buy. Using these insights to frame ad copy can significantly improve campaign performance. The insights listed below provide a useful starting point:

  • Social norms – People are social animals and so we always keep an eye on what others are buying. We especially rely on this cue when we purchase from an unfamiliar product category. Looking at the reviews, the quality ratings all depend on the principle that guides consumers to make purchasing decisions (Asch, 1951; Goldstein, Sialdini and Griskevicius, 2008).
  • Authority bias – People are interested in looking at authority statistics and experts when making purchasing decisions. We tend to rely more on it when making a high-stakes decision or when we don’t have a strong choice. Whether a dentist approves a particular toothpaste or Novak Djokovic wearing lacoste expresses this principle (Milgram, 1963; Cialdini 2007).
  • Cognitive fluency – In general, the simpler a message, the more likely it is that the consumer will pay attention to it and then perform the desired task. Moreover, if a message seems easy to read, it is more likely to be evaluated as true, familiar, desirable, probable, funny or compelling (Unkelbach & Greifeneder, 2013).
  • Lack – We have evolved to value assets that are scarce and difficult to obtain. Less readily available services and products are more desirable and valuable. Messages referring to time constraints or quantity constraints are both based on this principle (Agarwal, June and Hu, 2011).
  • Salinity – Consumers are more engaged with messages when connected to one of their active goals. For example, consumers who want to buy a Mother’s Day gift are more likely to engage with advertising when they call the gift occasion the first thing in the copy of the ad (Morman et al., 2012).
  • Mental calculation – Consumers tend to use different emotional accounts when purchasing from different product categories or events. For example, when promoting a line of perfumes, the message “perfumes to reward themselves for that special occasion” will persuade users to buy more expensive perfumes than to use this message: “perfumes to enhance your daily routine” (Thaler, 1985).

In our recent experiment, deficit framing resulted in an ad that was 75% more attractive than the alternatives. For example, framing messaging using the insights above is likely to flatten your ad campaigns. However, these insights are just the tip of the iceberg. Academic literature has identified an abundance of heuristics and biases that may explain how we copy advertising.

Luxury handbags in the Gulf countries, a case study

We conducted a month-long activity in several Gulf countries that advertised exclusive sets of luxury handbags. As part of the campaign, we conducted an ad copy test. In addition to the copy of the paid generic ad, three more versions were launched:

  • Free Delivery – The first thing in an ad copy is called ‘free delivery’
  • Social rules – call out that the product is popular
  • Rarity – Emphasizing that products are exclusive

The four variations were all placed on the same ad set so that Facebook could optimize the budget based on the performance of different versions to achieve the most optimal performance.


“Free delivery” was the least attractive with a conversion rate of 0.15%, followed by social norm framing at 0.17% and then generic ad copy at 0.20%. Deficit framing had strong performance at an impressive 0.35% conversion rate.


At first glance, the conversion rate results may be surprising, especially since the free distribution version had the lowest conversion rate (CvR). However, it should be noted that free delivery may be less significant for the buyer than the higher price of a premium product. The high-nature of the products may also explain why they do not fit well with the social normative framework because these consumers may not want to join the trend or be like others. Instead, they may prefer to be considered unique, which may explain why the lack of framing worked so well.

Significantly, the lack of framing only resulted in the second largest conversion event. This is due to the breakdown effect that explains how the Facebook algorithm works. The algorithm seeks to provide the best overall results with four ad variations that provide the target audience with specific variations in the sub-sets that will most likely perform the conversion. This means that if all the budgets were set aside for diversification, it would be reversed because the group does not have enough users to maintain the current high level of engagement, otherwise, the Facebook algorithm would have allocated all the budgets there. In fact, most of the time funneling all budgets through the best performing ads doesn’t usually lead to the best performance. Therefore, we would always recommend running multiple ad copy variations to achieve the best possible results.

Adding variety to ad copy, especially when informed by science, is a win-win. Not only does this help drive better results but at the same time captures invaluable insights about your target audience. For example, in this case, adding four variations gives better results than if we campaigned with only one of the variations of the ad mentioned above. Also, it has taught us that rare framing is particularly appealing so future campaigns should experiment with promoting the same product. In addition, we learned that social norms and calling free delivery do not resonate well with this type of audience and other framing tests should be done next time.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that these insights are context-specific and in some cases may work better than others. When deciding which behavioral insights to use, it is always important to consider the brands and products and the companies that people have towards them. For example, using social norm framing to promote high-end brands like Ralph Lauren can be counterproductive because consumers may feel exclusive when they buy them. On the other hand, brands that are considered affordable and accessible may not be successful with lack of framing.


Insights from behavioral science disciplines are often overlooked when conducting ad copy tests. However, it can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your Facebook campaign. In our recent survey, we found that the ad copy variations created using behavioral insights were 75% more attractive than the alternatives. Using these insights is an easy win, as it both improves performance and captures the insights of the target audience.


Asch, SE (1951). The effect of group pressure on judgment change and distortion. Groups, Leadership and Men, 119-124.

Cialdini R. (2007). Impact: The psychology of inspiration. HarperCollins: New York.

Goldstein, N.J., Sialdini, R.B., and Griskevicius, v. (2008). A Room with a Perspective: Using social norms to inspire environmental protection in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35 (3), 472–482.

Milgram, s. (1963). Obedience behavioral studies. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 371-78.

Mormann, MM, Navalpakkam, V., Koch, C., & Rangel, A. (2012). Differences in relative visual predominance lead to greater bias in consumer preferences. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22 (1).

Unkelbach, C. & Greifeneder, R. (2013). Thought experience: How fluency of mental processes affects knowledge and behavior. Psychology Press

Agarwal, P., June, SY, and Hu, J. H. (2011). Message of lack. Journal of Advertising, 40 (3), 19-30.

Thaler, RH (1985). Emotional accounting and consumer choice. Marketing Science, 4 (3), 199-214.

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