Avoid Putting Text on Images in Facebook Ads

SJ Insights places Facebook ads for many of our clients – using Facebook’s phenomenal targeting tool and low cost, this ad program can provide very effective results. Despite giving clients the specifications of Facebook’s “rules” about text in images, invariably the images we receive from the creative team basically are very nicely done ads. They have a headline, the logo and a brief call-to-action on the image, so what can be wrong with that?  What’s wrong with it, is that Facebook likely won’t run it.

Earlier in the year, they held to a 20% rule – meaning that if the text in the image (including text-based logos) was more than 20% of the image, Facebook wouldn’t run it. A few months ago, they supposedly eliminated the 20% rule when they shared the following:

“Our research has shown that people demonstrate a preference for ads with less text. Previously, if 20% of an ad image’s area was text, it was not approved to run on Facebook, Instagram or the Audience Network. We’ve heard from some advertisers that this can be confusing, as it’s not always clear that an ad does not meet the policy requirements until after creative has been submitted. We are shifting to a new solution to improve this experience which allows advertisers more flexibility while still allowing us to maintain an enjoyable experience for people.”
– Facebook Product Marketing Manager

More flexibility for advertisers and an enjoyable user experience? It looks like a win-win at first glance. But, in reality, the 20% rule hasn’t changed that much at all. Under Facebook’s new guidelines, an ad won’t be outright rejected if it contains more than 20% text, but it will have its reach limited – in some cases significantly. Instead of using a “run or reject” system, Facebook now categorizes an ad according to the ratings on the left.

Since Facebook controls ad reach and campaign cost on its platform, it’s wise to follow the new rule – which doesn’t offer as much flexibility as they’d have you believe. As an example, SJ Insights still received images with text in them from one creative team to see if the images would pass muster. In almost every case where there is an image with text in the ad, we received an alert from Facebook (with one of the yellow exclamation points) that this image’s reach could be compromised. So we did some A/B multi-variate testing. Using an image with some text in it (but limited) and an image with no text. In all cases, the ad without any text on the image always out-performed the ad with text on the image, not just by a slim margin, but more than double in terms of generating clicks.

These results go against all that we have learned about ads. Why would an ad that doesn’t display its point in the image, perform better than one that did? Or why would an ad not look like an ad? The reason is Facebook doesn’t want these ads to look like ads. Facebook advises that ad images should not look out of place in the news feed – that the image (or video) should capture the viewer’s attention as they are scrolling through their news feed. If the user sees the text or call-to-action as an ad, they move on. Plus, Facebook is trying to keep news feeds less cluttered for users.

So what’s in a Facebook ad? The main message in the ad appears in the copy above the image, and a headline can be in the caption below. There’s a call-to-action box to click (such as “Learn More”) and the sponsor of the ad is in the business page’s name/thumbnail image (typically their logo) in the upper left-hand side of the ad, first line (just like a post). By the way, Facebook automatically pulls the thumbnail from a company’s business page, so it can’t be changed in the ad itself.

Image courtesy of Facebook Ad Guidelines and KRT Marketing

Since Facebook controls ad reach and campaign cost on its platform, it’s wise to follow the new rule – which in summary, doesn’t offer as much flexibility as they’d have advertisers believe (there’s a tool where an ad can be pre-tested for level of text content in an image). Facebook prefers ad images with little or no text because images with a lot of text may create a lower-quality experience for people on Facebook. There are some exceptions such as book/album covers, posters for festivals, etc., that do not count as text on an ad image (but they’ll need approval as an exception from Facebook). The following do count as text on an image:

  • Numbers
  • Text-based logos
  • Watermarks, regardless of whether or not their usage is mandatory

The ability of Facebook ads to grab a user’s attention is more important now than ever following Facebook’s announcement that its news feed algorithm will be changed yet again to favor of friends’ content over advertisers’ content. So, at this time, it is wise to follow the rules. To get maximum reach, put your text in the actual post as opposed to on the image. If need be, a few choice compelling words could be included on the image, but limit these as much as possible.

Down the road though, we believe Facebook should just let the user judge an ad’s aesthetic and content. For instance, the higher the click-through-rate of an ad, should mean the ad is more effective, and should be given a higher exposure level. Ads with less-than-stellar copy writing or cluttered images, should be judged by the ad’s poor performance, definitely not through some artificial filters made by the Facebook staffer who decided this should be made the law. If the ad that performs better doesn’t include text in images, then don’t use it. But if an ad with text in the image works better, why not use it? We have no doubt that this issue of text in images will continue to annoy advertisers and at some point, in the future, hopefully be repealed by Facebook. What do you think? (Share your thoughts now in “Leave a Reply.”)

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Posted in Facebook, Social Media Marketing

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