May 15, 2024
Growth Frameworks
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 min read

How to design world-class ads

What initially sparked my love for growth marketing were performance ads, and they still remain my favorite growth pillar. Back in 2008, when I was just a high school student creating YouTube videos out of my childhood bedroom, I was introduced to Google AdSense as a way to earn money with ads placed on my videos. I had to learn all of the fancy-sounding metrics such as CPM (cost per thousand impressions) and I loved the numbers. It was like a pilot in love with his cockpit, full of toggles and dials. 

Since my teenage years, I’ve run north of $100 million in ad spend for hyper growth tech startups, where I’ve learned a great deal about what makes a world-class ad. 

Since ad creation is ever-changing with constantly changing best practices, I’m going to write more about the psychology behind getting folks to crack their wallets open for your offering, along with some of the frameworks I find timeless. 

Psychology comes first

Before crafting a performance ad, you must get behind the mind of your target audience as a crucial foundation. If you don’t know who your target audience is, knowing things like their demographics and pain points, which targets their needs and desires, will get you on the right track. 

Below are the fundamental building blocks, before even thinking about design and current best practices: 

Attention Spans

The average attention span for consumers is dwindling by age; Gen Z have an attention span of just 8 seconds, versus millennials at approximately 12 seconds (IAB UK). Leverage techniques such as strong video hooks and visual hierarchy in static ads.

A good rule of thumb from @social_savannah (an ad expert) on X is: “Your ad length should be the age of your customer.” She explains that the older someone is, the longer their attention span is. For example, someone that’s aged 60, can likely sit through a full one-minute ad.


How are you making people feel when they see your ad? The core emotional tenants that you have in your arsenal are excitement, fear, FOMO (fear of missing out), satisfaction, aspiration and empowerment. You need to make your audience feel something, to provoke the action you’d like them to take.

Consistency / repetition 

One of the biggest ways to build trust, is with branding consistency across your ads and marketing material. If your ad looks a certain way and then leads to a landing page that’s completely different, expect conversion rates to suffer. 

Increasing repetition of people seeing your ads will naturally lead to positive association, as they familiarize themselves with your brand. It’s the whole concept behind why retargeting works, with continuing to hit the same users with your branding and messaging.


Believe it or not, there’s also psychology behind your call-to-actions, since they’re your way to motivate people towards a desired action. It’s important to make your CTAs clear, and to couple them with urgency and relevance. Don’t casually nudge someone to do something; push them to take action. 

Great CTA: Get a personalized program. Take your free quiz today. 

Poor CTA: Learn more. 

Earned Influence

There’s a certain magic to persuading people by using social proof in the form of endorsements and testimonials. I don’t think there’s a better way to build trust and credibility than in this form, and it’s the reason we’ve seen such a rise in UGC (user-generated content) ads. As humans, we’re conditioned to trusting recommendations from other humans, not from companies.

Contextual copy targeting 

Once you understand the psychology behind motivating your target audience, the copy will come naturally for your ads.

Nowadays, performance channels are leaning away from user-inputted targeting levers and favoring their own algorithms to target correctly. This leaves you with an algorithm that will be heavily influenced from the initial highest converting segments of users. The last thing you want to do is attract the wrong audience, which will only snowball to terrible targeting.

This is where your copy comes into play and should even include video ads with the copy scripts. It’s imperative to be specific about your offering and add context which attracts the right audience. 

Hulu makes it obvious who their audience is and speaks to their pain point.

It may seem obvious, but if you have a probiotic supplement targeted towards women, it doesn’t make sense to feature a male as the ad’s focus. You can make sure that your target audience knows your offering is for them within the first few seconds, with the following guidelines: 

  • For who? (people in the ad are same demographic)
  • Pain points (speak to target audience’s specific pain points)

It’s tougher to outline pain points in the first few seconds on video, but you can make sure your target demographic is in the ad and include a strong hook to keep them watching, until you get to the pain points. A few common hooks that have taken storm in the last year include: 

  • “A secret that feels illegal to know…”
  • “Stop scrolling if you want to…”
  • “Here’s a simple hack to help you do…”
  • “This hack will save you hours on…”
  • “Here are 3 signs that you should…”

Framework for creation 

Something I’ve used over the past few years which I’ve covered in previous articles, is the Triple I Model. It’s powerful and I think it’s a great method to test ads. This model consists of three pillars: imitate, iterate, innovate, with your focused-on pillar being dependent on the stage of your startup. 

The majority of startups should be focused on imitating others that are already building world-class ads, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to test. As you emulate ads, you should transition to iterating on the winners to continue squeezing out better performance. The last pillar (innovate) should be left for startups with huge marketing budgets to test big new swing concepts; think Duolingo, Lyft, Thumbtack and the like. I don’t want to completely dissuade anyone from innovating on new ad concepts, but rather shed light on the fact it’s not the easiest path to performance.

Triple I Model. The type of testing should vary over time. 

Looking for inspiration?

Outside of the core and timeless principles from above, it’s always good to get inspiration from top brands crushing it in their performance ads. This is why I’ve created AdBrownie, the world’s first free open library of the best performance ads to date. There are a few other features for the overachievers on the paid plan, which allows you to save ads to your personal library with the Chrome extension, as well as track competitors whenever they publish new ads. The platform also has filters for different themes of ads, which will help you fuel your imagination using the best ads in the game. library of the best performance ads.

As you scale out your performance channels, just know that ad creation is an iterative process which can take months to perfect. Even the giants who spend millions of dollars per month on ads, are constantly testing to improve metrics. Take this approach of constant testing, and you’ll be on the right path to unlocking success within performance marketing. 

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