Best Performing Digital Ads of 2016 *By Channel*

by | May 9, 2017

Ah, 2016’s best performing digital ads: we loved you for so many reasons. From learning about how to make Facebook Ads convert like crazy to taking advantage of Google’s Expanded Text Ads in search advertising to learning the true power of ad extensions for free conversions to the release of Drake’s album Views being released…

2016 was an incredible year for innovations within the digital advertising landscape. And it’s okay, Drake: we knew your album was really about *page* views and their correlation to bounce rates


2016 was a huge year for our digital advertising efforts – especially within the tourism realm; from it, we learned a plethora of valuable lessons when it came to the best practices we could employ within our ads for skyrocketing CTR, conversion rates, and more among a variety of ad types. And guess what?

For the first time ever, in the history of our business, we’re about to delve into why our top creative ads performed the way they did; we’re about to give you all the secrets we learned in 2016 through multiple-testing and a variety of ad types that will allow you to bypass the work and just get the results with your ads.

In the Wild West that is the landscape of digital advertising, how do we determine what works and what doesn’t? In a world of constant testing (seriously, Google tests runs over 7,000 tests a year on their various landing pages): trust the data.

Everything from perfecting your CTA copy to which image types improve your CTR to killer copywriting best practices — we’ve got you covered. Among advertising for clients like Adidas, the BC Lions, Main Street Science World, Sun Peaks Resort and more, we’re about to breakdown the best of the best creative ads of 2016 to help boost your ad efforts in 2017 from lessons learned — without the year of work. We’re about to do it in 5 minutes.

Generally speaking, we’ve already touched on some best practices for search and display ads, including:

  • Punchy, direct-response copywriting
  • Clean, sharp visuals that connect with customers
  • Congruent CTA’s equal to or under 3-4 words
  • Relevant words in your path URL

And more! However, we’re here to delve into the specific copy, specific visuals, and specific concepts that improved our ads and can translate to best practices for improving your ad results — not just the general stuff you can read on any other blog post. We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty, people.


Twitter Advertising

If you’ve read our previous post on Twitter Advertising, you know we cheekily call it “The Birds and the Retweets.” As far as the general concepts with Twitter ads and posts, the same ideals above still apply – except this time, it has to be done within the context of only 140 characters. With that type of limitation compared to the almost endless character count Facebook provides, it’s doubly important that your copy is short and directs the reader to action.

With that type of limitation compared to the almost endless character count Facebook provides, it’s doubly important that your copy is short and directs the reader to action.

Take these two ads we did last year for Tourism Victoria and Sun Peaks; based on the principles we mentioned above alongside your natural insights, which one do you think had the highest CTR – by a whopping 0.50%?


Did you pick ad #1? If so, you’re right! The people in the image make a stronger emotional connection to the viewer, as well as the “Learn More” CTA, prominently outlined and distinguished from the rest of the copy! Considering the demographic, the copy is punchy, witty, and makes great use of alliteration (“Discover Victoria’s Dirty Dozen”) — but most importantly, it connects in a cheeky way.

Facebook Advertising

Between Sponsored Stories, Sidebar Ads, Mobile App Ads, Carousel Ads and more – Facebook advertising presents a plethora of ad types that all have unique advantages. Sidebar Ads–especially paired with great copywriting–can seriously convert users since it’s top of page, while Carousel Ads can provide perfect user shopping experiences since most of the ad’s weight is on the visual (aka. clean product photos).

Consider these 3 static ads we ran last year for The Bay, Zoro, and Maple Leaf: can you rank which had the highest CTR to the lowest, on a scale of 1-3? 3 being the highest CTR; 1 being the lowest:


3…2…1! That’s not only the countdown you read out loud in your head, but the order of highest CTR to lowest, too; Maple Leaf’s ad had a huge CTR of 1.84%, while Zoro followed with 1.51%, and The Bay following with 0.99%. Why do you think that is?

Maple Leaf’s ad is a home run, from top to bottom. Every single piece of copy on this ad resonates emotionally with the reader, from the “job you love, environment you’ve dreamt of” description to the “enriching your life with international travel” – every word is purpose-driven and benefit driven. The image of the sunset strongly aligns with the way the copy encourages fulfilment through this program. It’s no wonder this had a high CTR!

As a mobile app ad, Zoro realized that simple was best, from their sub-copy to their CTA: “The easiest way to grab a cab” and simple CTA create the easiest path to getting a cab for potential customers. With The Bay’s ad, the beauty is in the image; even without reading the copy, an ad viewer would know that there is a Black Friday sale at The Bay based on the text banners within the image.

Instagram Advertising

Alright, we’ll make this a little harder: these two Instagram ads are very similar – from the industry to the image used, to the copy; yet one ad slightly outperformed the other due to a few miniscule differences that made all the impact. Can you guess which one?


Although both IG ads feature people enjoying activities, the ad on the left for Sun Peaks had a CTR of 0.19% while the ad on the right for Tourism Victoria had a CTR of 0.11%.

Fun fact: These IG ads outperformed carousel and video ads, and the Sun Peaks ad was ranked the #1 performing creative in B.C.!

Back to ad nuances, there are a few notable differences between the two – the biggest one being the fact that Tourism Victoria’s copy was a general description of how fun Victoria is, while the Sun Peaks ad encourages the viewer that they can save money on a pass, but time is limited to do so. By encouraging genuine benefit and providing a sense of urgency, this Sun Peaks Ad outperformed.

Search + Display Advertising

Switching gears from social platforms, let’s take a look at our creative in 2016 for search and display advertising — two of the biggest and most significant forms of advertising that have the potential to drive huge traffic to your site, and revenue for your brand.

Take for example this ad we ran for Tourism Tofino in a 300 x 600 format with limited copy and primarily the visual taking the weight of the ad; guess what it’s CTR was?


3.92%. A whopping 3.92%! Compared to the 0.37 – 0.39% it’s neighbouring ads in that category garnered, that’s fairly substantial. Generally speaking, the ad works for a few reasons:

  • It speaks to the target demographic effectively
  • As a display ad, it shows the subject in action (this automatically improves CTR as we discussed earlier!)
  • There isn’t any clutter – just a clear, simple, sharp image.
  • The only CTA in the image itself is to check out Tofino (contrasted with a bright mustard/white logo).

What Have We Learned?

All in all, these tips help to segment this display ad as one of the best, and can help your display ads succeed as general rules of engagement, too.

These best practices for our various ad channels will seriously help your ads convert, drive traffic to your site, and most importantly help your bottom line — and not just because they were a win for us in 2016! In any case, follow these rough guidelines for your ads – but remember to keep testing everything (and we mean everything) for maximum success. Trust the data. Trust your ads.


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