How to analyze your competitor's ads: 6 lessons from Mirella Crespi
Creative analysis is a powerful thing – even more when applied to competitor research. Knowing all the ins and outs of your rival’s ad campaign and finding opportunities to outperform them… how spooky?
But here’s the truth.
Creative analysis of competitors' ads helps target your prospects in a smarter way. It reveals the content they’re consuming from rivals, and highlights what about that content is (or isn’t) resonating with the viewers. It also ensures your product consistently meets and exceeds industry standards. In fact, 65% of business leaders believe data-led insights will allow them to compete in areas they haven't even entered yet.
Now, the big question is…
Where does competitor research fit within creative strategy?
Creative strategists are experts in unifying analytics with creative concepts to build compelling ads, and competitor analysis is key to be successful in doing that.
A creative strategist must understand the brand's market before setting the creative strategy for the product. This helps them define the why behind the brand and differentiate it from rivals. If your ad and a competitor’s ad are placed side by side, the ad with the most compelling ‘why?’ will determine the sale.
Agencies generally gather competitor insights by learning from clients within the same industry in their roster. If they're using a creative analytics platform like Motion, then reports like top performing creatives, and metrics like CTR, thumbstop ratio, etc., will highlight what's working for other clients in the same industry. Other tactics include using platforms like Meta Ad Library, TikTok, where you can find brands within the same niche and compare elements from their ads, like the CTA and copy.
The six stages of competitive research, according to Mirella Crespi
“There is a method to the madness of actually looking through creatives, taking those learnings from your competitor's research, and then turning it into something that you can actually execute. This is what we call the creative analysis stage of research,” says Mirella Crespi.
Mirella is a creative strategist, expert media buyer, and founder of Creative Milkshake, one of Europe's largest performance creative studios. She has worked with 200+ brands, including Johnson & Johnson, SodaStream, and TheFork, to formulate high-performing creatives.
Mirella sat down with our Head of Creative Strategy, Evan Lee, to share her framework for conducting creative analysis of competitor ads. When she teaches this to creative strategists, she makes them watch an ad six times, and focus on a new unique theme within the ad every time. Together these inspire the audience to take action and engage with the brand. Here’s the breakdown:
Theme 1: Concept
When building a new ad concept, you select two-three main themes with maybe three different creatives, and you’re looking for that one winner. But, how do you find the main theme? What are the most effective iterations? – The short way to do this is analyzing your competitors’ best practices with concepts.
Analyzing their top ads will help you develop your own creative findings. There are lots of products that have already tested a variety of concepts — you will save your team time, budgets, and creative resources if you utilize those learnings. If you're reviewing multiple ads, you might even notice a pattern in the concept.
So, the first time you're looking at a competitor's ad, try to understand this concept. Mirella suggests answering the following questions to uncover it:
What is the central message of the ad?
What benefits is it highlighting?
What pain points or problems is it talking about?
What is the main idea of the creative?
Theme 2: Hook
One axiom that always holds true in performance marketing is: never underestimate the power of a good hook. It grabs attention, evokes interest, and makes the audience receptive to the message. So, pay attention to the hook the second time you watch the ad. It's generally in the ad's first three to five seconds and is the most crucial part. Changing those key three seconds can significantly impact the ad's performance. It could be anything like a UGC-style unboxing, split screens, etc.
Mirella recommends watching the ad frame by frame to uncover it. It's not hard to miss – whatever snatches the viewers' attention from the heady distractions of the internet and directs them to take action, even if they didn't intend to – that's your hook. If there's a competitor ad that you're genuinely inspired by, understanding the alchemy of the hook will be critical. Observe factors like:
What visuals are the competitors using for the hook?
What's the text layover?
What's the audio on the hook?
What kind of emotion does it provoke?
Theme 3: Script structure
"The script structure is about breaking up the ad. An ad is more than just a hook, body, and call to action. You can break it up into what we call the ad building blocks."– Mirella Crespi
Essentially, you're identifying different sections (or blocks, like Mirella mentioned) in the ad. For example, the ad might start with a problem (block 1), followed by a suggested solution (block 2), then a demonstration of the solution (block 3), and finally, the CTA (block 4). Assuming your competitor is data-driven and uses creative analysis – all these blocks are intentionally placed in that order based on past performance. The third time you watch the ad, think about the following:
How many blocks does the ad have?
Why are they stacked the way they are?
How do they flow from one to another, e.g. problem, solution, demo or solution, demo, CTA, etc.?
Theme 4: Visuals
Remember, every detail in an ad is chosen carefully, and visuals are a big part of that. You want to understand how those specific visuals in a competitor's ads connect with the audience. And if your competitor uses creative analysis, they've conducted tests and interactions before landing on the winning version. When you're looking at the visuals of an ad, notice:
What kind of shots are they using (e.g., group shots, product shots, illustrations, etc.)
Do they use green screen effects?
Do they put the TikTok questions box?
Is it an unboxing clip? Is it a demonstration?
Is it a lot of talking heads?
But this stage is more than just a study of your traditional set of visuals. Mirella suggests thinking about factors like text treatment. "What captions aren't placed? Are they using TikTok native fonts or Facebook and Instagram native fonts? Or is it the brand fonts? Are they dynamic, or are they animated in some way? Do they use transitions in a special way" she says. Together, all the visual components amplify the ad's appeal, and that's what we're trying to diagnose in the competitor's ad.
Theme 5: Pacing
Next, you want to study the pace of the ad. The pace is important because your target audiences' characteristics dictate it. For example, Gen Z is more open to video ads than any generation before because of their positive relationship with video streaming platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch.
"Their minds are so programmed to work with TikTok that your ad needs a faster pacing," notes Mirella. If you're targeting boomers or an older generation, you can't do that because they don't typically absorb content that fast. So in this part of the step, try and understand:
How much screen space is the copy taking?
How fast or slow are the visuals appearing in the ad?
What about the audio – how is the audio pace like?
How many ideas did they cover within that speed?
Theme 6: Congruency
The final stage is examining the congruency of the ad. Here we're testing whether the ad's intent matches the intent of the landing page it leads to. One of the biggest reasons marketers combine ads with landing pages is to establish trust with their audience, but this trust can be easily broken if the ads set up expectations that the landing page can’t deliver.
So, when studying the rival's ad, click on the CTA and analyze the page it directs to. Try to connect the themes from the previous stages about the hook, concept, script, and visuals to this page and determine if this page enhances the ad experience overall or weakens it. Look at the following:
Is the competitor sending you to a landing page or product page?
Do you see a strong congruency between the hook of the ad to the landing page?
Is the CTA enhancing the user journey?
Which key features are they highlighting in the landing page?
Complete your creative strategy workflow
A successful creative strategist knows how to sift through data from research, and translate those findings into actionable projects. With better knowledge of tested and proven concepts, creative strategists are better equipped to build high-performing ads.
A creative analytics platform like Motion, generates creative reports that are highly visual and easy-to-digest, so that even the most not-so-data-savvy teams can understand the paid ad performance. So even if you’re not comfortable with numbers and reports, Motion makes it easy to navigate through the noise. Whether you’re a designer, marketing manager, media buyer, or creative strategist, you can find data relevant to your work and utilize it. Marketers use Motion to find answers like:
What are the best performing ads this week?
Are images working better or videos?
Which videos have the best “scroll-stopping” ratios?
Which landing pages have the highest conversion rate?
Special thanks to Mirella Crespi for sharing these insights with Motion.
Get a tour of Motion’s creative analytics platform. We’ll even build free sample reports for you using live data from your TikTok, Meta, and YouTube ad accounts.
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