In 2012, Marcus Taylor launched a kind of ‘Groupon deal for musicians’; for 100 hours only he gave away $1,250 worth of products for just $69. There were only 5,000 packages available. Because there was so much on the line, and he knew this would be exposed to millions, he obsessed over conversion rate. A mere 1% increase, could have been the difference between a huge loss and a decent profit.
In the end, his ‘obsession’ paid off – he managed to increase his conversion rate from 2.5% to 10.8%. The single largest factor that influenced this growht, he said, was increasing the amount of scarcity and urgency.
Urgency is one of the most powerful aspects of human psychology, In this article, Nail Patel explains that according to behavioral psychologists, urgent situations cause us to suspend deliberate thought and to act quickly. Many of the problems that affect conversions are issues of cognitive friction — people think too hard, conversion rates.
But is it really so easy? Perhaps urgency isn’t truly all that big of a deal for getting people to click on an advertisement. We are hard to convince, so we decided to invest some money (so you don’t have to) and experiment.
Let’s go back in time for a moment. In 2015, after analyzing 37,259 Facebook ads, we put together this word cloud to represent all the words most commonly used in Facebook ads. The size of the word corresponds directly to the amount that it was used in headlines, main texts, and link texts.
A few types of words definitely dominated over others:
One observation we made of our word cloud was that many of the top words that were used related to time. It’s something that has been confirmed by brain scans after brain scan: we, as humans, are highly susceptible to the vocabulary of urgency. Words like:
The one thing that so many of these words have in common is that they’re trying to instill urgency. In practice, this occurs one of two different ways:
- Creating scarcity: making something seem more desirable because it is in small supply
- Creating novelty: making something seem more desirable because it is original (for now)
“Competition for a scarce supply not only raises perceived value and desirability, it also creates a sense of urgency to act fast,” as Customer.io’s Janet Choi puts it.
Of course, just knowing that these words appear frequently in the text of Facebook ads doesn’t necessarily tell you that you should definitely be using them. Perhaps everyone has just hopped on the urgency bandwagon and phrases like “Limited time only” and “Free today only!” don’t even have that big of an impact. How can you really interpret the emotions and behaviors of your users?
To figure it out, we did what we always do—we set up an experiment!
When Stephen Worchel from the University of Southern Maine wanted to see the effects of urgency on desire, he asked 200 students to pick a cookie out of a jar with 10 cookies or one with just 2 cookies.
All the cookies in both of the jars were completely the same—but in the end, virtually every single student elected to go with the jar with fewer cookies. With no other variation between the two jars, Worchel was forced to conclude that the scarcity of the cookies in that jar had led students to value them more highly.
What we tried to do in this experiment is similar. We started with a premise that we thought would get us a good number of people clicking regardless of urgency: the 2020 election in the States.
To boost the clickability factor, we made our ad a simple question—who would you vote for, if you had a choice between rapper and songwriter Kanye West and Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren? We mocked up a visual:
And we were off! (Debates abound about Kanye’s political position, of course, but in this case, we thought it more exciting to pit the two against one another, and Warren’s position is clearly aligned with the Democrats.)
As we’ve done previously on the blog, we split-tested our ads using AdEspresso. The process is quite simple. You go through the regular process of creating an ad, and then simply add extra headlines or copy where you want to test for a difference:
We chose two headlines for our ad, one that was non-urgent:
Cast your VOTE for the WINNER in the 2020 Election!
And one that was urgent:
ENDS SOON: Cast your VOTE for the WINNER in the 2020 Election NOW!
Yes, the chances of this election actually occurring in 2020 are very low indeed, and our quickly mocked-up poll certainly had no actual jurisdiction or authority over the topic. That was by design.
Since no one would have any predetermined desire for this offering (the chance to vote), it would be as pure an experiment on the power of urgency as we felt we could execute. All that would differ between the two ads, and all that would be tested, would be two bits of language—“ENDS SOON” and “NOW.”
The results confirmed what we thought would happen, to some extent.
Overall, targeting our ads at the self-proclaimed politically active set and those who had expressed some interest in Elizabeth Warren or Kanye West resulted in:
- 1.976% click through rate
- $0.326 cost per click
- 96 clicks
- 4,858 impressions
- $31.33 spent
- 0 social clicks
When segmented by ad, we saw a that the urgent variation of our ad outperformed the non-urgent variation by a small but not insignificant amount:
The final results for the two separate advertisements:
|Cost per click||$0.30||$0.36|
|Cost per 1k imp.||$5.93||$7.18|
With the lower cost per click of $0.30, we’re chalking this one up as a success for the urgent ad.
Cost per click (CPC) is one of the most important metrics for any Facebook campaign because it represents the return on your investment. If you were to scale this ad up and spend $1,000,000 rather than $30~, that seemingly small difference in CPC would work out to 3.3 million clicks (for the urgent variation) vs. 2.7 million clicks (for the non-urgent).
That’s more than a half-million clicks from the addition of a little patch of “urgency-creating” copy alone!
The theory of urgency
As we think about what to take away from our results, it’s worth looking a little closer at the phenomenon of urgency.
In 2006, Scott D. Swain, Richard Hanna, and Lisa Abendroth published a study examining time restrictions (“Ending soon!” “Only 24 hours left!”) and their effect on consumer behavior. They found that the effect of putting a time restriction on an offer depended on where that offer fell along three dimensions:
- Urgency (need to complete offer in “immediate or near future”)
- Anticipated regret (of not fulfilling the offer in time)
- Deal evaluation (qualitative assessment of deal re: any discounts or restrictions involved)
These characteristics interact in some interesting and counterintuitive ways.
A short window of time (“Ends in 4 hours!”), for instance, can increase interest in a product by making the offer feel more urgent. But when you make it short enough that it’s actually inconvenient to fulfill the offer, and the deal doesn’t seem good enough to overcome that inconvenience, you can actually lower someone’s interest in your product.
In other words, a more urgent offer:
HALF OFF your whole CART (ONLY 1 HOUR REMAINING)
might actually be less effective than a less urgent offer:
HALF OFF your whole CART (WEEKEND ONLY)
The former offer forces people to decide—right now—whether they’re going to take advantage of it. The latter gives them more time to decide, therefore making it more convenient (because they can decide on their own time).
How to iterate on urgency
What does this study mean for you and your Facebook advertising efforts?
It means that you should experiment with different kinds of urgency in your advertisements, but you should not think that the more urgency you put into it, the better. Urgency is just one factor to consider. You must also look at the quality of the deal you’re offering (50% off a premium product? Or just 5%?) as well as the perceived convenience of fulfilling it. Do people just have to click through to your website to receive a coupon, or do they have to complete a survey?
Finding the sweet spot of urgency means finding:
- the shortest possible time window,
- with the best possible deal,
- with the maximum possible urgency
Make your time window too short, and you can make it inconvenient. Make the deal worse, and you will lower people’s desire to fulfill it. Make it just right, and you can create an incredibly productive sense of urgency among your customers and get awesome return on your Facebook advertising.
One thing we learned from this experiment is that there are still many things to be investigated with when it comes to urgency.
We need to know what happens when we put an explicit time restriction on our offer—in other words, if we say that only 24 hours are left, or even 4 hours!
We should look at what happens when we offer a prize, and whether that plays into how people evaluate our deal. Is it more effective to offer a prize in general? Does offering a prize lower the time window that people will be willing to complete the offer inside?
But for now, what’s your own experience with creating urgency been? Do you find it an effective tactic? Comment below and you could be featured in an upcoming AdEspresso blog post!