From TV and print advertising to celebrity endorsements, social media ads and sponsored social media posts, marketers have a host of different channels at their disposal to reach their target audience.

Advertising is only one aspect of how consumers discover new brands, but it’s crucial to get it right.

Yes, advertising can be frustrating, intrusive or boring – and this is often why consumers block ads – but it isn’t all doom and gloom. 

For many consumers, ads are also sources of ideas and inspiration, providing opportunities of interest that can truly engage them. 

Despite a stable ad-blocking trend, 45% of internet users today say they’re likely to buy brands they see advertised. 

According to eMarketer, global digital ad spend will grow by 18% in 2019 to $333 billion, which means the ad market will be evenly split between digital and traditional for the first time ever. 

In 2023, global digital ad spend will reach $517 billion, which will account for 61% of total media ad spend.

Facebook is the second-largest digital ad-seller after Google, with $67 billion net ad revenue (combined with Instagram). 

What makes social networks go-to advertising platforms?

The share of people who use social media primarily to research and find products to buy has increased by seven percentage points in the past three years to 31% today.

This is a testament to the fact that the role of social media in users’ daily lives has changed – it now carries a significant weight in the path to purchase

What’s more, it’s increasingly becoming the space where people want to see brands, offers and products in their news feeds.

Just under 4 in 10 follow brands they like on social media, meaning these consumers don’t find branded content intrusive, and are comfortable viewing it alongside their friends’ posts. 

We currently track 30 different ways in which internet users discover new brands and products, covering more traditional channels like search engines and TV ads, as well as digital mediums like ads and recommendations on social networks.

We’ve investigated the effectiveness of social media ads in comparison to other channels, to see how they perform in different regions and understand the characteristics of people that click on them.

How effective are social media ads at a global level?

Since digital consumers spend an average of 2 hours and 26 minutes per day on social networks, ads on social media clearly play an important role in introducing consumers to new brands and products.

Ad-blocking has overwhelmingly demonstrated the steps online adults are willing to take in order to protect their online experience from unwanted, intrusive or irrelevant content. 

However, the situation for social media is slightly different. The popularity of accessing social media via mobile apps is what shields it from web-based ad-blockers.

Globally, ads placed on social media rank as the fourth most popular source of brand discovery, with 28% of internet users saying ads help them find out about new products. 

Internet users today are more likely to discover brands via ads placed on social media compared with ads seen on websites. 

However, when we look at how these users interact with brands online, we can see that web and social media advertising have reached parity. 

In the past month, consumers were just as likely to have clicked on a promoted post on a social network as they were to click on an online ad on a website (16%). 

Brand discovery channels

More traditional sources like TV ads (35%) and word-of-mouth (31%) are still more popular than social media ads, but as social networks become increasingly dominated by brands and entertainment content, we’re likely to see this changing in the near future. 

We can see this transition has already taken place in the second phase of the purchase journey – when consumers have discovered a brand and move on to research its products. 

Social networks are the second-most prominent research channel after search engines, with 42% of people going there to find out more about products and services. 

Within the social media interface, ads have proven to be the most effective source for brand discovery. They’re more popular than celebrity endorsements (14%), updates on brands’ pages (17%) and recommendations or comments (24%). 

Where are social media ads most effective for brand discovery?

We can see the effectiveness of social media ads more clearly when we break them down by region and compare them to ads seen on websites. 

In all five regions, ads on social media are more prominent, which means they have achieved true global reach. 

Social media Ads by region

Immediately obvious here is the weight social media ads carry in the Middle East & Africa. They are not only the most popular source of brand discovery, but also hold a seven-percentage point lead over website adverts. 

People here spend an average of 3 hours and 12 minutes on social media every day, or in other words, 39% of their online time. 

The popularity of social media ads in this region is primarily driven by the fact that MEA has a relatively low internet penetration rate, and as a result, internet users are skewed toward the younger generation (the average age here is 30).

By comparison, in North America, where ads on social networks are least effective for brand discovery, people devote around 1h and 16m less (1h 56m in total) to social media, equivalent to 30% of their online time.

Meanwhile, linear TV commands nearly 3 hours of internet users’ time here. As a result, TV ads rank as the most popular brand discovery source for 41% of consumers in this region. 

It’s clear that ads seen on social networks haven’t achieved the same impact across the globe, but they’re truly making headway considering that even in developed regions like Europe and North America, they reach a quarter of consumers. 

Who clicks on social media ads? 

16% of global internet users have clicked on a promoted or sponsored post on social media in the past month. 

These consumers are most likely in their early thirties, married (48%) and working full-time (56%). There is more or less equal gender divide here, with a slight prevalence towards males (52%). 

Social media ad clickers are also 34% more likely than average to fall into our altruist attitudinal segment, meaning that they believe it’s very important to contribute to the community they live in (75% say this) and that we should all strive for equality (81% say this).

They’re also 22% more likely to pay more for sustainable or eco-friendly products.

These are consumers that care whether the brand they want to buy from is socially responsible and a quarter of them want their favorite brands to produce eco-friendly products. 

What’s more, those that click on social media ads are 26% more likely to buy the brands they see advertised (56% say this). 

However, the same share of consumers would rather sign up to a membership for a product rather than pay extra to own it. 

This is clearly reflected in the digital content they purchase. They’re more likely to have paid for movie and music streaming service rather than for downloads of the same content in the past month.

This consumer segment is also much more likely than average to have purchased a subscription to an online version of a magazine.

Clearly, social media ad clickers don’t mind committing to direct debits and subscription plans and they prefer this to large, one-off payments. 

What do ad clickers use social media for?

This consumer segment spends around 3 hours on social media each day, which is 30 minutes longer than average.

In line with their altruistic profile, they’re 69% more likely to be charity networkers on social media.

This means that they tend to use social media to support charitable causes (26% do), as well as to follow charities and good causes (30% do).

They’re quite open on these platforms and tend to share details of what they’re doing in their daily lives, while at the same time, making sure they don’t miss out on anything going on there. 

Social media ad clickers are also multi networkers; they have an average of 11 social media accounts, three accounts more than the average internet user. 

Engagement with brands on social

They’re very active in their interactions with brands on these platforms and more than 40% of them have liked, followed or visited a brand’s page in the past month. 

Facebook is where 4 in 10 go more than once a day, and they’re 83% more likely than the average Facebooker to have posted a comment about a product or brand (34% have done so in the past month). 

With Facebook recently announcing its new cryptocurrency Libra, users will soon be able to not only click on ads, but also make instant purchases in response to them.

How do ad clickers interact with brands on social?

As the distinction between entertainment and social networking becomes more blurred, brands are being presented with opportunities to engage consumers in unique experiences. 

Social media ad clickers are an audience with a strong above-average likelihood of engaging with different types of experiential tools.

engagement with experiential tools

They are more than twice as likely to have used an augmented reality (AR) app in the past month, as AR technology becomes a driving force of the digital advertising market more broadly. 

AR advertising is expected to reach $2.6 billion in 2022, and all of the major players are influencing its growth. 

For example, Snapchat is ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation in the realms of AR features and lenses. 

Its Ad Kit will not only provide huge opportunities for engagement and entertainment via AR ads, but will also offer the infrastructure for expanded reach through integration with over 200 apps.

Google also recently announced a new YouTube immersive ad feature dubbed the “AR Beauty Try-On”, which will essentially allow users to virtually try on makeup while following along with influencers on the platform at the same time. 

But social media ad clickers won’t just click on any ad they see, regardless of how entertaining and engaging it is. With such a large social media account portfolio, this audience is exposed to all kinds of advertising throughout their day-to-day.

Advertising that will engage them has to be relevant to their interests, and personalization is key here.

Social media ad clickers want brands to provide them with personalized recommendations for purchases.

“Stopping ads being personalized based on my browsing history” is the least popular reason for ad-blocking among this audience. 

Personalized marketing is not a new phenomenon, but with the power of rich media content and revolutionary machine learning tools, brands are now able to deliver dynamic and tailored shopping experiences to drive engagement and customer loyalty.

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Written by

Viktoriya is a Senior Analyst & Content Writer at GlobalWebIndex. Viktoriya produces a wide range of assets including reports, infographics and blogs, leveraging the GlobalWebIndex’s research to unlock the most up-to-date understanding of the modern digital consumer. Before moving to GlobalWebIndex, Viktoriya completed a degree in Social Sciences.

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