Now that social networks devour about a fifth of Web users' time, you might be wondering which ad formats are most effective on Facebook and its rivals.
Well, among the seven most common formats, sponsored content ads -- in which consumers viewed a page that was "brought to you by" a leading brand -- were the most engaging, yet produced the least purchase intent, according to a new study conducted by research firm Psychster, and commissioned by cooking/recipe hub Allrecipes.com.
Corporate profiles on social-networking sites produced greater purchase intent and more recommendations when users could become a "fan," and add the logo to their own profiles, than when they could not.
Meanwhile, "give and get" widgets -- in which individuals can create and customize something (a car or a dinner menu) and then either send it to a friend ("give" widget) or keep it for themselves ("get" widget) -- were more engaging than traditional banner ads, but no more likely to produce an intent to purchase.
Psychster's conclusions held across brands -- a leading soup brand and a leading car brand -- and publishers -- on Allrecipes.com and on Facebook.com -- but like traditional ads, widgets had increased success if the brand was relevant to the Web site.
"From banner ads, to widgets and branded profiles, ad types differ in the cognitive, social, and motivational foundations that make them a success, as well as the time and cost to bring them to market," said David Evans Ph.D., CEO of Psychster.
Whereas other research often focuses on marketing spending or performance metrics, Psychster's study focused on consumers' attitudes toward different ad types and the brands they promoted.
For the study, Psychster designed a multivariate online experimental survey. Mockups were created of seven ad types, appearing on one of two publisher Web sites (Allrecipes, or Facebook), and promoting one of two brands (a leading soup brand and a leading car brand), for a total of 28 combinations.
To capture the interactive nature of the ads, a video was recorded showing the screen activity of someone interacting with the mockups, complete with a narration.
The variations of the survey that depicted the ad types on Allrecipes were shown to 478 Allrecipes users who were recruited via a site-wide popover. Meanwhile, the variations that depicted ad types on Facebook were shown to 681 Facebook users recruited via a panel company.
Overall, "No ad type was so engaging that it overcame the advantage found by matching the brand to the Web site," added Evans. "It is widely believed that ads are at an advantage when the brand relates to the site on which it appears ... Our findings replicated this effect, such that the soup brand performed better on Allrecipes than it did on Facebook."
What's more, every format was clearly perceived to be an ad. Although none of the ads fully "disguised" themselves, sponsored content scored lowest on this scale, but possibly at the expense of a strong call to action.
Although banners and newsletters were most likely to be seen as ads, they were among the best at triggering purchase intent and viral recommendations.