Running Facebook Ads for fashion brands has always been more challenging than other categories. Here is everything you know to do it successfully.
Fashion really is different from other product categories. And that is why so many agencies, growth marketers and entrepreneurs struggle to run Facebook Ads for fashion brands.
If you’re a typical consumer brand, you need to find product-market fit once every year or so. If you’re a fashion brand, you need to find product-market fit every time you drop a new delivery. For some brands, this is 12 times per year or more.
I have more than a decade of experience managing and growing brands in the fashion, footwear and accessories space. And I’ve seen brands repeat the same mistakes when they attempt to grow their eCommerce businesses, especially with Facebook ads. If you want to save yourself countless hours and thousands of dollars, read on.
This guide is broken into two sections: strategic principles and channel tactics. If you’ve done a lot of testing, or worked with multiple agencies, and still can’t get Facebook ads to “click” for your brand, it’s probably a strategic issue. On the other hand, if you’re seeing steady growth in your wholesale channel, but Facebook ads just aren’t working, then you probably have a channel management issue.
The strategic section is a must-read for anyone who is trying to sell fashion online. The tactics section is going to make more sense if you already have some knowledge of Facebook Ads. I’m not going to provide an overview of terminology, or explain basic account setup “best practices”. Others have done a much better job covering those topics.
Now that we have the basic context-setting stuff out of the way, let’s dive in:
Facebook Ads For Fashion Brands: Strategy
Demand Generation vs Demand Capture
Facebook Ads can serve a few potential uses for any brand selling online:
- Demand Generation: you are creating net new demand for your product. The people you’re speaking to are not looking to purchase what you’re selling…until your advertising convinces them that they must have it.
- Demand Capture: there is an audience who is aware of your brand and your product. They also have relatively high purchase intent. You are using digital ads to help close the sale.
- In-Market Demand Capture: there is an audience with a desire to buy something specific, like a party dress, but they’re relatively brand-agnostic. You intercept these people, inform them that you’re selling what they want, and convince them that yours is the best.
Your ads can address all three of these use cases. But when DTC startups and small businesses talk about using Facebook Ads, they’re usually talking about use case #3. This is the most cost-effective way to acquire new customers if Facebook Ads are your only marketing investment.
Here’s where you have to be careful: “legacy” brands and the agencies that serve them will generally focus on #1 and #2. But these brands are supported by decades of awareness, celebrity ambassadors, hundreds of physical stores, and lots of other marketing activity.
If you’re a brand doing under $50M in sales, you cannot look to mega-brands for advice. If you work with agencies who specialize in working with mega-brands, you’re flushing cash down the drain 95% of the time.
If you’re a bootstrapped (self-funded) fashion brand, or if you depend on digital marketing to drive sales, you must focus on in-market demand capture first. If you can’t capture in-market demand profitably, then Facebook ads are not going to be the growth channel for you.
Product-Market-Channel Fit: The Key To Facebook Ads For Fashion Brands
Product-Market-Channel Fit (PMCF) is the most important concept in digital marketing. If you don’t have PMCF, breaking even on your marketing spend will always be an uphill battle. And profitability? Forget about it.
So what is PMCF? It means that there is a meaningful audience of people who want to buy what you’re selling, and that there is also a meaningful overlap between your buying audience and your channel’s audience. Essentially: the people who click and buy from Facebook Ads want what you’re selling.
You may hear things like “any brand can succeed with Facebook ads!”. That isn’t true. Some brands simply do not have product-market fit in any channel. The long list of shuttered designer brands coming out of the NY Fashion world are proof of this.
Traction in wholesale doesn’t automatically translate to success on Facebook. Generally speaking, true luxury brands with low national brand awareness are going to struggle with Facebook Ads. Attempting to find a niche audience like luxury fashion consumers on Facebook is the proverbial “needle in the haystack” situation.
The user base of Facebook and Instagram over-indexes with the 25-35 year old age range, and is representative of the 35-45 year old age range. So it makes sense that the super users–the people who log on every day, click ads, and convert from them–are women who fall within those age bands. These women’s’ tastes are fairly representative of “mass taste”. If you’re selling something cute, trendy or slightly cheugy, you’re golden.
Within this framework, luxury products are usually too niche to succeed unless the brand is already recognized as a status symbol. It is really, really hard to sell fashion items priced over $500 on Facebook and turn a profit. Starting a brand in this price range from scratch is nearly impossible.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed selling to men, or to people under 25 or over 45. But the broader the appeal of your brand, the more successful you’ll be.
Merchandising For Success
Another major misconception that I’ve seen over and over again: you can’t put your entire assortment on your website and expect to sell it all. Facebook is not where you’re going to sell those expensive, boundary-pushing styles that your wholesale accounts won’t touch with a ten foot pole.
There is a reason that wholesale buyers typically select 5-10% of the pieces you produce each season: they’re editing your brand to account for the needs and tastes of their customer base. If you’re using Facebook ads as your key acquisition channel, then your organization takes on the role of the buyer, and Facebook provides your audience.
Based on experience, these products and categories typically work best in Facebook ads for fashion brands:
- Fast fashion items under $50
- Items under $250 that hit a trend popular with women 25-45. Think: cottagecore dresses, tie-dye athleisure, boho stuff.
- Really well designed, classic items under $500. Think: navy blazers, timeless denim, cashmere sweaters. They must fit well, have a “classic with a twist” design aesthetic and have a level of quality that justifies the price.
- Anything that is scroll-stopping: bright colors, sequins, sexy outfits, etc.
- Anything that is a runaway best seller in other channels will probably sell well on Facebook.
If you want consistent advertising performance, you need a consistent assortment. Ideally, you have 3-5 products that really resonate with customers that you can re-cut in new colors and fabrics season after season. You can’t cycle through new trends and aesthetics every few months unless you’re a fast fashion brand.
Rule of thumb: basics and classic pieces drive customer acquisition and fashion/wardrobe builders drive customer retention. If you’re known for your pants, most new customers will buy those pants. You can then use tops to drive a repeat purchase.
Because Facebook is primarily an acquisition channel, you want to feature the products that do the best job of attracting new customers. You also want to plan inventory accordingly, because your advertising efficiency will go down if the “good stuff” sells out.
Setting KPIs For Your Facebook Ads
One of the most common questions when it comes to running Facebook ads for fashion brands (or any type of brand) is: what KPIs should I use to manage ad spend? Most fashion brands should use contribution margin as their benchmark and aim to be profitable on their first conversion.
What is contribution margin? It’s the money that you bring in from each transaction after all variable costs have been factored in. Variable costs include things like payment processing charges, shipping, the cost of goods sold, and the cost of marketing. Here is an example:
- Your average order value is $200 (you never go on sale, lucky you!)
- Your average landed COGS is 20% of MSRP ($40)
- Your average return rate is 25%, so you factor in a $50 cost there
- It costs you $5 to ship an average order
- You pay your payment processor 2% of the order value ($4)
- With all these costs factored in, your contribution margin is $200 – $99 = $101
If you spend $101 to acquire an average customer, you’ll break even. That represents a ROAS of about 2x. This is hard, but doable. When I say you’ll break even here, I mean that you won’t lose money on the sale. But you won’t make enough to pay yourself or your employees. So you need to do better than break even.
If you want to make money on a new customer order, you’ll want to aim for a CPA below $101 and a ROAS greater than two. But you’ll need to watch your actual metrics closely, because average AOVs can change quickly, and actuals don’t always match the average.
Using Facebook’s own in-platform metrics is tricky, because after iOS14 the data is less accurate and/or it comes in on a delay. For that reason, many marketers use daily Acquisition Marketing Effectiveness Ratio as their north star metric.
If aMER is contribution-margin profitable, then the brand can remain on-course with its advertising strategy. If not, changes need to be made. In the example above, you would be shooting for an aMER greater than 2.
This is an over-simplification of the process, but it’s enough to get you started and/or gut check any KPIs an agency might provide for you. The purpose of these metrics is to “front run” your P&L, so you can spend money at the start of the month without ending the month in the red.
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Just Because You See It, Doesn’t Mean It’s Working
This is the golden rule of digital marketing. The internet allows us to see exactly what creative and merchandising decisions our competitors are making. But that doesn’t mean those strategies are working!
If you’re a new brand, you can’t compare yourself to a legacy brand with 100 owned retail stores who has been in the market for decades. Oftentimes those brands don’t use Facebook for demand generation, so their ads don’t need to hit strict profitability KPIs.
Be very careful who you choose to call a competitor. You don’t know if these “competitors” have similar customer profiles, customer acquisition strategies or profitability targets. Feel free to use other brands as inspiration, but don’t hold tight to a bad strategy because “it’s what Brand X is doing”.
Facebook Ads For Fashion Brands: Channel Tactics
This is where we get into the nitty gritty: campaign settings and creative strategy. Many marketers think that this is where ads are won and lost. That’s only partially true. If you don’t have the right strategic foundations, nothing you do here is going to work.
So if you skipped the first section, or simply choose to ignore it, then I’d advise you to go back up there and read it again. If your merchandising strategy is flawed, or if you have no product-market-channel fit, then testing tactics is lighting money on fire.
Note: the following sections assume you have some familiarity with this material. I’m not going to be doing a deep dive into all the options for a given topic, nor will I be walking through how to set up ads. If you need that info, check out Andrew Foxwell’s “FB Ads”Technical Tune-Up” Course. This is not sponsored or an affiliate link, he’s just great.
Strategic Principles/What We’re Trying To Do Here
A lot of folks in the paid social space will claim that there is only one right way to do Facebook Ads for fashion brands–or any brand. I don’t agree with that. I think there is an easy way, and a hard way. If you can’t meet your financial objectives the easy way, there are other options. You simply need to decide if the extra effort and extra leg work are worthwhile for you.
Of course, there are brands that are never going to break even on Facebook ads (read the strategy section to find out if that’s you!).
This is the decision tree you’re running through as you launch Facebook ads for the first time, or for a new delivery of product:
- Can I hit my financial objectives consistently with DABA (Dynamic Ads, Broad Audiences). If so, congrats. You’re going to have the least work, and the least risk.
- If no–can I hit my financial objectives consistently with some combination of still/video ads, landing pages and a broad audience? If so, you’re in for a bit more work.
- If no–can I hit my financial objectives consistently with any kind of creative and landing page mix, using a lookalike or interest based audience? If so, you’re in for a bumpy ride.
- If no–your brand can’t break even on Facebook ads. You need to find another way to grow.
How Do I Know If My Facebook Ads Are “Working”?
There is another decision tree at work here:
- Can my ads drive any conversions at all?
- If so, can I drive at least one conversion at my desired CPA target?
- If so, how many conversions can I drive at that CPA target before the ad “fatigues” and is no longer able to hit my financial goals?
Let’s say your average AOV is $200 and your CPA target is $100. To get an ad to its “optimal” state, Facebook wants 50 conversions per week. So, if you were to hit your CPA target perfectly, you’d need to spend $5,000 a week, or roughly $27,000 a month, or $324K per year (wowza!) to achieve this.
That level of spend is out of reach for most small brands. It also assumes that you would launch one ad, it would work immediately, and it would continue to work for an entire year. That is highly unlikely, although not impossible.
You need to figure out a way to kill ads with zero potential before you spend a ton of money on them. And then, for the ads that do have some potential, you need to kill the ones that can’t hit your CPA targets sustainably.
This is why agencies and marketers hate working with startup brands, or brands that are new to Facebook Ads as a marketing channel. It’s a lot easier to find winning strategies if something has worked for the brand in the past.
Working through this process is outside the scope of this post, but you must approach it strategically. I may write about sound strategies for this process in a future edition of my newsletter.
When your ads are “working”, your 7 day average aMER will consistently remain below your CPA threshold. This means that your average new customer purchase is profitable at a contribution margin level. Note: one major way to make this process easier is to find ways to increase your CPA threshold. I wrote about that here.
You can use website traffic quality as a signal of an ad’s potential. If an ad is driving an average time on site above one minute, with a bounce rate <65%, that is a good sign. You can check this in Google Analytics.
Some ads are really good traffic drivers, but the traffic isn’t relevant. So you may see a ton of site visits, but low time on site and high bounce rate. These can drive conversions, but in all likelihood they will not, so it’s best to turn them off.
What I’ve written above barely scratches the surface on this topic. You need a set of ad management guidelines that match your price point, daily budget and media mix. Again, here is the best place to learn the basics if you want to manage your own ads.
Which Audiences Should I Target?
If you’re able to achieve your financial targets using a broad audience, that is always going to be the most sustainable approach. A broad audience contains limited targeting–usually country, gender and a wide age range. But sometimes it’s literally nothing but country targeting.
If you have a significant budget set aside for testing, you should start with broad. If you’re working with a very limited budget, you might want to work backwards. Start with a Lookalike audience of your best customers or your Instagram engagers. When you identify a winning creative in that campaign, launch it within a broad audience to see if you’re able to achieve your desired KPIs there.
Something to note: the smaller your audience, the more rapidly your creative will fatigue. If a 1% LAL is the only way you’re able to hit your financial objectives, you are going to be doing a lot of creative testing and development.
Which Products Should I Promote?
Start with dynamic product carousel ads (DPAs). Facebook ingests a feed of your product detail page information (URL, product name, price, image, etc). The Facebook user sees the product, thinks “hey, that’s interesting”, and then clicks through directly to the product page.
If you can hit your KPIs with DPAs, your life is going to be so, so much easier. You can layer on additional strategies that may be more efficient, but these ads will be your rock. One big caveat here: there will be merchandise acceptance risk every time you push a new delivery live on your website. If your established audience hates the new product, your performance will tank.
There are a few things you should consider testing to achieve DPA performance:
- Testing different feeds–your most popular category, your best-selling products, or low AUR products.
- Copy testing. You’d be surprised how impactful this can be. Try testing copy that makes the user identify with your brand. “If you’re a woman who loves feeling cozy…”
- Using UGC images as your product images. This only works if you have UGC images for the majority of your products.
- Price vs no price. Keeping the price hidden tends to drive more clicks unless you’re on sale.
If you can’t make DPAs work (or even if you can), it’s worth testing ad creative focused on specific products or categories within your assortment. Go back up to the merchandising part of this post, and start with products that fall under the “what products tend to work on Facebook” list.
You can also test your best selling products for new customers. If people love your dresses, feature dresses. If they love your pants, feature pants.
What Kind of Ad Creative Do I Need?
This is why DPAs are the holy grail of Facebook Ads for fashion brands–zero creative lift. Facebook grabs your existing eCom images, and you’re basically set.
Outside of DPAs, “Ads that don’t look like ads” usually perform best on Facebook. If a Facebook or Instagram user sees something that they categorize as an ad, they will usually keep on scrolling.
This rule is slightly less applicable for fashion brands. If the product featured in the ad is really appealing, the user may stop anyway and click through to find out more. But your engagement and clickthrough rates are almost always going to be higher when you post ad creative that looks like a friend shot it. Magazine-style campaign shoots will wither and die on this platform.
Recycling the lookbook shoot you did for your wholesale accounts is not going to work on Facebook unless your product-market-channel fit is really strong or you have activities outside the ads ecosystem driving demand.
The products you feature and how you present them is the number one thing that will determine your success. If you’re serious about this channel, give ad creative the respect it deserves or you’ll never get off the ground.
There are two low-ish cost approaches to developing really effective ads for your brand:
- Do an office “challenge”. Round up 2-6 people in creative, design and marketing. Pair them up (or keep them solo if you only have 2 people). Assign each group 1-2 products, and give them an hour to shoot as many iPhone photos and videos as possible. Show the group some good b-roll ad examples from other brands first, so they know what to aim for.
- Hire an expert using a platform like #Paid. You’ll wind up paying $250-1,000 per video, but this is a quick and simple way to get a read on how effective the UGC format could be for your brand.
Talking from painful personal experience here: creative folks with no experience developing Facebook ads for fashion brands…rarely develop effective Facebook ads for fashion brands. If you’re short on time and money, bypass your internal team and work with someone who has experience developing direct response paid social creative for fashion brands.
You’re also going to need more creative than you think. Until you hone in on which products and creative formats work for you, you’ll need to test a lot of different assets. Essentially there are two “jobs to be done” here:
- Capture raw photos and videos of the products you want to market.
- Remix those raw assets into different permutations.
For example: you can run a single video clip on its own, cut it together with some other clips and do a voiceover narration, take screenshots of the video and run them as static image ads, run the video in a carousel…the options are endless.
This is why understanding the acquisition levers in your assortment is so, so important. It’s also why life becomes so much easier if you can get DPAs to work.
Which Facebook Ads Formats Should I Run?
Again, there are no “best practices” here. Static, video, carousels and collection ads can all work. And performance can vary from brand to brand, and even from season to season.
My recommendation is to start with static images if you don’t know what part of your assortment works best, because statics are the easiest and fastest type of asset to produce.
Create a list of 5-15 products you think will perform based on what I’ve already shared. Shoot 1-2 images of each product with an iPhone. You can even do this while your eCom product photography shoot is taking place. Try to shoot each product with the same lighting, model and setting to help isolate the impact of the product.
Then, launch 4-6 assets at a time in a conversion campaign and see which products rise to the top. If you’re lucky, these ads will drive conversions. But even if they don’t, you’ll see which ads get impression delivery–these are the products that Facebook users find most intriguing.
Take the top 2-3 products and re-shoot them in different formats, potentially using one of the UGC services I mentioned above. Test through different formats to find out what drives the most high quality site traffic for the lowest cost.
One caveat here–you have to figure out a common theme that ties together the product that “works” in ads. Otherwise, your ads will stop working once the product sells out. Once you’ve identified your theme, you can focus on shooting those styles and pursue a deeper inventory position.
What Kind Of Landing Pages Should I Use?
DPAs always point to the product detail page of the product featured. That’s simple. But if you’re running other formats, you have several options. I’ll outline them below, along with the relevant use cases for each.
- Best Sellers Category: this is usually a safe bet. Best selling products usually increase conversion rates when featured in ads. But you need true best sellers, not just “the best of a bad lot”.
- New Arrivals Category: this can work well if you’ve been running ads effectively for several seasons, or if you have meaningful brand awareness outside Facebook. It can also work well if your latest delivery is crushing in other marketing channels.
- Specific Category: this can work if you have a marquee category that consistently drives a larger percentage of your sales. It can also work for seasonal items, like swimsuits, sweaters or coats.
- Homepage: this is a crapshoot, but it works really well for some brands, so you might as well test it. If you’re running a sale, and you have a homepage banner promoting the sale, it could work well.
- Product Detail Page: this can work if you have a lot of inventory in a single style and an ad featuring that style is driving a lot of low-cost traffic. But a category page featuring the same item will often work better, because it gives the viewer more options to consider.
- Custom Landing Page: this can work incredibly well if you have the right content. Traditionally, this strategy is used by CPG, supplement and beauty brands for product storytelling. But you have to choose landing page topics have enough inventory behind them to be worth the effort of building them out.
When in doubt, send traffic to your best sellers page. But sort the product(s) featured in the ad to the top. If you don’t have any best sellers, you probably have a bigger problem (go back and read the strategy section again).
Promos, Offers and Hooks For Fashion Brands
These are all popular topics in the world of Facebook Ads. They’re also incredibly brand- and customer-specific, especially for fashion brands. I’ll provide some strategic guidelines for each.
Promos: This can refer to either limited-time sales or “hard markdowns” (when the price is discounted and stays discounted). In fashion, promos are often necessary to clear out inventory. But you should work to minimize their use.
Promos will often increase your advertising efficiency, but the tradeoff is lower contribution margin. You’ll need to adjust your advertising KPIs if you want to run promos profitably. They can also fundamentally alter the nature of your business in a bad way. I wrote more about that here.
Offers: This term is bandied about frequently in direct marketing circles. As far as I can tell, it has no consistent definition. Sometimes it means your unique selling proposition (USP), aka how your product benefits the customer. Sometimes it’s a bundle offer like “buy two or more, get 20% off”.
It’s hard to dig into the unique value prop of every item you sell. Often, the only value prop most of your products have is “it looks cute and it’s either cheap or high quality”. You should think about your brand’s USP and try to work that into your marketing. But you need to back it up with a consistent merchandise assortment.
The brand Doen is a great example of stated vs actual USP. A lot of their marketing materials speak to the fact that the brand is a women-owned collective. That’s great, but its not what has women lining up around the block. The brand’s actual USP is two things:
- The unique combination of feminine design, natural materials and a price point that is just below “contemporary”. If you’re used to shopping at Intermix and Nordstrom, Doen feels like a good value for the price.
- The brand’s decision to feature “motherhood” scenes in their campaign shoots, and create styles that are breastfeeding-friendly and look and feel good on new mothers’ bodies.
Offer is tricky, but consistency is key. The best way to develop a strong offer is to speak with your customers and learn how they view your brand.
Hooks: These are visual or narrative devices that convince people to stop scrolling and click through an ad. Visual hooks are typically pattern disruptors ex. rapidly cycling images, lighting something on fire, or a finger pushing through slime. They can also be broadly appealing images like cute puppies or a beautiful sunset.
Narrative hooks are, essentially, clickbait headlines. Ex. “TikTok made me buy it”, “This product made my farts smell like strawberries!” and “3 real women wear the world’s most flattering leggings”. You don’t have to go this extreme, I’m just having some fun.
Browsing TikTok creators in your vertical is a great way to come up with ideas for hooks. So is using a tool like BuzzSumo to look up the most frequently shared content for different editorial sites that cover fashion.
But fashion brands don’t necessarily need narrative hooks. Often, the product itself is the visual hook. You either like it (and click), or you don’t. Before you dive into hooks, make sure that your ads display your product clearly.
Why Fashion Brands Fail At Facebook Ads
You could be one “unlock” away from profitable ads. Or there could be a larger, more complex problem holding you back. Based on my experience there are typically five major reasons that a fashion brand can’t make Facebook ads work. I’ve outlined them below. See if any of these apply to your brand before you dive into testing audiences, creative, etc.
- Merchandising Issues: The most frequent problems I see here are lack of consistency from season to season, inability to develop best sellers, poor price:value ratio, and putting the entire collection on the site instead of buying into your main acquisition channels. Ads won’t work if no one wants to buy what you’re selling. These issues are qualitative–a matter of consumer taste–but they can be diagnosed quantitatively.
- Ineffective Creative: You can’t use a ~high fashion~ campaign shoot as your Facebook Ad creative, unless your brand or campaign star are household names. You need more than ten images per quarter. Your clothing must be clearly visible in your images, and it should be obvious what you are selling. If campaign images don’t work, try iPhone video or other “ads that don’t look like ads” formats.
- Website Issues: Nothing tanks advertising conversion rate like a slow, confusing or error-prone website.
- Unreasonable Expectations: No one is going to achieve a consistent 10x return on Facebook Ads. If your digital marketing is under-funded relative to your growth goals, you will always fail. And the P&L you used in 2013 will not stand up to today’s hyper-competitive environment.
- Channel Conflict: more on this below…
Facebook Ads For Fashion Brands: Managing Your Wholesale Partners
If you’ve made it this far, you must realize by now that success with Facebook ads requires success across a large number of variables. The more constraints that your wholesale accounts place on your business, the less likely you are to succeed in your direct channels.
Here are a few guidelines for managing your wholesale partners to enable success in your owned eCommerce channel:
- Put a clause in your selling agreements that prevents each wholesale partner from bidding on your branded search terms on all major search engines. Otherwise, you’ll be waging a war of attrition. The only winner? Google.
- If you’re running Facebook ads for your fashion brand, you should also be running Google Shopping ads. This is the first thing people see when they search for your brand name, and it isn’t possible to ban wholesalers from bidding against you here.
- Be very strategic if you agree to let wholesale accounts carry your brand online. You need to protect the value proposition of your owned eCommerce channel. If I can get your best-selling style in three different places, I’m going to pick the one with the lowest price and fastest shipping times.
- If you let wholesale “run” your marketing calendar, both in terms of creative production and markdowns/offers, it will be hard for you to grow.
I hope you found this post to be helpful. If there are specific sub-topics that you’d like me to delve into in greater detail, drop me a note. And if you made it all the way down here and thought this was valuable, I’d encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter.