How to apply powerful triggers to boost your Facebook ads

Catching your customers’ attention on a crowded platform like Facebook can be tough. With Facebook’s organic reach declining, most businesses have had no choice but to use Facebook ads to reach new customers.

But what makes an ad work well for your business as opposed to being a money pit? How do you stand out in a crowded space and speak to your desired audience, having caught their attention?


The following research studies provide clues to what works well.

  • Research on over 1,400 successful advertising campaigns shows that campaigns with emotional content performed twice as well as campaigns with only rational content.
  • A Nielsen report found that effective ads evoked emotions and resulted in a 23 percent lift in sales.


In other words, psychological triggers embedded in the design and content can help evoke emotions, boosting your Facebook ads’ effectiveness.

In this post, we will examine 12 powerful triggers that can make your Facebook ads stand out from the crowd and help convert more of your target audience.


1. Use trigger words

Images play a huge role in getting your audience’s attention, but the words in your copy will help keep their attention and win you new customers or repeat business.

Here are five powerful words you should use in your copy where possible.

  a. You

Research shows that our brains light up when we see our names in print or on screen. In other words, personalized content makes up a massive part of our identity and self-perception. However, that can be hard to achieve in advertising, especially when trying to win over new customers you may not have had contact with before. In such instances, the word “you” is a good substitute.

The ad below is an example:

b.      Free

People love receiving things for free—so much so that it can affect the choices they make. Studies show they’ll make different choices even when the value of items remains the same. In research conducted in his lab, author Dan Ariely found that people would choose the free option even when provided with a great deal on another option. According to him, loss aversion and the desire to go after low-hanging fruit causes people to pursue free deals instead of other great deals.

This is why ads like the one below from HubSpot work so well. It allows potential customers to try their products without any risk and increases the chances of them upgrading to one of their paid plans. Having said that, the word “free” needs to be used with caution depending on the offer so as to not attract bargain hunters who won’t convert into paying customers.


c.      Because

“Because” is a powerful word, as research by Robert Cialdini, author of the book “Influence,” reveals. The research involved testing different requests to find how each one affects a person’s willingness to allow another person to cut in line.

With just the addition of the word “because,” 94 percent of people allowed another person to cut in front of them in line.

Dr. Cialdini says,“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

Chevrolet, in their Facebook ad, remind their customers why Chevy trucks continue to be dependable and trustworthy over time with the inclusion of the word “because.”

d.      Instantly

Studies have shown how people’s frontal cortexes light up when offered something instantly as opposed to having to wait. Words like “instantly,” “fast,” and “immediately” help appeal to a person’s need for instant gratification and reduce the buying pain for penny-pinchers. Frank Kern uses this quite effectively in the ad below.


e.      New

Science shows that people are wired to seek out new experiences and so can be encouraged to move away from their usual preferences. Newness in your offerings can therefore help reinvigorate your brand in the mind of your customers. In fact, research shows it is more important for products than for experiential purchases.

Stagnant products will lead to your customers being bored. So consider incorporating new fixes to old problems, new designs, and new features as ways to keep your customers engaged without losing their trust in your core brand elements.

CreativeLive, in the ad below, lets their audience know about a new class on taking great portraits.

2. Leverage scarcity

In a study by Stephen Worchel, subjects were offered cookies in two jars. One jar had 10 cookies while the other had two. Subjects preferred the jar with fewer cookies even though the cookies were identical. Why?

Because of scarcity, a psychological trigger that causes people to demand more of something when supply is less.

A study showed that as much as 69 percent of millennials experience scarcity or FOMO (fear of missing out) when they cannot attend an event their friends are going to.

Udemy uses scarcity in their ad below.

How to use scarcity in your Facebook ads:

  • Mention the number of people already benefiting from your product.
  • Pose a question, hinting that the user is missing out on a great opportunity.
  • Make the reader feel like there’s a fascinating community they’re not part of… yet.
  • Make your Facebook ad a limited-time offer to nudge people to sign up faster


3. Show faces to humanize your ad

If you want to draw attention to your ad, you need to ensure it shows a person’s face.


Because research has shown that facial expressions of emotion are universal. We want to look at people’s faces for cues to their emotions as it affects our response. In fact, people are quite good at this and are able to detect emotions when revealed as micro-expressions.

Research from the California Institute of Technology has also shown that specific cells in the brain are dedicated to responding to individual people. Faces are, therefore, a great way to capture a person’s attention given that people are naturally wired to react to them.

JPEGmini uses this trigger effectively in this post on Facebook:

When images of faces are able to elicit positive emotions, they can powerfully affect conversion rates, as research from the University of Michigan has proven.

Jetpack Workflow uses this in their recent ad:

How can you use faces to boost the effectiveness of your Facebook ads?

  • Consider using images where the person looks directly at the user to grab their attention.
  • Use images where the person’s gaze can be used to direct your visitor’s line of sight.
  • Use images that depict the kinds of emotions you would like to evoke in your audience.
  • Help your visitors relate to your site, service, or community with the images in your ads. For example, you can show images of different kinds of people with the different emotional expressions that relate to your target audience.
  • Improve the aesthetic design of your ads by featuring faces. We often think of faces as being attractive when they adhere to the golden ratio or are symmetrical.
  • Create the emotional atmosphere you would like your audience to experience with faces that reflect certain emotions. It can make your audience want to be part of the group and whatever it is they are experiencing.
  • Use faces to build trust. People like to do business with those they know, like, and trust. Showing who you are allows your audience to get a better idea of you as a person and also helps determine whether you can be trusted.
  • Consider using certain faces to create authority. For example, using faces of celebrities or other famous people can create authority.
  • Use faces to make people smile. People tend to mirror emotions they see, so consider using photographs, illustrations, or caricatures to make people smile.

4. Share happiness

Studies have shown that people are emotional beings that think and make purchases based more on emotions.

Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing, puts it this way:

“The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!”

But what emotion causes people to share and purchase the most?

A study of the most emailed articles from the New York Times may hold the answer. It found that articles that evoked a positive emotional response were shared more than any other type of article. In other words, content that evokes happiness creates the best results.

For example, the ad below by ScienceBased Health uses a picture of three women laughing to show how happy they are and associate that emotion with their products.

There are three main tactics to making use of the emotion of happiness in Facebook ads:

  • Brightly colored ad design.
  • Including an image with smiling people.
  • Using adjectives and verbs with positive connotations.

5. Use negativity cautiously

Humans are wired to have a bias toward negativity. Studies by John Cacioppo, Ph.D., then at Ohio State University, showed that people’s brains react more negatively. Our attitudes are therefore more heavily influenced by negativity. Negativity grabs people’s attention more than positive stimuli. We weigh negative information more heavily than positive information and store such information longer.

Apple, for example, used negativity with humor in their Mac vs PC ads.

People tend to be attracted to the underdog and challengers of the status quo.

Sendible uses the negativity that some of its customers experience with competitor HootSuite to attract their audience with this ad.


How do you use it?

  • Don’t be afraid to take a strong negative stance on something
  • Trigger your prospect’s pain points to remind them of why they need you
  • Present your benefits in a negative light
  • Use the Schadenfreude effect to your advantage. In other words, use other people’s misfortune to boost your audience’s self-esteem.
  • Use shared negative experiences to help relate to your audience. For example, just about everyone has had to deal with embarrassing stains on their clothes.

6. Make your audience look cool

People like to think of themselves as part of a cool crowd. Social proof is a psychological trigger that helps people identify with and encourage them to join the activity of that cool crowd. In other words, social proof refers to people’s reliance on the feedback and actions of others to determine what is right and wrong in a given situation. It is something that has been used effectively since before digital marketing began. For example, think of testimonials in ads.

A study in 2013 showed that 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations before making a buying decision.

A great example of leveraging this effect was the ALS ice bucket challenge, which quickly went viral thanks to Facebook and celebrities getting behind the cause.

Crossfit Mobilus also attempt to make their customers look cool by sharing a story of their customers to inspire others to get fit.

How to do it:

  • Use product reviews for first-time visitors and site reviews for retargeting
  • Include personal keywords
  • Avoid reviews with multiple exclamation points
  • Have reviews focus on the experience
  • Keep your ad copy short as it performs better.
  • Don’t use the word “reviews” in your copy—they don’t perform as well.
  • Make sure the voice in your copy matches your brand message and brand voice. The review is where you can let the customer speak.

7. Surprise your audience

We view life through a matrix of rules as to how life should work.

However, life doesn’t work according to these rules at times. In such instances, our response is surprise.

According to the Expectancy Violation Theory:

Communication is an exchange of behaviors, where one individual’s behavior can be used to violate the expectations of another. Participants in communication will perceive the exchange either positively or negatively, depending upon an existing personal relationship or how favorably the violation is perceived. Violations of expectancies cause arousal and compel the recipient to initiate a series of cognitive appraisals of the violation.[8] The theory predicts that expectancies influence the outcome of the communication interaction as either positive or negative and predicts that positive violations increase the attraction of the violator and negative violations decrease the attraction of the violator.[1]


People’s brains are wired to turn attention to things that are new or different. In fact, research would indicate it is like crack for your brain. It is this element that has helped Birchbox, a beauty products subscription service that sends customers a box of mystery products each month, and Phish, a rock band that never performs the same show twice, to grow their audience base.

In fact, surprise creates an emotional change which can help people overcome their reluctance and make people want to do or not do certain things.

Ancestry, for example, finds new and unique ways of piquing their audience’s interest with ads like the one below.

Finnair shared a Christmas surprise with their audience:











So how can you surprise your audience with your Facebook ads?

  • Go past what would normally be expected of you
  • Build suspense to maximize the surprise. Think of how movies are launched and Apple builds up to the launch of new products.
  • Bring up current events even if they aren’t directly related to your industry, like how Oreo captalized on the Super Bowl power outage.
  • Create friction by creating a little controversy. Consider voicing an opinion on issues close to your brand values
  • Don’t be afraid to fail
  • Personalize it like Coca Cola did with their Share a Coke campaign
  • Create something that helps make a real connection with your audience members.


8. Increase your audience’s cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a situation when a person holds two conflicting ideas in their minds. This produces a feeling of tension. This in turn leads to a change in one’s      beliefs, or behaviors to reduce the tension and regain balance.

For example, a person who values being environmentally friendly purchases a car but then discovers that the car doesn’t meet the emission standards he thought it would provide. Cognitive dissonance then arises as:

  • It is important for the person to live a lifestyle that cares for the environment
  • He drives a car that is not environmentally friendly

In order to reduce dissonance, the person can:

  • Sell the vehicle and purchase another that does meet the emission standards he desires
  • Keep the car and use public transport or cycle more to reduce the levels of emission produced by using the car alone.


In advertising, brands often use cognitive dissonance to confuse customers by promising the same features as its competitors or more, or by explaining how their product is better than the competitor’s. An example of this would be Samsung placing its smartphones near an Apple store selling iPhones while offering better benefits.

Travel pillows are a commonly used and easily available item for most travelers. However, a new company in the ad below seeks to sway customers to invest in what they claim is the best travel pillow ever made.

So how can you create cognitive dissonance with your Facebook ads?

  • Reframe your products or services in a positive light by tapping into preexisting assumptions and behaviors. For example, reframing celery sticks as junk food.
  • Reinforce or create norms of desirable behavior like the Dove campaign for Real Beauty Evolution Sketches
  • Create ads that remove barriers, whether real or imaginary, like Westpac’s Impulse Saver campaign
  • Explain how your product or service is better than the competition’s
  • Promise the same features as the competition, or even more



9. Give people hope

People long to be better in some way. That’s why we buy things—to improve our lives.

While we know at some level that buying material things won’t make us happy, we still hold out hope that it will. Research has shown that our aspirations play a role in motivating us to take action.

When combined with social proof and brilliant copywriting, aspirational language that is designed to give your audience hope can be quite persuasive.

For example, take this ad for Hewlett Packard’s digital photography, which received a huge amount of positive feedback:

Amy Porterfield uses this principle in her advertising for a course she runs.

By using language like “How to confidently create your first profitable course in 60 days” and “Why sticking with your failed online course is smart,” Amy is speaking directly to her audience and giving them hope for a better outcome.

Another way to implement this is to give people a solution to help implement the hope you are promising to deliver. Goalcast does this in their ad below.


How do you use it?

  • Using aspirational language does not mean speaking hyperbolically
  • It could be as simple as selling benefits instead of features.
  • Paint a picture of a future scenario that helps your customers step out of their present and the problem they are trying to solve, making your solution more appealing.


10. Use appropriate colors

Did you know that 90 percent of snap judgments made about brands are based on color alone? Colors affect people’s moods, appetites, and sense of time passing. In fact, red and blue are among the most powerful colors to use.

Red has been used in nature as a warning sign so we are wired to have an instant reaction when it pops into our field of vision. It can even arouse us. So, using red in your ads can be quite effective, especially when paired with other colors.

Contractor Mortgages Made Easy (CMME) use red in this ad to gain their audience’s attention.


Blue can work quite well as it suggests competency and creates trust like Facebook does with their use of the color in their branding.

  1. Crew use a combination of red and blue in the ad below.

11. Tap into symmetry

The dictionary definition of symmetry is:

In other words, it is the creation of an image that has two sides, or halves, that are the same or very close in size, shape, and position.

People’s sense of beauty Is based on symmetry. George David Birkhoff, a mathematician, discovered that people find art more beautiful if it is symmetrical.

The Facebook post below is an example of how it can be used to draw people in.

Hootsuite uses symmetry in a few of their Facebook ads, like the one below, to catch their audience’s attention.

You don’t just have to include pictures of attractive people or objects that are symmetric in your ads. You can in fact play with symmetry by keep the subject off center in the photo. This makes the picture naturally interesting like the Amy Porterfield ad below.

How do you use symmetry in your ads?

  • To create a symmetrical image, you must ensure your camera is parallel to your subject
  • Use vertical lines of symmetry. The vertical line of symmetry is an imaginary line that runs through the middle of the image from top to bottom. In other words, it creates an image with similar left and right sides. So, to create images with symmetry, look for objects which would fit such lines of symmetry. You might consider objects like doors, pathways, certain forms of architecture, etc.
  • Use horizontal lines of symmetry. The horizontal line of symmetry is an imaginary line that runs through the middle of the image from left to right. In other words, it creates an image with a similar top and bottom.
  • Composition is key. For your images to be symmetrical the lines of symmetry both vertical and horizontal need to be centered within the composition. This applies to both horizontal and vertical lines of symmetry.
  • Use apps to create symmetry. This involves mirroring an image either horizontally or vertically. One such app is PhotoMirror.
  • Don’t get stuck on trying to see the world only in symmetry or you’ll miss out on other opportunities.


12. Share stories

Instead of trying to force facts and figures on to your potential customers, you can break through the noise and leave lasting impressions with storytelling. A study by Washington University found that brain activity from hearing a story is not much different than if the person were to carry out the actions in reality.

A great way to use storytelling in your ads is to sequence your ads to share your message. Refinery 29, a beauty, fashion, and style website, used storytelling to great effect in their ads on Facebook. They partnered with Adaptly and Facebook to test the effectiveness of their ads.

One test group was shown three Facebook ads in a narrative sequence. The sequence introduced them to brand, informed them via an article and included a call for an email subscription.

The other test group was shown the same number of ads but with different creatives. They each had the same email subscription call to action. The results showed that the group which was told a story through the ads converted at the highest rate.

How can you use stories in your ads?

  • Use carousel ads to create your story
  • Use videos to make your story relatable through the hero and their desire like co did
  • Hide details and introduce curiosity in your ads like Vice News
  • Use classic storytelling formulas

Create engaging Facebook ads

Using powerful triggers to boost your Facebook ads can help make them more click-worthy.

Research shows that ads that are capable of evoking emotions are more effective than others.

To ensure that your ads are effective you will need to ensure that you have :

  • A strong compelling call to action
  • That you get to the point quickly and use visual content that help illustrate the point and emotion you want to evoke in your target audience
  • Talk through the benefits of your product or service
  • Target your desired audience to ensure the message reaches those who are most interested in what you offer


Once you have these essentials covered you can boost the effectiveness of your Facebook ads by using the psychological triggers listed above. One or more of these triggers combined with a bit of creativity, original ad designs, and smart copy will lift the ad effectiveness.

Having said that, there is no one solution that will solve your Facebook ad effectiveness. So, test and find out what works best for your target audience and see your sales grow over time.

Get In Touch

Please fill out the details and we'll reach out to you shortly.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.