UGC Outperforms Branded Stock Visuals In Facebook Ads for Air France

In the crowded and noisy world of social ads, it’s challenging for a brand to grab (and keep) people’s attention.

Like most brands, leading global airline, Air France, runs Facebook ads as a regular part of their digital marketing mix. Looking to set themselves apart and better relate to their audiences, Air France decided to test the impact of using user-generated content (UGC) across their Facebook ads.

“We wanted to diversify our visuals and offer a more relatable perspective to our audiences,” said Chloé Marchand, Director of Social Media at Air France.

Leveraging Stackla’s leading user-generated content platform to curate, rights manage and display UGC throughout their Facebook ads, Air France launched a series of A/B tests to see if the UGC-powered ads would perform better than their regular stock image ads.

To measure how effective each set of ads were at captivating and converting customers, they tracked the click-through rate (CTR), cost per click (CPC), cost per acquisition (CPA) and conversion ratio (CVR) of all the pay per lead (PPL) and carousel Facebook ads they were testing.

Building a Facebook Ad A/B Test with UGC

To quantify the performance of UGC against their branded iStock photos, several A/B tests were run.

Six travel destination were selected for the test: New York, San Francisco, Havana, Costa Rica, The Maldives and Réunion. To guarantee the reliability of the test, the ad copy used in the paid posts were the same and just the images that were displayed in the ads were differentiated.

Half their target audiences would see their iStock images that included their branded design elements (color stripes on the the sides of each stock image), and the other half would see the same ad, but with a UGC image that didn’t have any branded elements, but did credit the content creator on the bottom right hand corner of the photo.

Since all of Air France’s destination ads featured scenic stock images with no people in them, the UGC images also needed to be high-quality landscape images that were devoid of people.

With the billions of photos people post online everyday, this would normally be like finding needles in a haystack. But, with Stackla’s AI curation engine and visual recognition capabilities, Air France was able to quickly and easily surface the best landscape images people were sharing from each of the destinations Air France flies to.

Before Stackla, their social media team were manually searching for images on Instagram. Now, with Stackla, they aggregate content from multiple social networks by geolocation and then leverage automated and custom content tags for fast discovery, filtering and distribution.

For example, to find relevant UGC images of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, they can pull in content from that geolocation, relying on Stackla’s visual recognition tool to scan and auto-tag each image with relevant visual markers like “bridge” or “person”. These tags allow their team to quickly filter out images that feature people and search for only images that feature the Brooklyn Bridge. Once they’ve identified the images they want to use throughout each of their targeted campaigns, they can add a destination tag to it for seamless use across their social ads.

“Our team is saving hours each week using Stackla. We can quickly look for visuals based on hashtags, location or brand mentions, then add in destination tags. Stackla makes it easy for us to build a full and authentic visual content library of all our destinations.”Chloé Marchand, Director of Social Media at Air France

To obtain legal rights to these UGC images in their paid ads, Air France leveraged Stackla’s comprehensive Rights Management workflows.

“We have strict internal requirements for content, so obtaining legal rights from content creators to publish their images is a critical requirement for us. It’s very seamless and easy using Stackla’s robust rights management workflows to manage permissions for the thousands of UGC photos we use.”

The A/B Test Results

Once they had pulled in and rights-managed the specific UGC images they needed for each A/B destination test, Air France launched the Facebook ads for all six destinations.

Running for 9 months, the test revealed that the ads featuring user-generated images performed better than their branded stock photo ads across all key performance metrics.

“Stackla allowed us to create engaging ads for our destinations by fuelling them with readily available UGC images, removing the need to purchase thousands of individual images.”

Not only did the UGC Facebook ads produce higher CTRs and CVRs, but they also delivered lower CPC and CPA than the branded stock images:

  • 4 percent higher average CTR
  • 1 percent higher average CVR
  • 3 percent lower average CPC
  • 9 percent lower average CPA

Across their audiences, UGC particularly resonated with prospective Air France audiences who may not have been as familiar with the brand as Air France customers.

In an additional round of A/B tests for a flash sale they were promoting, the UGC PPL Facebook ads outperformed their stock images by even greater percentages:

  • 11 percent higher average CTR
  • 21 percent lower average CPC
  • 2 percent lower average CPA

“The user-generated visuals we tested outperformed our branded Facebook ads across all of our core KPIs and helped us better target audiences who aren’t as familiar with our brand. It’s clear that people respond more to visuals that are real and relatable — particularly on social platforms like Facebook.”

Next Steps

With the success of their A/B test, Air France started tapping into the power of UGC offline as well.

As long-time supporters of the French Olympic team, Air France used Stackla to support their 2018 Winter Olympic campaign.To harness the enthusiasm of French fans in real time, Air France hosted a Stackla-powered live social wall at the French Club in PyeongChang, encouraging fans to send their best wishes to the French athletes using the #GoEquipeFRA hashtag in their tweets to be seen by the athletes at the games.

Not only was the social wall dynamic, real-time and engaging, but Air France was able to use Stackla to run and moderate entries for a competition for the best entry to win a free trip.

They’ve also decided to scale their use of UGC in digital campaigns worldwide, largely using it to replace stock photographs. They’ll be activating new markets and campaigns, like retargeting, with UGC visuals soon and are even preparing to integrate UGC into their website, Instagram and email campaigns to make them more dynamic and personalised.

“User-generated content has helped us differentiate ourselves from other airlines,” Chloé said. “We’re looking forward to increasing the visibility of UGC visuals throughout our marketing.”