Ad Hack: Increasing Click-Through with Law of Effect (with Test Results)

In behavioral psychology, the Law of Effect is a principle that suggests:

Responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation.

In other words, you're more likely to do something that you believe will yield a satisfying effect, and less likely if you believe it will yield a negative effect.

Here are several examples (via Verywell Mind):

  • If you study and then get a good grade on a test, you will be more likely to study for the next exam.
  • If you work hard and then receive a promotion and pay raise, you will be more likely to continue to put in more effort at work.
  • If you run a red light and then get a traffic ticket, you will be less likely to disobey traffic lights in the future.

There's a strong chance that your game or app employs some form of this principle in order to keep users feeling rewarded and satisfied while using your app, such as a daily login bonus.

I've discussed how we can leverage psychology to increase ad engagement, but can we also use psychology - in this case the Law of Effect - to improve click-through rates? To test this hypothesis I ran a Facebook split test between 2 video ads, both based on a short Powerpuff Girls scene I had posted to my Instagram page (where I ultimately drove the traffic to).

  • Version A was an unedited 30 second clip of the scene
View this post on Instagram

Do you remember this episode?? 😂

A post shared by Super Nostalgic (@supernostalgic) on

  • Version B was the same 30 second clip, but edited to pause after 2 seconds and show a loading icon like you might see on a YouTube video
View this post on Instagram

Do you remember this episode?? 😂

A post shared by Super Nostalgic (@supernostalgic) on

Relying on the Law of Effect, I hypothesized that people are conditioned to try to fix a video that's struggling to play, whether it's refreshing the page or trying to open and watch the video at its source; or in this case, clicking a "view more" button. If this hypothesis is correct, then Version B (identified with the "Stop" label in the screenshot below) should drive more clicks and a higher click-through rate.

Test Results:

As you can see from the results above, my hypothesis was correct. Version B drove a 17.28% higher CTR than Version A, and nearly 14% more clicks.

The Problem with Law of Effect

If we're going to discuss applying this principle to mobile ads, then there's a slight flaw we need to consider: The Powerpuff Girls is a popular show, so people are already inclined to want to view more of the video clip. Law of Effect relies on a person being incentivized to achieve a satisfying result. Had I used a clip from an unknown show then the buffering trick could have actually backfired.

That said, there are other ways to incentivize viewers to watch your ad. If you want to try the fake buffering trick, you could:

  • Hook the viewer with an interesting story, then deny them its conclusion
  • Hook the viewer with strange visuals, then leave them wanting an explanation
  • Hook the viewer with suspenseful visuals, then leave them wanting more

Other tricks you could try include:

  • Using a "sound on" CTA in an ad with no audio
  • Censoring part of your ad but indicating an uncensored version exists
  • Simply cutting the ad short (essentially the buffering trick without buffering)

Keep in mind that while these tricks can improve CTR, they might not help with conversions. It's still important that you test before attempting to scale. A major factor that my test had going in its favor was the destination. Viewers who clicked my ads were taken to my Instagram page where they could view the full Powerpuff Girls clip, as well as other nostalgic content. But if you're driving users to the App Store, there's a chance they'll exit if they were expecting to see the rest of the video instead. To help counter this, ensure your storefront creative is highly optimized, and consider using similar visuals from your ad in your app preview trailer or screenshots.

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