What is the Difference Between Campaigns, Ad Sets, and Ads?

When you first get started in the world of Facebook advertising, the terms “campaigns, ad sets, and ads” can be very confusing—especially if you don’t have much experience in other ad platforms. Fear not, we are here to help you set the record straight once and for all. After reading this guide, you’ll be an Ads Manager expert.

What is the difference between campaigns, ad sets, and ads? A campaign is the top-level category where you decide your ad objective. An ad set is the second-level where you decide which audience you will be targeting, where you are sending traffic, and how much you want to spend. An ad is where the creative elements of your ads are decided such as images, videos, ad copy, and link types.

The reason Facebook has separated your ads into three buckets is because they want to give you more control over who sees your ads. Let’s face it, you are spending your hard earned cash on ads, you want to make sure your budget is maximized. Facebook ensures this will happen by giving you more control over analytics, ad placement, audience, and creative. Trust us, you want this power and Facebook was right to give you the power.

How to understand Campaigns, Ad Sets, and Ads:

Sometimes the best way to understand this is to see an example of what we wish it looked like. The top image is exactly what you see. Confusing right? The bottom tabs are what we wish newbie Facebook marketers saw.

The campaign tab is basically selecting why you are placing the ad (more traffic, convert leads, build your audience). The Ad Sets tab is basically your audience tab and selecting how much you want to spend on your ads. The Ads tab is where you get creative and you build the actual ad (images, videos, text, etc).

If you’ve ever boosted a post before, then you’ve experienced these three tabs in action. You picked the post to boost (ad), you picked your audience from a list or from a description of people (ad set), and the objective is set to engagement with likes, shares, and comments (campaign). Boosting is simply the quick and dirty version of Ads Manager.

What are Facebook Campaigns all about?

Facebook ad campaigns are an easy way for you to organize the reasons you are placing an ad in the first place (objective). When Facebook says objective, they are trying to understand what you want your ad to accomplish.

  • Maybe you want your ad to generate awareness about your product.
  • Or, maybe you want your ad to bring in loads of traffic to your website.
  • Have an agency? Your ad might be used to bring people into a landing page and generate leads.
  • You may want people to download your mobile app.

By telling Facebook what you are trying to accomplish, they will present you with different options for your ads and different reporting measures that are valuable to your business. Let’s look at an example.

On the image above, you can see two different campaigns. Campaign 1: The “Health Professional Traffic” campaign, meant to bring in traffic to a website. Campaign 2: The “Health Professional Campaign”, meant to drive people to a lead form for your audience to fill out.

But wait, that sounds like the same thing right? Actually, no. The difference is subtle, but important.

The top campaign is meant to purely bring in more traffic to my website page. I tell Facebook which page and they bring in my selected audience. I’m not measuring anything except pure traffic.

Think of this in terms of foot traffic in a brick and mortar store. The traffic campaign objective is like putting up a Grand Opening sign in front of your store. Your objective is foot traffic. You want people to come and see what you are about, what you sell, who you are, and most importantly—walk through the door.

I might use this campaign for any number reasons:

  • A new product in my store
  • Testing a new landing page
  • A second website that needs some traction
  • Increase Facebook messenger conversations

The second campaign is meant to drive my audience to my booking page. While I am looking at traffic, the main data I am looking at is conversion. I want people funneled from Facebook to my booking page to BOOK A CALL. That is all I am worried about. I am telling Facebook, “You bring them in, and I’ll close the deal.”

You can see how these two objectives are quite different. And the biggest difference will be in how I measure the success of those objectives. In campaign one, I’ll be measuring the cost to acquire traffic, how much traffic am I getting, how they interacted on my page, etc. On the second campaign, I am looking calls booked, cost per acquisition, cost per lead, etc (conversions).

How is a Facebook Ad Set different from campaigns?

Now that you have your campaign objective set, it’s time to SET your audience (ad sets). While the Campaign is the “why”, the Ad Sets is the “who and how much”. I like the remember that Ad Sets are like SETTING THE TABLE. It’s not the food (images, content, video), but it’s still a big part of the meal. Your Ad Sets are where you SET different audiences and SET different budget amounts. This is the first time where you might be asking, “Why separate them? Why not just have one ad creation wizard?”

Let’s say you own a restaurant and you want to start Facebook ads to bring in new patrons to your fine dining establishment. The campaign level might be really easy—TRAFFIC. Ok, set. But, let’s say you aren’t quite sure which patrons will respond the best to your ads. Is it the mid 30’s millennial looking for a great experience or is the generation X’er celebrating an anniversary? Ad Sets is where you get to test different audiences for the same objective (traffic). Make sense?

Here, you get to pick the age, the gender, interests, and specific targeting. That’s the beauty of being able to monitor BOTH Campaigns and Ad Sets. You get to see how different audiences perform for the same objective. Often times, you’ll find diamonds in the rough—audiences you never thought of.

Another reason you want to have Ad Set separated from Campaign objectives is to control your budget. It’s all about the money right? You can create multiple ad sets and put different amounts of money towards each set. Take our Millennial vs Generation X ad sets. Traditionally, your target market is Gen X, but you have a hunch that the right Millennial group could pay off huge. You have $20 to spend per day. You could allocate $15 to Gen X ad set and $5 to Millennial ad set.

This would allow you to put more of your resources to your bread and butter audience (pun intended) and less towards your test audience.

To recap: Campaigns are “why” you are placing your ad. Ad Sets are “who”, “where you are sending them”, and “how much $”.

How are Ad Sets and Ads different?

Facebook really confused the heck out of people with this one. They both say ads and so it’s natural to get confused. Above we learned that Ad Sets are where you SET your audience, SET your budget, and SET where the ad sends your audience.

Ads on the other hand are the fun part—the creative part. This is where you pick your image, video, carousel, headline, writing copy, etc. In other words, this is what people think of when they say “ad”. This is usually everyone’s favorite part. This is where you become the artiste. It is our favorite part.

\This is what an “ad” looks like.

You might be two steps ahead of me, but having separation between Ad Sets and Ads are also important. Here is why:

Let’s go back to the restaurant. Let’s say you have your Gen X audience and you aren’t quite sure your ad is going to resonate with them. Your Ad Set is Gen X audience and now it’s time to create different ads to see which one they bite on. Maybe one ad has a picture of someone eating and another ad has a video of your restaurant. You could even do a third ad that is a coupon. Your ad set (audience) didn’t change, but you decided to have multiple ads (creative elements) to test which one they click on most.

Many ad agencies will have dozens or even hundreds of ad variations for an ad set. For example a billion dollar makeup brand might want to engage their customers (campaign), between the ages of 18 and 25 (Ad Set), by showing them dozens of different make up products (ads). Or, maybe the make up company wants to engage (1 campaign) many different audiences (5 Ad Sets) with a few different ads (2 ads).

Putting campaigns, ad sets, and ads into proper prospective.

Separating Campaigns, Ad Sets, and Ads is all about control. Control over different components of the ad (images, copy, audience, goal, budget, etc) and control over the analysis and (general reporting, custom reporting, pixels, etc). If Facebook only allowed you to create one audience, one ad, with one objective—things would be easier to understand and manage—but your budget would burst into flames. It would also make testing an impossible task and it would take loads of guess work to target your ideal audience.

For anyone running ads who wants to maximize their return on investment (this is everyone), separating campaign objectives, ad set criteria, and ad creatives are absolutely essential.

September 2019 changes to ad spend:

I mentioned in the article that ad spend is set in the Ad Set tab. And for now, this is true. But starting in September 2019, Ad Spend will be set at the campaign level automatically. You won’t be able to set a budget for each ad set (audience) any longer. All marketers feel a certain way about this, but we feel it’s a good thing for the most part. Facebook will automatically spend more money on the ad sets that are performing the best and less money on the ad sets that aren’t performing well.

Facebook wants you to succeed at marketing because A) they took all your organic reach away already, and B) they want you to keep advertising with them as you achieve success.

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