Nov 15, 2020
For Creatives

Advertising for Creatives, Pt. 1: Building Awareness

Dan Servantes

One of the most important aspects of marketing your art as a creator is reaching a large audience that is predisposed to care about what you are creating. By reaching as many people as possible in your Total Addressable Market, the hope is that your art and purpose will resonate with a portion of that audience (the most passionate percentile) and that portion will become fans/customers, and, subsequently, begin “teaching” their friends about your work.

While you should always be searching for organic, non-paid methods of reaching new audiences, paid advertising is a reliable way to put your art in front of a large audience. It can be easy to look at the video views or the amount of people reached as a result of ad spend and feel content in your efforts. However, to reap long-term rewards from these ads, artists need to go a step further in strategizing how to use advertising to build a passionate audience.

In this article, you’ll learn where to advertise, who to advertise to, what type of content to use in your advertisements, and how to measure your ads.

Advertising Using Personas

A great way to lose money is to run advertising without any targeting. To find the people who are going to become your biggest supporters, you need to have some sense or assumptions about who those people are - where they live, what their interests are, etc.

Carly Sheridan's excellent Persona Driven Marketing article and George Howard's Psychographics, Not Demographics article provide a blueprint for identifying who you should be targeting why.

Where should you advertise?

Social media platforms provide the most accessible advertising platforms, both financially and technically. Many have low minimum spends and you can be pretty specific with your targeting.

Once you have a sense of who your audience is, you can then make an educated guess on which platforms your audience is spending time on.

The best social media platforms for your initial advertising campaigns are:

  • Facebook/Instagram (they use the same ad platform)
  • YouTube (run through Google Ads)
  • Twitter
  • Reddit

TikTok also has self-serve advertising, but their Creator Marketplace may be a better place to spend your money (if you have the budget)...a topic for another article.

Targeting Options

At the very least, you should have two targeting options in your campaign:

  1. Country: Most advertising platforms value impressions from English speaking countries — such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States — more than from other countries. Generally, the more disposable income a population has and the more people who are running ads against a country's population, the more expensive it is to reach them. However, depending on your art (and how important a local audience is to you), it is worth paying more to focus on your priority countries first.
  2. Similar Artists: If someone asks you: "What artists do you sound like?", and your answer is "No one, I'm making music that sounds like something no one has ever heard before", then you are either lying, a narcissist, or truly avant-garde (kudos to you). Assuming you do have artists that are similar in style but have a larger audience, start off by targeting their fans. It is likely going to be the largest target audience available to you and will help you reach the largest percentage of your total addressable marketing for the least amount of money.

In the event that you are a true crossover artist (maybe you're creating pop-punk jazz, for example), target fans of one genre/similar artists and then narrowing that by people who are ALSO fans of the second genre/similar artists. This will give you a unique audience of people that are interested in both genres that you are inspired by.

Depending on your art, the above options may not be enough for effective targeting. Someone creating children's music would need to focus on targeting parents, for example. Or someone creating art with a message about climate change may find more success targeting people with interests in green energy. A podcaster that focuses on skateboarding and anime would target people that are interested in popular skateboarding brands AND specific anime shows.

Advertising Creative

Now that you know who your audience is and why they might care about your art, you need compelling creative to capture the audience's attention. Most importantly, this creative needs to be attention grabbing in the first three seconds... or people will skip past  it.

Sometimes art speaks for itself. A musician that is a true virtuoso (and her fans follow her because of her virtuosity) can get by with promoting performance clips. Most artists, however, have art that takes a little bit more time or thought to appreciate. In this instance, you need to focus on the following concepts in your creative:

  • Connective Tissue: Something about your art will connect with your targeted audience based on their existing interests. Lean on that to introduce them to your art. Most people are reluctant to spend time learning about something new— especially from an ad. Make that learning hump as easy as possible.
  • Your Mirror: Your art will make some people see an idealized version of themselves. Whatever that idealized trait is - more creative, more compassionate, being better parents, being a part of a community, etc. - make it a tangible part of your creative.

And finally, make sure your ads are optimized for the platform and for attention. Generally, video ads are best for capturing people's attention. However, the video size changes depending on the platform. On Facebook, 16:9 and 1:1 (square) perform best, whereas Instagram story ads are 9:16 and feed videos work best at a 4:5 ratio. Before finalizing the ad creative google best practices for your ad platform to ensure your ads measure up.


Now that your ads are running, what should you be watching?

Reach and impressions will show you how many unique people you are reaching and how many times each person is seeing your ad. Reaching 1000 people and getting 1500 impressions means that each person is seeing your ad an average of 1.5 times.

But to tell how effective your ad is, you need to look deeper:

  • Video View % / Watch Time: How long do people view your ad? Do they leave after 3 seconds or do they watch the whole thing? How many people are watching more than 50% of the video?
  • Click to profile / New followers: Did people like your ad enough that they want to find out more about you? It will take more than one impression for people to become fans, but this is one of the most important metrics to watch.
  • Likes and Comments: Beyond just watching the video, how are people engaging with the ad? Are they commenting and liking the video? What are they saying?
  • Shares and Tags: One of the best results of an ad campaign is for people to share the post or tag their friends in the comments. In some cases, this can multiply your reach and give you way more bang for your buck as a result of all of the organic reach your ad gets. Plus, it means that you are striking a chord with your target audience and people are passionate about what you have to offer.

Next Steps / The Marketing Funnel

These awareness-level ads are only the beginning of the marketing full. In the Remote Musician's Handbook, I outline an artist-oriented marketing funnel.

At the first stage, you are building awareness: reaching this new audience for the first time (congratulations, you've already completed step 1). As people consume your art and start to follow you on various platforms, they move through the customer journey - becoming passive consumers, passive fans, and (hopefully) active fans.

Only a portion of people will make it from each stage to the next. This is why it's important to keep on filling the top of your funnel with awareness ads. As you get better at building your marketing funnel and converting people to fans, your ads will become more efficient. But you have to start somewhere— this is called a SWAG (sophisticated, wild-ass guess), and you have to start now. Over time, your SWAG will become more sophisticated and less of a guess; this reduction in variance is crucial.

In future articles, I'll talk about other ways to use advertising to boost your career as an artist; including topics like generating revenue from ads, retargeting people who have engaged with your content, and platform-specific best practices. You can watch my regular(-ish) series "The Music Industry Swipe File", where I break down what ads artists, labels, tour promoters, and other music-related businesses are running.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Dan Servantes

Dan Servantes is a marketing consultant at GHStrategic and author of the Remote Musician’s Handbook. You can follow him on Twitter (@DRServantes), on Medium, or via Entrepreneurship & Art.