The ad industry has a bit of a marketing problem. From mobile and digital to good ol’ print, consumers are exhibiting a lack of confidence in ads. The numbers don’t lie. Less than 25% of U.S. online consumers trust print ads. Even fewer believe in the digital media they see.

consumers don't trust ads

At the same time, despite category-wide distrust, advertising dollars are growing. In 2015, advertisers will spend nearly $600 billion dollars worldwide; that’s more than a 6% increase year-over-year. The U.S. is by far the biggest spender. Approximately 32% of the total global ad market will be attributed to U.S. dollars.

As budgets continue to rise, one question looms. How can marketers earn back the trust of ad-leery consumers? In this article, I share five ways to source effective ad creative that compels and converts your customers.

1. Think beyond your stock photos.

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I can tell you during different phases of my life what types of products have populated within my Facebook feed. About two years ago, it was Tiffany’s. I was nearing engagement, and after a couple of clicks on the jeweler’s website, I was barraged with sparkling rings. When I was half marathon training, it was running sneakers of all kinds. Most recently, it was a pretty leather handbag that caught my eye.

Thinking more deeply about these ads, the one thing that sticks out is how uniform they all are. Different product, same white background. They’re not unlike the product photos I first encountered while browsing the brands’ ecommerce sites. When retargeted with this image, I won’t lie; I typically—albeit briefly—notice. But ultimately, outside of a brand’s website, they’re pretty easy to ignore.

With access to aspiration-inducing channels like Instagram, Pinterest, shopping apps, blogs and so on, today’s shopper is increasingly overlooking traditional stock photos – especially in environments where they go to be not only informed but inspired.

In short, your customers are more likely to connect with a style of imagery that conveys a lifestyle. The good news is that most brands are still optimizing their ads for accuracy. To break this mold, forward thinking marketers (yes, you!) should be looking for ways to present products as visual experiences. It’s time to move beyond “the product.” By sharing the stuff your customers love in the context of an experience they want to have, you can drive action with your ads.

2. Repurpose inspirational Instagram images.

repurpose top instagram images to increase engagement with ads

Brand engagement on Instagram is continuing to flourish. It makes sense. Instagram images are inspiring (unlike those monotonous stock photos we just touched upon).

Ingrained in every Instagram image is not only an experience—as defined by the people, the products and the places in it—but also an underlying emotion. Some 70 million photos are shared to Instagram every day. Many of these images represent brands and businesses. And these emotive images—whether created by consumers or brands—are among the most inspirational creative assets marketers have today. It’s easy to see why brands’ Instagram images are delivering 58x more engagement per follower than Facebook and 120x more than Twitter.

Knowing how powerful Instagram images are, brands are now dedicating significant resources to creating beautiful content for this channel. One way to maximize the shelf-life of this compelling content is to repurpose your top performers in ads – not just on Instagram but on your other advertising channels. This is an efficient, financially feasible way to move beyond your stock photography and to showcase your products in a new light.

3. Reach out to your customers.

Instagram content isn’t only being pumped out in-house. The rise of mobile has made every consumer a creator, too. Nearly 85% of U.S. millennials own a smartphone, and they use them to share photos of friends, products, experiences and other noteworthy moments.

Unsurprisingly, brands are taking notice. Many have even begun to experiment with leveraging user-generated content (UGC) as a source of creative for ads. Of course, this requires a bit of finesse on the brand’s end. It’s one thing to ask a customer for permission to re-use their photo and to then share it to Instagram; this is a great way to celebrate your fans. It’s another to request permission, and to then hastily slap it into an ad.

If you’re planning on utilizing a fan photo within a paid ad campaign, consider compensating that customer. And, don’t forget to credit the creator. When it comes to UGC, a little recognition goes a long, long way.

One of the more impressive executions of a user-driven ad campaign comes from none other than Apple.

Prior to releasing the iPhone 6, the technology giant sourced 57 breathtaking photos from Apple customers (both amateurs and pros) around the globe. The images were featured throughout a multi-channel campaign, including print ads, a “world photo gallery” and across billboards from New York to Tokyo.

The photos served as inspiration for an entire generation of mobile users who enjoy taking pictures with their phones.

4. Enlist your brand evangelists.

Influencers are well-loved for their massive follower counts and high engagement rates. Their unique perspectives make them extraordinarily powerful too. Without creative directors and marketing executives to sway them, influencers are better able to think beyond traditional company branding, to push aesthetic boundaries, and to take creative risks. They have a fresh, uninhibited take on your brand, your products, and your overall value. This perspective is valuable to consumers and more likely to drive engagement with your ads.

5. Leverage popular images to maximize your CTR.

Think about your top performing ad. What elements made it great? Was it the image? The product? The text overlay? Now, what if I told you that you could double that engagement, and more importantly, it wouldn’t cost you a dime?

Historically, brands chose their ad creative in one of a few ways. Engagement data from earlier ads. Company branding parameters. Team-wide brainstorms. Gut instinct. This guesswork is no longer needed. Social sites, shopping apps and blogs provide brands with a wealth of insight into not only what types of products their customers want to buy but also what style of image drives action. Harness this data.

leverage social analytics to increase engagement with ads

The Grommet, an ecommerce platform through which innovative products are discovered and launched, offers a great example of this. Their hypothesis was that top-performing product photos on Pinterest could be used to inform their digital ad creative. So, they put their theory to work. By A/B testing a top performing digital ad from the past against a top performing Pinterest image from the present, The Grommet was able to prove that Pinterest-driven images generated a 50% higher click-through rate.

The Grommet now uses insight around popular social images to inform their ad creative. They update banners roughly every two weeks based on which images are trending organically, ensuring that their message is fresh and relevant.