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Artificial Intelligence Charity Technology

How Persado's AI helped clean water charity take 'trial-and-error' out of Facebook ads


By Kyle O'Brien, Creative Works Editor

February 13, 2019 | 5 min read

The lines between creativity and data keep blurring, and the effects are mostly positive, especially when it comes to uncovering a campaign’s most effective ads. That is certainly the case with Charity: Water’s use of Persado’s artificial intelligence (AI) tools to maximize its reach to donors.

New York-based international non-profit Charity: Water, which brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries, leveraged Persado's machine learning technology to understand if the language and images it uses in Facebook ads to resonate with potential donors. Then the company optimized its Facebook campaigns to get more recurring donors for its monthly program called The Spring.

The use of AI helped to streamline Charity: Water’s online grassroots efforts and make the best photos and messaging rise to the top. The results - a 32% uplift in conversions to The Spring - show how language and imagery really influence how brands can stand out from the noise, and how AI can streamline this process.

“Persado’s technology provided Charity: Water data-driven insights around the effectiveness of their marketing creative, while empowering them to explore and define their messaging,” said Assaf Baciu, co-founder and senior vice-president of product and engineering, Persado. “When organizations can confidently present the most engaging messages to their audiences, they suddenly have the freedom to be creative and experiment. Our technology helped Charity: Water step outside its comfort zone and successfully tell a story that would truly resonate with potential donors."

The process

Realizing that it needed to reach and keep millions of donors with its loyalty program, Charity: Water knew that social channels like Facebook were its best megaphone. But the basic analytics on the social platform needed a boost.

The team decided to partner with Persado to use AI to test and understand what aspects of the organization's vision resonated with different donor audiences and learn how to present those messages in its Facebook ad creative. Specifically, the organization wanted to understand whether content about its mission for clean water or being part of The Spring community would drive more results.

“Like many other organizations today, we historically relied on a labor-intensive trial-and-error approach to see how different images and messages performed, often running a few A/B tests for each campaign by hand, which was time-consuming and not always as conclusive as we’d hope,” said Jason Keramidas, chief product officer, Charity: Water.

“We decided to work with Persado to take the guesswork out of choosing the right message at the right time for a given audience. Persado’s AI provided us with comprehensive, predictive insights on our Facebook marketing campaign, and helped kickstart a new era of data-driven testing at Charity: Water,” Keramidas added.

Persado's Descriptive Insights

Persado machine-generated 16 Facebook ads across 1,024 permutations spanning different emotional sentiments, imagery, and narratives. This approach allowed the team to pinpoint precisely which stories and imagery were most powerful for different age segments and genders.

“Persado’s Message Machine is built on a foundation of AI, data science and computational linguistics, which together allow us to experiment and optimize the many variables that influence a campaign’s success. Our new descriptive insights tool adds an additional layer, giving us the ability to identify the top performing descriptive words and phrases that drove engagement,” added Baciu.

Charity: water's best ad

The results

Overall, it was found that messages appealing to a sense of community (using phrases like “together, we’re unstoppable”) outperformed those that focused on making history ("end the water crisis of our time").

Charity: Water saw a 227% difference in performance between the most and least effective campaign message, and varying the image shown in ads contributed more than 50% to engagement, and had the greatest impact on response rates. Emotional language was the second biggest driver of engagement at 35%.

Charity: Water experienced a 21% spike in website content views, 3,056 more website conversions and a 32% uplift in conversions to The Spring compared to previous campaigns.

“Persado’s AI was able to pinpoint precisely what language, calls-to-action and imagery would resonate most with our donor audiences on Facebook. Their algorithms determined that our audiences would find the story of what it means to be part of our Charity: Water community most compelling. These insights showed us that prospective donors are most inspired when they see messages about being part of a team fighting for the common goal of clean and safe water,” said Keramidas.

“Ultimately, we were eager to make stronger connections with potential donors on channels like Facebook, and put more confidence behind the ways we communicated our mission of bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries.”

Charity: Water said it would continue to work with Persado’s tools, including its just-introduced Descriptive Insights, to maximize donations.

“The concept of community is central to everything we do… the testing we did with Persado provided tangible proof that these messages of encouragement, community, and togetherness work, and armed us with the data-driven knowledge to shape future campaigns and inspire more people to join The Spring,” said Keramidas.

Added Baciu: “Going forward, Charity: Water can use our AI-generated insights to shape their campaigns across every channel and more meaningfully connect with new donors.”

Charity: water images
Artificial Intelligence Charity Technology

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