On March 1, Instagram Stories celebrates the one-year anniversary of its official advertising rollout, which combines Snapchat-like aesthetics with Facebook’s audience-targeting capabilities. Over the past year, marketers have used the short-form video platform for a wide range of campaigns to varying levels of success.
It’s worth noting that while Instagram Stories advertising is a relatively new format, it’s one the industry can wrap its head around: it’s a hybrid between traditional Instagram post ads—which itself is a young platform, only rolling out large-scale in late 2015—and YouTube/Facebook-style pre-roll advertising.
While not a perfect platform, Instagram Stories gives marketers an opportunity to reach a large audience with video for a relatively small financial investment. And when done right, it can reap considerable benefits.
Nike and Laundry Service had one of the earliest marketing successes on Instagram Stores through the Jumpman23 account. The Michael Jordan sneaker-centric Instagram feed was an established favorite with sneaker- and sport-loving Instagram users, Nike used the Jumpman23 account to debut a new Michigan football jersey in Instagram Stories in the summer of 2016 before Stories advertising launched globally.
According to AdAge, the short video racked up 800,000 views in 24 hours. To put this into perspective, Instagram Stories had approximately 100 million daily viewers in October 2016, two months after the ad aired.
Although a campaign video with viewership level this high is an outlier, it gives a good idea of reach. As of November 2017, the most recent month for which data is available, Instagram Stories have 300 million daily active users.
Airbnb has also found some success using the platform, seeing a double-digit increase in ad recall from an Instagram Stories campaign, according to a post on Instagram’s business blog.
Many marketers will find Instagram Stories advertisements familiar, as the ads resemble vertical-oriented versions of traditional preroll. Instagram Stories ads just takes this a step further. For instance, campaigns can leverage Instagram-native elements.
For a campaign in late 2017, McDonalds Malaysia worked with agency IDOTYOU to target two animated video ads promoting McFlurries and McCafe drinks to Malaysians aged 18-44 with an interest in desserts and coffee. The firm integrated a timing bar made out of coffee beans into the ads and animation to differentiate it from conventional ads. According to Instagram, the campaign successfully reached 60% of the target audience and tripled in-store sales.
Overcoming Usability Challenges
While marketers are often fascinated by new technologies, they aren’t always perfect fits for their brands or campaign needs.
When it comes to Instagram Stories advertising, “skip swipe” is one of its most challenging aspects, said Alec McNayr of Fullscreen, as users are hypersensitive and can tell the difference between a friend’s amateur work and a “professionally-produced vertical spot.”
“An Instagram Stories view is one of the hardest views to earn in social media—but worth it,” McNayr told AListDaily. “You have to advertise while not looking like an ad. Instagram Stories is a much more private experience for people—much more than other social platforms, or, for that matter, the main Instagram.”
This may be a challenge for Instagram Stories to tackle in hindsight while the platform focuses on competing with Snapchat. As a selling point, Facebook offers its Instagram marketers considerably more detailed analytics than its yellow-ghost adversary—marketers can craft Instagram Stories campaigns around view counts, traffic, conversions and mobile app installations.
These abilities compensate for shortcomings in placing advertisements on Instagram Stories. Stephanie Cartin, co-CEO of social media firm Socialfly, noted Instagram Stories has a shorter call-to-action window for marketers compared to other formats.
“The user can’t go back to the Instagram Story ad once it’s played,” Cartin said. “This means they can only choose to take action, such as swipe up, within the time period the ad is playing. The length is also relatively short, from 1 to 15 seconds, which may not be preferable to a brand that doesn’t have a simple message for their advertising campaign.”
To maintain the platform for future use, Facebook regularly rolls out new tools for marketers to use within Instagram Stories campaigns. In February of 2018, Instagram debuted Carousel Ads within Stories—a new technique which allows up to three photographs or videos to be inserted within a single Stories ad. Corporate customers like The Gap are already using the new functionality.