It’s official – Instagram stories are here to stay.

And now they’re better for brands than ever, thanks to the Instagram Stories Ads.

In this article, I’ll cover exactly what the ads are, how brands can use them, and who will benefit most from them.

How to use ads in Instagram stories

By now, you’re likely pretty familiar with the stories format.

It began with Snapchat, and in March 2016 Instagram jumped on the bandwagon and introduced Instagram Stories.

It proved to be a very good move. As of June 2017, the feature hit 250 million daily users.

Naturally, brands started to wonder how they use Stories to drive business goals.

And Instagram listened. In January 2017, it launched Instagram Stories Ads with a select group of advertisers, later opening the format up to all brands in March.

Introduction to Instagram Stories Ads – What Are They and How Do They Work?

Stories Ads take advantage of Instagram’s increasingly popular stories format.

Like all Stories, they appear at the top of user’s feeds and disappear after 24 hours.

Once a user clicks on a story, all videos play automatically one after the other, until the user closes the stores (swipes out).

Instagram Stories ads work similarly. They play between users’ stories, creating a seamless flow from story to advertisement. Ads are virtually indistinguishable from follower’s stories, save for a small “sponsored” overlay at the bottom.

Stories ads are made up of a single image or a video up to 15 seconds long.

Instagram Stories Ads

Instagram Stories Ads

What Makes Instagram Stories Ads Different From Other Ad Formats?

The nature of the story format allows brands to connect with their audience in some pretty unique ways.

First of all, it’s one of the first ad platforms to offer the full-screen format. And while that may not seem like such a big deal, the added real estate can go along way in creating an engaging experience.

As Instagram likes to call it, it’s basically “a billboard for your brand.” The full-screen view allows brands to create a truly immersive experience – there’s nothing else on the screen, so while your ad is playing, it has their full attention.

Because of that, brands can employ one of the greatest techniques at their disposal: storytelling.

“We’ve seen an explosion in creativity and storytelling,” says Instagram, and it’s no wonder – they are called Stories ads, after all.

The format can help brands bring their message and products to life in almost any way they see fit.

How Brands Are Using Instagram Stories Ads

In a recent webinar, Instagram covered some of the key observations they’ve noticed in Stories ads so far.

  1. Creating stories in different ways

Really, that’s the beauty of the platform. There’s no one way to tell a story, and each brand is free to adapt the feature in the way that works best for them.

Instagram notes that the storyline and strategy behind the message are what should ultimately drive the production approach.

Here are a few ways brands can experiment with creativity:

  • Bespoke Creative – many brands are creating stories from scratch, catered to fit the Instagram stories ad format.
  • Adaptations – A story is a great place for product placement and announcements.
  • Pre-produced Assets and Enhancements – Already have some killer images or footage? Great – cut the work in half and repurpose your material to fit the story format.

Examples:

AWOL by Qantas used the bespoke approach to take viewers around the world – just like their product does.

AWOL by Qantas Instagram Stories Ad

AWOL by Qantas Instagram Stories Ad

Louis Vuitton adapted it’s new line into an immersive story for its audience by using the platform to introduce its Spring/Summer 2017 launch campaign.

Luis Vuitton Instagram Stories Ad

Luis Vuitton Instagram Stories Ad

DSW didn’t waste any time. They took a different approach by creating a blog-esque story: the top 5 shoe trends viewers need to see. Using existing footage, they created a compelling and informative ad for their viewers (one that doesn’t even feel like an ad)

DSW Instagram Stories Ad

DSW Instagram Stories Ad

  1. Play with creative techniques

With stories, you’re encouraged to take your creativity a step further.

One of the coolest things about Instagram is that you can use a number of creative tools to spruce up your images and videos. It’s an easy way to make your stories stand out to your viewers and stand apart from the competition.

Experiment with:

  • Emojis
  • Native tools like handwriting, stickers and creative overlays

Examples:

The Honest Co. jumped on the Instagram story bandwagon early and has used it to promote their product line with text-heavy stories that keep readers engaged.

The Honest Co. Instagram Stories Ad

The Honest Co. Instagram Stories Ad

And Starbucks used text to introduce their story of an Iced Coconut Macchiatos and an Iced Caramel Macchiato. Talk about some creativity.

Starbucks Instagram Stories Ads

Starbucks Instagram Stories Ads

  1. Take a fresh approach to vertical

All stories run vertically on Instagram. While that doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of creative formatting, a few brands have proved there are still ways to think outside the (vertical) box.

Examples:

One of the most intuitive ways to use vertical is shooting vertically right from the get-go, like ASOS did here. The fashion brand used to the feature to bring viewers a story in the style of a fashion shoot.

ASOS Instagram Stories Ads

ASOS Instagram Stories Ads

Or, take a page out of YOOX’s book and break up the frame into smaller canvases. Here, the fashion brand adapted an existing TV commercial into this Instagram story ad, and played with unique techniques by splicing the screen. It’s memorable and cutting edge – just like its fashion.

YOOX Instagram Stories Ad

YOOX Instagram Stories Ad

AKBank put a modern spin on the traditional Brady Bunch intro by including the split frame design in its story. The result? One of the coolest ads we’ve seen yet.  

AKBank Instagram Stories Ad

AKBank Instagram Stories Ad

  1. Infuse your brand name

At some point in the story, brands need to make sure viewers know who they are – this is an ad, after all.

Who your brand is should be central to your Story ad – everything you choose to show should connect back to your brand identity and help tell its unique story.

Are you an adventure or outdoor brand? Your story should reflect that with high-adrenaline and scenic shots.

A cutting-edge fashion brand? Your story needs to be edgy as well.

When it doubt, try to include your brand name within the first three seconds of the story.  Attention times are short these days, so it’s generally recommended to get your message across as soon as possible.

Let’s take a look at some other ways to incorporate your brand name.

Examples:

Lays left no question about who was advertising by integrating their brand throughout the entire story.

Lays Instagram Stories Ad

Lays Instagram Stories Ad

On the other hand, Airbnb took the risky approach and left its brand name at the very end of the video. Luckily, its unique take on different Airbnb is eye-catching and engaging enough to keep viewers around to the very end.

Airbnb Instagram Stories Ad

Airbnb Instagram Stories Ad

  1. Create a fully integrated experience

Though Instagram stories ads are the newest on the scene, don’t ignore all the other ad formats the platform has to offer.

Instead, use them to your advantage by running your ads in different ways. Put them in a Story, create a Live video, and post a single video or image ad in your follower’s newsfeeds.

Extra Tips for Creating Instagram Stories Ads

In addition to the top 5 trends above, Instagram also has the following tips for businesses interested in the Story format:

  • Think of ephemerality as a creative tool – brands must be extremely thoughtful and strategic about their ad content, knowing that it will disappear; the idea is to drive emotion and capture attention in the given amount of time – think how-to’s, tutorials, and flash sales
  • Leverage the intimacy of stories – due to the visual and immersive nature of Instagram, brands have a unique opportunity to tell intimate and connective stories
  • Big ideas and stories matter – it’s not all big budget and production; there are plenty of tools to help you create custom content. Focus on telling relevant stories and thoughtfully crafting that takes advantage of the platform
  • Run several different variations of times and formats
  • Play with different tools like Boomerang, Hyperlapse, Strine
  • Don’t limit to just one ad format – use multiple
  • Test and test again – test your creative, your copy, even your use of different creative elements like emojis and stickers

Instagram Stories Ads Technical Requirements

With a new ad format comes new formatting guidelines, and we have them all covered here.

Remember, you have the option to use either a photo or 15-second video.

Photo requirements:

  • Resolution: 1080×1920
  • Aspect ratio: 9:16

Video Requirements:

  • Recommended resolution: 1080 x 1920.
  • Minimum resolution: 600 x 1067.
  • Aspect ratio: 9:16.
  • Max file size: 4GB.
  • Recommended video formats are .MP4 and .MOV.
  • Video length max: 15 seconds.

Instagram Stories Ads Best Practices

As you get started with your Stories, there are a few best practices that will help you get off the ground.

  1. Experiment with the best way to tell your story

As we saw above, there’s no one right way to tell a story. Some are better for suited for product releases, while others may find more success with image montages or tutorials.

The only way you’ll find what works best for your brand is to experiment. Try different ideas, angles, and use all the tools at your disposal to bring your story to life.

  1. Make sure your initial screen grabs attention

This is one case where you don’t want to save the best for last.

While the story format is great for demanding a viewer’s full attention, it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Mainly, that viewers can easily swipe out of your ad if they’re not entertained.

To cut down on that, make sure the first few seconds of your video or image are eye-catching and engaging.

And remember, users won’t be able to access your story again, so make sure you get your message across in a memorable way.

  1. Add Music

Another way to catch attention? Adding music.

While it may seem popular to watch most videos on mute, recent studies have shown that 60% watch videos with the sound on.

As always, you’ll want to select a tune that’s appropriate for your target audience and fits in well with your story’s overall message.

  1. Keep it relevant

This one is true across the board when it comes to marketing strategy.

Make sure your story is in line with your overall goals and objectives and focused on your target audience.

Some ideas include:

  • Top lists – like DSW did in the example above, use your story to visually show off a list of products, events, features, etc.
  • How-to’s and tutorials – anything you can teach or explain in 15 seconds or less is gold here
  • Product announcement – Luis Vuitton did this with their 2017 line. A story is a great place to show off additions to your line and build some buzz for a new product release
  • Holiday-themed story
  1. Use strong messaging and clear CTA

Use text to your advantage to help engage your readers and tell your story. And as always, end with a clear call-to-action (CTA). What should your viewers take away from your ad, and what action should they take next?

Should Your Brand Focus on Instagram Stories Ads?

As always, brands should focus on the formats and channels that work best for them.

That said, the use of the Stories feature opens up a lot of opportunities for brands by allowing them to show their audience a more creative, intimate side.

Ads can attract a new audience, and expose that audience to the stories you want them to see.

But before launching into stories, consider your brand and where it’s historically performed best. If you’ve seen success on Instagram, there’s no reason not to give stories a try.

Keep in mind, Instagram’s primary audience is 18-34 year-olds and, and mostly female.

Beyond that, consider the resources at your disposal. While Instagram makes it as easy as possible to set-up and run ads, the story format will require the time and costs associated with production.

So before jumping in, sit down and brainstorm. What’s your brand all about? What’s it’s main goal or objective? Who is your target audience, and what content is most relevant to them?

Then, ask yourself how you can use those answers to create a unique and compelling story.

Wrapping Up Instagram Stories Ads

Stories ads represent a lot opportunity for brands; and so far, the format has seen quite a bit of success.

After all, every brand has a story to tell. Why not share yours?