Every brand has a story to tell. In today’s era of narrative-driven marketing, that’s truer than ever.
And every brand also has Stories to tell. The growing importance of Instagram and Facebook’s Stories format for mobile-driven storytelling – for consumers and brands alike – has made it a crucial channel for delivering messages in new and innovative ways.
Stories is increasingly becoming the format that consumers use across these critical social channels. It’s fun, vertical, immersive and totally modern. It’s a way of using quick-hit visual excitement to engage and enchant people. It’s how your customers are communicating with their friends and documenting their journeys.
In fact, over 500 million accounts use Instagram Stories daily and more than 300 million use Facebook and Messenger Stories daily.
Businesses are taking note, which is why they’re turning to Stories to help drive marketing results. There are more than 2 million monthly active advertisers on Stories ads, and they’re using this format to drive results across the customer journey from awareness to sales.
But many of the old rules of visual storytelling don’t apply to this emergent format. Stories has changed consumer behavior, so brands need to deliver their messages in fresh ways that fully embrace its narrative power. It’s a new canvas. Some have conquered it. Others are experimenting and watching their results. The bible of best practices is still being written.
So, whether you’re just getting started with Stories or you’re an old hand at it with a full year’s worth of know-how, you’ve got to be ready to maximize the creative impact of your campaign.
Let's take a dive into five of the imaginative ways leading brands around the world are making Stories ads their own.
Stories are mobile. And to create an immersive video experience on mobile, you need to fully embrace the vertical format because, well, that’s the way that people hold their phones.
But the 9x16 vertical format doesn’t simply mean you want to chop a segment out of your traditional landscape videos. That just won’t work. You’ve got to get creative and understand what people expect in vertical.
Consider, for example, what these Instagram creators have to say about vertical video.
Let’s cover a few basics.
First off, consider what was the inspiration behind many of the first vertical executions – selfies. Vertical works best when it zeros in on a single item that fills the frame. It could be a person. Or it could be your product. Tight close ups that might seem excessive on a bigger screen really become engrossing on mobile. More space and fewer distractions.
Vertical also requires you to think up-and-down instead of side-to-side. The viewers' eyes are interested in what is coming down from the top of the screen or up from the bottom. The flow of movement in your Stories should incorporate this. After all, that’s why the key command is “swipe up” and not “swipe right.”
When U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer built a Stories campaign around its “Our Best Ever Burger” competition, it took full advantage of the vertical canvas. Instead of shooting the burger from above, it took a side view, utilizing the height of the vertical layout to show the height of a well-dressed sandwich. It then let the user see the way everything got put together, with bun, lettuce, tomato, beef, cheese, pickles and bacon dropping down from the top of the screen to create the best burger.
Fashion rental subscription service Le Tote saw the vertical format as the ideal way to show models in its clothes. Full body shots go head-to-toe from the top to the bottom of the screen, using movement and a bright background to make each outfit stand out. Cuts to closeups show different pieces and the attitude of the models, while providing a canvas for native ad elements like stickers and a clear call-to-action around the offer.
Quick cuts and fast-moving creative fit the mobile format. That’s why many successful Stories advertisers use speed as a creative tool.
People consume Stories quickly. Plus, on average, top-performing ads in Stories were shorter than lower-performing ads. While you should let the quality of your content drive the length of your Stories, it really pays to be succinct and to get to the point immediately.
What does that look like?
Try different lengths. A little testing of, say, 3-, 6- and 15-second clips will give you a sense of what works best for your particular creative and messaging. What’s important is you get to the point quickly – this is not a format that lends itself to a lot of set-up.
And speaking of quickly, get your brand in as early as possible. Title cards, logos and using brand storytelling upfront will help support things like brand recall.
HelloFresh, for example, starts off its Stories ad with its logo on one of its signature delivery boxes, so people know immediately what the ad is about. Users tap to open the box and then tap to enjoy the ingredients put together into a tasty meal. It all happens in just a few seconds, ending with a call-to-action for the viewer to swipe up on the offer.
Reservation platform OpenTable, meanwhile, kicks off the O of its logo before using succinct and direct language – Find a restaurant. For any occasion. – to highlight its value proposition. In less than six seconds, you know the brand, what it stands for and what your benefit will be.
You’ve no doubt heard that your mobile Stories should be able to be understood with the sound off. That’s a standard best practice for a lot of fast-format digital video. But here’s a little secret: Sound can also make a big difference.
In fact, many people view Stories with the sound on. Sound also affects conversions. To understand the impact of sound on performance, Facebook conducted a conversion lift study comparing performance of ads with sound versus the same ad creative without sound. It found that 80 percent of the time the creative with sound outperformed the no sound creative for conversion metrics.
What’s the best way to delight with sound?
Many brands turn to music. Coca-Cola Mexico used a fun cut from Kevin Johansen’s “Guacamole” to link its “Comida Rica” Stories ads to its bigger campaign about how the soft drink goes with delicious food. Note as well how the spot uses playful carousel images to underscore the lighthearted soundtrack.
For Halloween, Butterfinger played off the sounds of the season – spooky tunes, a lightning storm, the flapping of bat wings. A simple spot for candy-driven festivities, but sound plays an important role in making the brand stand out.
Another option? Voiceover, especially when you want to add more information about your product or service.
Instagram and Facebook Stories themselves are often divided into a series of visuals. As a result, viewers are often quite receptive to ads that build their narrative through multiple quick scenes or chapters.
In other words, two (or more) scenes are better than one.
But before you turn your Stories into Dickens novels, remember that it is all about your narrative arc. Be judicious about the lengths of individual scenes, not to mention the length of the overall execution. Your goal: allow on-the-go Stories viewers to take in as many chapters of the Stories as possible.
Wrigley’s 5 Gum did this by creating five-chapter stories in the form of a five-second countdown. Each execution – using images edited down from the brand’s TV spots – tells the story of a potentially life-altering scenario like leaning in for a first kiss. The result? Optimizing the ads for Instagram Stories alone resulted in an 11 percent lift in sales (per Nielsen Catalina analysis).
But multiple scenes don’t have to have that kind of arc. Fashion, for instance, can turn multiple styles into multiple chapters. Topshop, for instance, uses a series of quick cuts to show different parts of its collection. A little vibrant. A little bit rock-and-roll. A uniting narrative that can include a half-dozen different pieces in one 12-second spot.
Here’s the thing about the Stories format: There’s always a new way to immerse viewers in your message. The best way to find out new best practices is to try a little experimentation. Mix and match different creative elements. Look for ways to bring some interactivity to your ads. Take advantage of native elements like stickers that your viewers might be using and incorporate them into your efforts.
Play. Make your Stories fun.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to incorporate the whole kitchen sink of Instagram elements into every one of your ads. Use them strategically so they add something to your overall storytelling.
That’s what Dunkin’ did. When Instagram released the polling sticker feature in ads, the Dunkin’ team tried it out immediately. It asked viewers to choose their favorite American classic – donut or fries. The polling feature let viewers see the overall vote tallies. But the message revealed something far more exciting – they didn’t have to choose. The ad showcased a new product that combined both, Dunkin’ donuts in an easy-to-eat french fry shape.
Ikea also did some experimenting with Instagram creative elements. This holiday campaign in Korea used stickers to add dynamic graphic elements to the different scenes. The goal: Make the stories more interesting so that viewers are more likely to engage with them.