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Instagram Stories: A Quick Primer

Published: July 8, 2019

Author: Tamer Rizk

As the Q1 2019 Facebook Benchmarking Report from Nanigans details, the Instagram Stories placement accounts for roughly 5% of digital ad spend, with adoption increasing despite swiftly rising CPMs and CPCs. Performance on the placement has been comparable with both the Facebook and Instagram News Feed, and there’s a big opportunity to grab user eyeballs and engagement for brands armed with solid creative testing strategies.
Of course, with rising costs come raised stakes. We recommend that advertisers test Instagram Stories, but not without a little knowledge under your belt first.


Creative will make or break performance – this is increasingly true in marketing campaigns across the board, but it’s especially true with Instagram and even more true with Instagram Stories. We’ve seen the following strategies work best:
Short + Sweet: Make sure your messaging is short and to the point. Users can easily click away from your ad, which makes it essential to grab their attention immediately. For photo ads make sure you use bold colors and a clear value play.

Create Urgency + CTA: For video ads, place the CTA three seconds in after leveraging the opening to create curiosity and interest. Encourage viewers to swipe up on your story by creating a sense of urgency, perhaps with a limited-time offer or an exclusive deal. Keep your message short and to the point with a clear call to action (sensing a theme here?).

Sound-Off Views: This is an important reminder, and one we need to dish out quite often for Facebook and Instagram: make sure your video has the same impact whether it’s on mute or not.

Carousel Ads in Instagram Stories (source)

There are two carousel formats that can be displayed on Instagram stories placement depending on what placement and creative inputs you have given your ad set.
Expandable Stories Carousel: This solution can serve up to 10 cards, and the creative assets don’t have to be 9:16. The first card displayed will be the CTA “Keep Watching.” Once the viewer clicks on the CTR, the remaining cards will unfold.
Native Stories Carousel: This solution will play 3 cards automatically without prompting the viewer for an action. To run with this format, you will need to select Instagram Stories as the only placement for your ad and must use 9:16 creative.

Technical Specs (source)

For images:

  • Recommended resolution: 1,080 x 1,920 pixels
  • Minimum resolution: 600 x 1067 pixels
  • Maximum file size: 30MB
  • File type: .jpg or .png
  • Images are shown for five seconds by default

For videos:

  • Recommended resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Minimum resolution: 600 x 1067 pixels
  • Maximum file size: 4GB
  • File type: .mp4 or .mov
  • Maximum video length: 120 seconds
  • Supported codec: H.264 and VP8 (video), AAC and Vorbis (audio)

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve concentrated a lot on creative in this primer, and for good reason: brands with lots of creative to test and rotate in have a huge leg up on competitors who don’t – especially on such a visual-heavy placement in arguably the most visual platform around. Before you invest, load up your creative library and have a testing strategy in place; this will help you avoid fatigue, find winners, and stand out amongst your competitors clamoring for attention on the platform.

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