Monday, July 20th, 2015 | 9 min read
When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, some speculated that the price might be too high. A billion dollars seemed like a lot for a 551-day-old company that had yet to turn a profit. Fast forward three years – Instagram is wildly popular, with 300 million users and an expected $700 million in advertising revenue for 2015. That number is predicted to rise to $5.8 billion by 2020 (to put that into context, Twitter forecasts $2.2 billion in revenue for 2015).
The reason for this is clear: Instagram is getting serious about advertising.
In March of this year, Instagram unveiled Carousel Ads, which allow brands to include multiple images within an ad (previously, ads on Instagram consisted of a single image or video). In their blog post introducing the new ad type, Instagram explained that Carousel Ads were created because advertisers wanted to tell sequenced stories that “lead to meaningful results for their business.”
These more “meaningful” results come from the addition of a call to action button at the end of the ad sequence. Prior to Carousel, brands couldn’t link to external websites via Instagram, meaning ads functioned purely as a brand-building tool.
With enhanced storytelling capabilities and the option to link to external sites, Carousel opens up the full range of direct-response advertising and content marketing to Instragram advertisers: e-commerce, app downloads, lead generation, news and thought leadership, full-length videos, and more. What’s more, a few months after launching Carousel, Instagram announced that it’s bringing action-led buttons to all its ad formats, allowing users intrigued by an ad to sign up on a website, buy a product, or download an app.
Let’s take a closer look at Carousel and what it means for advertisers.
At first glance, Carousel Ads look similar to standard Instagram ads; the only difference is a row of dots underneath the main image that indicates the number of images in the sequence. The user can then flip through the images or, if they aren’t interested in the ad, just scroll past it.
When the user reaches the final image in the sequence, a “Learn More” button appears at the bottom right. The button isn’t visible until the very end of the sequence, which ensures that only users who are truly interested in the ad content see the call to action. While this might mean a lower click-through rate, it’s a clever way to protect Instagram users from a sudden influx of buttons – they’re introduced softly and can then be moved to a more prominent position over time.
When the user taps “Learn More,” the destination page loads within the Instagram app.
The implications behind Carousel’s launch are huge. Until now, Instagram advertising campaigns have been measured by surveying users. A sample of the audience is asked if they can remember seeing the ad or if they are aware of the product. The results can then be used to calculate a percentage figure for “ad recall.”
Now, in addition to brand building, advertisers can run a full range of campaigns that drive lead conversions, sales, or views. This, and the fact that users remain in-app after clicking, makes Instagram a viable advertising platform for campaigns that prioritize conversions.
Carousel also opens up new creative possibilities, as brands can utilize Carousel’s multiple-image format in many different ways. Here are some early examples:
GMC was the first brand to take advantage of Carousel to create a sequence of images that form a panorama. As the user swipes from left to right, the images work together to provide a widescreen experience for the user.
Showtime used Carousel to introduce different characters from the TV show Penny Dreadful. The sequence of images gives Showtime the opportunity to tell a more complex, compelling story than what would be possible with a single image. The “Learn More” button leads to Showtime’s video player. Here, users can watch behind-the-scenes footage and access its full catalog of video clips.
Banana Republic used Carousel to group together mini collections of apparel under the theme “clothes that you would borrow from your boyfriend.” The “Learn More” button opens up the mobile store within Instagram.
Brands could also use Carousel to tell jokes with a sequence of images, create visual tricks of the eye where objects seem to overlap from one image to the next, or use teaser campaigns that give just a little away about a product or service, relying on imagery to entice Instagrammers to click “Learn More.” Also, news outlets could post a headline and a sequence of images that lead through to a full story.
The possibilities are endless.
Social platforms have spent the past few years testing and tweaking mobile ad formats to figure out exactly what works (and prove to advertisers that it’s a viable advertising channel). So far, this has been achieved with ad placements that closely resemble user content: text, image, and video posts. Now that social mobile advertising makes up the majority of the leading social platforms’ ad revenue (nearly 75% of Facebook’s and 88% of Twitter’s), it can push the boundaries of native advertising and offer purpose-built tools designed for brands.
It’s notable that Carousel’s multi-image format is only available to paying advertisers – users and brands posting to their followers can’t use it. This is unusual; typically, with Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, new types of ads are based on organic content publishing formats that have been tested and tweaked for months or even years.
The first wave of social mobile ad formats didn’t take full advantage of the design possibilities offered by touchscreen mobile interfaces. Recently, we’ve seen great strides in the development of mobile apps such as Snapchat, Facebook Paper (Facebook’s newsreader app), or Flipboard that use swipe-based navigation with context-based menu systems that change according to where the user is in the app (rather than having all options visible all the time). But we haven’t seen this kind of progressive interface design filter through to ad formats on the leading social networks; ads have been relatively interaction free. Swipable images on Instagram are a step in that direction, and the “Learn More” button in Carousel Ads could be a doorway to fully interactive ads.
Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, recently unveiled plans to bring this kind of interactive, full-screen ad to the Facebook app. These ad placements would truly take advantage of the vertical touchscreen format and today’s large-screen devices.
These ads provide a similar experience to Carousel, and it would make sense for Facebook to align the two ad products so that brands can easily advertise on both platforms with the same assets.
Twitter recently dropped some of its Twitter Cards, including the Gallery Card, which has some similarities to Instagram’s Carousel. The Gallery Card allowed brands to include a gallery of images when users shared links from their websites. They also dropped Product Cards, which did the same for product features. It might seem like Twitter is moving in the opposite direction, but it also promised big plans for Twitter Cards in the near future.
Could this point to a new fullscreen interactive Twitter Card? We think so.
About the Author: Jamie O’Brien is part of the Sprinklr content team and is based in Singapore. In a previous life, he was a digital art director in London. He likes to get away from the city as often as is humanly possible to snowboard, dive, or hike.