5 Tips to Up Your Instagram Stories Ad Game

For a while Instagram Stories ads were fairly subtle. There weren’t a ton of brands that were using them—and since Facebook originally required a separate ad set (as well as ad creative) for Stories ads, the brands that were using them were generally a little bit more social media savvy and thoughtful about the content they were sharing.

That all changed earlier this year when Facebook added Instagram Stories as an ad placement for existing ad sets. Now, all businesses have to do is check the “Stories” box in Business Manager, and their Facebook ads are automatically reformatted to run in Stories. Great.


Automatically generated Stories ads look like…ads. Really bad ads. The copy is small and hard to read. The images aren’t full screen or immersive. And they all look exactly the same so users can identify (and skip over) the content quickly and easily.

Not exactly a recipe for success.

But on the bright side, this flood of really bad Instagram Stories ads has created an opportunity for savvy marketers to stand out on the platform. And it doesn’t take THAT much work.

Here are 5 simple tips to create Instagram Stories ads that actually help, not hurt your brand.

1. Create ads specifically for Instagram Stories

The number one mistake that marketers make with Instagram Stories ads is just grabbing their ads from other platforms (usually Facebook—or even Instagram feed ads) and plugging them into Stories. Not only are the images not sized correctly, and the text becomes really hard to read—but the content doesn’t look native to Stories either. It makes the ads really easy to spot (and skip) because they stand out like a sore thumb. It also gives consumers the impression that the brand isn’t really savvy on social media and is just using it as a way to interrupt users with advertising, which can quickly erode trust.

2. Use native Instagram fonts, features, and graphics

In order to avoid the dreaded swipe left (i.e. skipping over the ad), it’s critical that Instagram Stories ads look native to the platform. Using the right size image (1080 x 1920 pixels) is the first step—but even more important than the actual ad specs is the content within the image. Stories ads should use native Instagram fonts (or at least make the brand fonts look like they COULD have been Instagram fonts by using a background highlight or glow) and take advantage of decorative features like on-screen GIFs, arrows, and emojis. It’s also helpful to style the ad so it looks like an organic Instagram Story, rather than edited and polished. If a story looks “too perfect” it becomes obvious that it’s an ad.

3. Explore different formats

Instagram Stories ads are currently available in 3 different formats: single image/video ads, carousel ads, and canvas ads. There are advantages and disadvantages to each ad type, so it’s best to explore the different formats and see which ones perform better for your specific goals and objectives.

While single image/video ads are easier to skip over (tap once and they disappear), they are the only ad format where you can include an interactive poll—a feature that is native to organic Instagram Stories and known to attract higher levels of engagement.

Carousel ads (three story slides in a row) on the other hand are great for retention (if a user skips the first slide, they still have additional slides to browse through), but they require additional creative and aren’t compatible with the poll feature.

Last but not least, the canvas ad format offers advertisers a microsite of sorts within their ad that users can access without leaving the Instagram platform. Importantly, it loads up to 15x faster than a traditional website. That said, this format is only available in a standalone ad, not within a carousel series.

Make sure to explore the various ad types available and compare results before deciding which format is best for your brand.

4. Keep Instagram Stories ads fresh

Savvy marketers already know that they should be changing up their social ads relatively frequently in order to keep things fresh, but this is even more true on Instagram Stories, where users are accustomed to seeing content for only 24 hours before it disappears. If users start to see the same story slides over and over again in their feed for days or weeks at a time it’s not only obvious that the content is an ad, it also makes the ad feel irrelevant. Instagram Stories was designed so that users could share real-time content, and while ads are able to have a bit longer shelf life since they reach different users each day—it’s important to update them frequently so that they continue to feel relevant and timely.

5. Supplement with organic stories

While an active Instagram account isn’t required to run Instagram Stories ads (you can run them using a Facebook Business Manager account), they work best when used in tandem with an active social media presence—especially on Instagram stories.

When a user sees your Instagram Stories ad in their feed, they will often click over to your Instagram page to see your other (organic) content. If there’s nothing there, the ad can start to feel invasive—like you’re taking up space in their feed without actually contributing value to it. Especially among younger generations, where social media interaction is seen as a reflection of brand authenticity, having an active social presence that expands beyond advertising is critical. Even posting just a couple of organic stories a day or a week can help boost the value of the content you’re paying to promote.

While Instagram Stories ads do require dedicated creative to perform well, they’re a worthwhile investment for brands that are committed to social and that have audiences using the Instagram platform. With Stories sharing set to overtake Instagram feed sharing by the end of 2020, the share of media dollars allocated to this platform is likely to increase dramatically in the months to come. Getting ahead of that trend today is a smart move for any forward thinking or emerging brand.

About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside of Maine.

At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference for each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.

With Ethos, you get more than a marketing agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.

Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!

Written By

The ETHOS Team