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Instagram Stories Will Make Advertisers Stop Taking Creative for Granted

Written by: Ryan Kelly, VP Marketing

Last year, a franchisee of Mighty Auto Parts put a message on a road sign: “They are back. Pumpkin spice brake pads.”

With pickup on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, that goofy come-on showed a message can transcend a medium if it says something unexpected and interesting. As advertising pioneer David Ogilvy once said: “The drama belongs to what you say, not in the typeface.”

Yet for the past decade the ad industry has given short shrift to the message and has focused on distribution. Ad targeting, delivery, and measurement have all have improved over the years but content and creative has taken a back seat.

But creative still matters. A 2017 Nielsen survey, for instance, found that 47% of a brand’s sales lift from advertising came from the creative. In this case, “good” creative isn’t a subjective judgment, but an objective one based on the message’s ability to prompt a direct response from consumers.

Related post: Instagram Stories Ads: Good Creative vs. Bad Creative

Instagram Stories may be a tipping point for the “distribution versus creative” debate. Launched in early 2017, Stories now draws 400 million users — twice that of Snapchat. The size of Stories’ audience and consumers’ expectations for strong creative is forcing marketers to stop leaning on static images or repurposed TV commercials and consider the creative possibilities for Stories ads.

How digital dragged down creative

The ad industry’s emphasis on compelling creative started faltering in the early days of the Internet. Banner ads were too small to do anything clever and many just assumed banners were for branding rather than direct response advertising. Further, banner ads today don’t look very different from how they looked 20 years ago.

Search advertising is another medium in which targeting took center stage and wordplay and design mattered much less (and still does) than the right keywords.

“The size of Stories’ audience and consumers’ expectations for strong creative is forcing marketers to stop leaning on static images or repurposed TV commercials and consider the creative possibilities for Stories ads.”

When digital video became an option, many advertisers just ported over their TV ads onto YouTube or Facebook. In agencies, meanwhile, the once-mighty creatives started falling behind data scientists in the pecking order. Placing and targeting ads was considered more valuable than creating them.

Why Stories is different

Instagram brought with it an an aesthetic that aimed for professional-looking imagery. With today’s advanced smartphone cameras — along with Instagram’s filtering options — even a complete novice can post beautiful photos. This has prompted advertisers to up their game. Stock advertising looks jarring against a feed with carefully filtered pics of lattes and sunsets.

The most competitive brands responded by creating posts specifically for Instagram. To cite one example, Play-Doh’s Instagram feed is a colorful and creative parade of imagery, sometimes rendered in stop-motion photography.

Instagram Stories, on the other hand, has a completely different aesthetic. Stories is where you present an often raw, unfiltered version of yourself. Kayla Itsines, a popular fitness guru/influencer, is a good example of someone who “gets” Stories. Itsines has created a community of more than 20 million women who use her 28-minute Bikini Body Guide workouts. Itsines’ Stories are authentic and the videos look like they could be shot anywhere. The lighting and camera work could be described as amateurish. But that’s intentional and Itsines has seen tremendous success with Story ads.

Related post: 3 Ideas for Making Playable Ads a Boon for Retailers Too

Because Stories are vertical, brands shouldn’t just port their TV or YouTube ads. Also, because consumers check for new Stories frequently, brands need to ensure consumers aren’t seeing the same ad over and over. Not only should they be visually appealing without being too slick, they should be ever-changing and stoke curiosity.

Luggage brand Away, for instance, uses Stories for cinema verité photo shoots in Tokyo, Panama and Jaipur. Allbirds, the footwear brand, has used Stories for a quick Q&A with the brand’s VP of innovation. The feel for both is more editorial than advertising, but blurring that line is more effective with Instagram Stories than arguably any other medium as the ads should feel like a story (pun intended).

Another creative revolution?

As depicted in the TV series “Mad Men”, the ad revolution of the 1960s was when the creators of advertising raised sales pitches to the level of an art form. Advertising was designed to do what we ask marketers to do today: surprise and delight.

It’s understandable that with the explosion of new digital touchpoints and programmatic advertising that advertisers would focus on targeting, distributing and measuring those messages more than the content. But the pendulum may have swung too far.

If a brand’s budget for developing compelling creative is in the lower single digit percentage range, they’re likely losing out on massive gains from what could be more effective advertising. The necessity of producing bespoke creative for Stories should prompt brands to once again emphasize creative rather than keep treating it as an afterthought. Then the ad industry might relearn the lesson media learned long ago: content is king.

A version of this article originally appeared in Forbes.

Check out our Instagram Stories guide for new advertising tactics to try and common pitfalls to avoid.

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