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8 Tips for Creating Highly Effective Instagram Stories Ads

Instagram Stories Ads live within Instagram Stories, and appear like a commercial break between your friends’ and family’s video content.

Stacey McLachlan August 2, 2022
cover illustration

Instagram Stories have captured the hearts (and eyeballs) of Instagram users across the world. So is it any surprise, then, that Instagram Story Ads are one of the very best ways to advertise on the platform?

With more than 500 million people using Instagram Stories daily, brands have a massive opportunity to make an impression. In fact, 58% of Instagram users report being more interested in a brand or product after watching their Stories.

So if Instagram is part of your brand’s social media strategy: it’s Story time, baby! Here’s everything you need to know about making effective, engaging Instagram Story ads.

Get your free pack of 72 customizable Instagram Stories templates now. Save time and look professional while promoting your brand in style.

What are Instagram Story ads?

An Instagram Story ad is paid content that appears as users are watching Stories on Instagram.

Bombas decorating the tree video ad
Source: Instagram Business

Instagram Stories are vertical, full-screen photos and videos that appear at the top of the Instagram app, rather than in the news feed.

Organic Stories disappear after 24 hours; Instagram Story ads will continue to be served up as long as your campaign is running.

Stories incorporate fun, interactive components like stickers, filters and effects. They’ve become incredibly popular since launching in 2017, and brands have reaped the benefits. In a survey of Instagram users, half reported visiting a business’ website to make a purchase after seeing it in Stories.

TLDR: For brands on Instagram, Story Ads are a powerfully effective avenue for sharing your message. Get that ROI! Get it!

Chameleon Cold Brew Instagram Story poll vanilla vs black flavor
Source: Instagram Business

How to publish an Instagram Story ad

You’ll be creating your Instagram Story through the Meta Ads Manager on your computer or through the Meta Ads Manager app. (At this point in time, you can’t publish an Instagram Story ad directly through Instagram.)

1. Go to Meta Ads Manager and select the + icon (aka, the Create button).

event at Biltmore Cabaret Nasty Women Comedy

2. Choose a marketing objective, like Website Traffic, Reach, or Page Likes. (One key note: “Post Engagement” does not offer an Instagram Story ad option.)

choose marketing objective under create campaign

3. Select your creative from your camera roll or from an existing Instagram post.

select media ad creative for stories placement

4. Fill in the details (which vary depending on the marketing objective).

ad headline primary text

5. Then, tap on Placements. Toggle Manual to see all of your platform distribution options. Tap Instagram and select Stories.

placement mode automatic or maual

6. Continue on to the next page to set your ad audience. You can select people who are already interacting with you (for instance, “People who engaged with your page”) or create a new target audience.

audience who should see your ad

7. Set your campaign budget and schedule.

set campaign budget and schedule for ad

8. The final step will allow you to review and preview your campaign. Tap Place Order to seal the deal.

ad preview on Instagram Stories

Instagram Story ads design requirements

For best results, use Meta’s recommended dimensions and formats as you’re designing your Story ad. Otherwise, you may risk an unflattering crop or sketchy-looking stretch.

Aspect Ratio9:16
Recommended Dimensions1080px x 1920px
Minimum Dimensions600px x 1067px
Video File Type.mp4 or .mov
Photo File Type.jpg or .png
Max Video File Size250MB
Max Photo File Size30MB
Video Length60 minutes
Supported Video CodecsH.264, VP8
Supported Audio CodecsAAC, Vorbis

In case this chart isn’t enough of an inspiration (ok, weird??), check out our list of 20 creative Instagram Story ideas!

Meta ad guidelines for Stories

Buying an Instagram Story ad doesn’t give you carte blanche to do what you want — this isn’t Westworld, people.

Instagram’s parent company, Meta, has policies in place to try to create a user-friendly experience. If your ad doesn’t meet these guidelines, it may not make the cut.

Ads should not violate Instagram’s Community Guidelines. You can read the full rundown here, but basically: don’t be a jerk! Here’s the bullet-point version of prohibited content:

  • Illegal products or services
  • Discriminatory practices
  • Tobacco and related products
  • Unsafe substances
  • Adult products or services
  • Adult content
  • Third-party infringement
  • “Sensational” content
  • Personal attributes
  • Misinformation
  • Controversial content
  • Non-functional landing pages
  • Cheating and deceitful practices
  • Grammar and profanity
  • … plus a laundry list of predatory businesses like payday loans or multi-level marketing.

Wow, I guess Meta just hates fun??? (JK, JK, JK! Online safety: we love to see it!)

In addition to this list of outright no-nos, there is also content that Meta restricts, such as:

  • ads for online gambling
  • promotion of online pharmacies
  • Alcohol related advertisments
  • promotions for dating services

To advertise a business focused on these products or services, you’ll need to request special permission or comply with applicable local laws.

If you put together an ad in violation of Meta’s advertising policies (uh ohhh!), you’ll receive a notification that your ad has been denied, and it won’t run.

However, if you think your denial was unfair, you can always request a review of the decision. Typically, that review happens within 24 hours.

Dive deeper into Meta’s ad policies here, or Instagram’s Community Guidelines here.

How much do Instagram Story ads cost?

Instagram Story ads cost as much as you want to spend. As Instagram itself puts it, “the cost to advertise is up to you.

A draft campaign is the best way to see what bang you’re going to get for your buck.

Set the budget, the duration, and the audience that works for you as you’re planning your campaign. This will give you a clear estimate of just how much reach you’ll get. Adjust as necessary.

We know you probably want a clear prescription here, but there’s honestly no best practice for how much to spend on Instagram Story ads. Sorry!

Start with a few bucks, see how it goes, and add on from there. We’re all social media scientists, just trying to make our way in this crazy, mixed-up life.

For more Instagram advertising wisdom, check out our 5 Step Guide to Instagram Ads.

8 tips for creating highly effective Instagram stories ads

Now that you know how to buy an Instagram Story ad, let’s dig into how to make the most of your moment in the spotlight.

Take advantage of fullscreen

When you’re creating your content for your Instagram Story ad, shoot it in a vertical format. That’s how your audience is most likely to be viewing it, after all.

Take advantage of the fullscreen vertical canvas and design creative specifically proportioned for the mobile experience.

Along those same lines: consider planning out which Stories add-ons and tools you’ll be using in the final product. That way, you can compose your video or photo scenes strategically to make visual space for stickers, polls, or effects., for instance, created this vertically oriented ad with space around their spokesperson to pepper in fun stickers.

vertical ad with colorful stickers

Source: Instagram Business

Emphasize your CTA

A CTA — or “call to action”— is what you’re asking the viewer to do. For instance: “Swipe up,” “Shop now,” “Get your tickets,” or “Place your vote.” (Explore our list of compelling CTA ideas here.)

ClassPass asked the audience to Swipe Up for more info on a free trial. Even though the video itself is fast-paced, we don’t miss the point since that CTA is front and center: ClassPass would love if we just give a lil swipey.

Don’t let that important detail get lost in the thick of your graphic design or fun stickers: make sure your mission or ask is crystal clear for the person tapping by your ad.

Instagram reports that campaigns perform far better when they emphasize their CTAs and make the product or service the vocal point. Say it loud and proud!

CTA swipe up

Add text overlays

Visuals can say a lot but sometimes words can say it better. Instagram recommends pairing text with a visual focal point for best results in your Story Ad.

According to internal research, there’s actually a 75% chance of better performance with central-placed text for add-to-cart objectives.

Clinique layered in text onto dynamic, colorful product shots to hammer home the benefits of each of its new hydrating gels. Now I know it’s green and refreshing and treats irritation! I’ll take 12!

Clinique hydrating gel ad text overlay

Here are 19 helpful tools for designing cool Instagram Story graphics and creating thumb-stopping text treatments.

Enhance your ad with audio

Sound can be a powerful tool to set a mood or hammer home the value of your ad.

Experiment with voice-overs and music to enhance your Instagram Story ad. Chances are, it’ll pay off; Instagram has found that 80% of Stories with audio (voiceover or music) enjoy better results than ads without sound.

This VW ad features fun (and dare we say, funky?) music to enhance the cool-factor of its mini car commercial.

VW ad Betta Getta Jetta mini car

Get interactive

Elements like polls or “tap to hold” games give your audience a moment of fun.They also encourage users to actually stop and take the time to interact with your brand instead of flipping by.

For instance, this Doritos poll — sure to inspire a fiery debate.

Doritos poll hot corn taco or nacho

Another cool idea: this interactive Ritz ad gave the viewers a surprise result when they hit pause. (Suddenly, I’m craving strawberries on crackers?)

interactive Ritz ad enjoying Ritz topped with strawberry fora snack bread hit pause

Design with your brand in mind

Every second counts in the fast-paced world of Stories, so make sure you’re integrating your brand right off the bat. Elements like products or logos at the very beginning of your Story will help capture attention and build positive brand recall.

Sephora makes sure to start off its Instagram Story ads with its logo and beautiful, on-brand imagery.

Sephora person behind white stripes video ad

Try one of our 72 free Instagram Stories templates to get you started.

Make those Stories move

Motion catches the eye and captures attention, so if you have the opportunity to enhance a static image with a little bit of movement… do it! Studies show that ads that use motion regularly receive more views and purchases than still images. So get moving, why dontcha?

Arlo Skye’s Story ad flips between images of its carry-on suitcases, which creates a dynamic movement despite the fact that the product shots themselves are static.

Arlo Skye meet the perfect carry-on travel ad

Can’t wait to see your captivating Story ads as we’re flipping through our Stories soon. Want more marketing ideas for Instagram? Dig into our Instagram marketing cheat sheet here.

Manage your Instagram presence alongside your other social channels and save time using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can schedule posts and Stories, edit images, and measure performance. Try it free today.

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Bonus: Get the Instagram advertising cheat sheet for 2022. The free resource includes key audience insights, recommended ad types, and tips for success.

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By Stacey McLachlan

Stacey McLachlan is an award-winning writer and editor from Vancouver with more than a decade of experience working for print and digital publications.

She is editor-at-large for Western Living and Vancouver Magazine, author of the National Magazine Award-nominated 'City Informer' column, and a regular contributor to Dwell. Her previous work covers a wide range of topics, from SEO-focused thought-leadership to profiles of mushroom foragers, but her specialties include design, people, social media strategy, and humor.

You can usually find her at the beach, or cleaning sand out of her bag.

Read more by Stacey McLachlan

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