Instagram Video Marketing: Your Ultimate Creative Guide (2023)

This guide to Instagram Marketing is part of our Ultimate Guide series on social media video marketing best practices. Learn more about how harnessing the power of video marketing helps brands stand out on other platforms, from Facebook and Pinterest to TikTok and Snapchat.

Social media is more than just a tool to connect people together; it’s a powerful platform for users to create and share stunning visual content. The way we create content online has been modernized, thanks to popular video-first apps like TikTok and Snapchat. Now, it’s easier than ever to craft and share entertaining and informative videos. These apps may have their own unique user experiences, but their revolutionary spirit owes a big debt of gratitude to the OG visual content creation platform, Instagram.

The tools Instagram offered when the app first launched in 2010 made for a completely unique experience at the time. Users could take static images with their camera phones and, through a suite of now-iconic filters, turn them into stunning pieces of visual art. You didn’t have to be a professional photographer with expensive camera equipment to make your content look high-gloss and attractive. All you needed was one tool in the palm of your hand: a phone.

As one of the first content-centric apps, Instagram has been the gold standard among social platforms with a similar creative ethos. There are a wealth of opportunities on the platform to grow and promote brands, making Instagram video marketing vitally important to your social media video strategy.

With a diverse and growing base of over 2 billion active monthly users, Instagram is a perfect platform for performance marketers looking to raise awareness and drive engagement. As the social commerce trend continues to swell over the coming years, Instagram is set to be a unique avenue for marketers to reach, convert, and retain a wide assortment of consumers. Simply put, if you want to stay top-of-mind for your target audience, you need to prioritize your Instagram video marketing efforts.

However, there are difficulties in relying on Instagram. The platform can be fickle and is often changing the rules of the game for advertisers. Most recently, this happened when Instagram became a video-first platform

This happened when Instagram decided it needed to compete more directly with Snapchat and TikTok, making Reels a more prominent part of its video strategy. Meta (né Facebook) is trying to integrate all its video offerings while providing advertising strategies across both Facebook and Instagram.

Fortunately, we are on top of the current trends and can give you a snapshot of where Instagram advertising is now.

This creative guide to Instagram will give you an overview of the platform, a suite of ad placements you can utilize, as well as some creative best practices and tips to give you a leg up on the competition.

Instagram: Platform Overview
Instagram Video Marketing Ad Placements and Specs
Instagram Video Marketing Creative Best Practices


What is Instagram? Platform Overview

Do you know what the first photo on Instagram was? A few months before the platform launched, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom snapped a quick photo of his dog outside of a food cart in Mexico. This photo launched a thousand ships; it was the precursor to the over 500 billion images that have been shared on the app since it went live.  

Instagram has come a long way since Systrom’s cute puppy photo. After the app exploded, social giant Facebook quickly scooped up Instagram in 2012 with the goal of growing the brand independently from Facebook’s own proprietary platform.

The Introduction of Instagram Ads

Soon after the acquisition, Instagram began developing advertising opportunities for brands to reach the growing platform’s young user base. Their first offering was sponsored posts (known today as Instagram Feed ads), which allowed businesses to create organic-looking ads to appear in a user’s feed. 

Fashion designer brand Michael Kors was the first advertisement ever on the platform. The brand’s social media experiment was a resounding success, with the designer’s Instagram account netting 34,000 new followers within the first 18 hours of the post running.

Instagram expanded its ad capabilities in 2015 so brands could produce 30-second video ads — 15-seconds longer than traditional user videos. In addition to the extended length, Instagram allowed brands to diversify their content, reaching beyond the confines of the square 1:1 aspect ratio to include 16:9 landscape visuals. 

A year later they introduced Insights, an analytics reporting and tracking feature to help marketers and advertisers have a more granular understanding of the audiences they’re reaching. You can track impressions, website clicks, and the time of day your audience interacts with your content, alongside traditional age, sex, and location data.

The Upgrade to Instagram Shops

Nowadays, ads are more effectively integrated with the content feed you may be scrolling through. So, Instagram has gone from a photo-sharing site with people sharing artsy, filtered, curated images of their lives — to a shopping one. Instagram Shops are designated by subtle dots on dresses, cooking pans, watches, and other products. The Shop logo now sits at the bottom of the screen between Reels and your account icon. If you follow a brand, you will receive notifications so you can also shop directly from their Instagram Shop account.

The little shopping bag icon is also becoming ubiquitous. It looks similar to the Tagged button in the corner of photos and videos, leading you seamlessly so you can buy the top your favorite celebrity is wearing. This icon is sometimes the only apparent indication that you’re not looking at photos, but at ads. 

The Emergence of Video

When Instagram first launched, it didn’t support video content. This may be surprising considering the app delivers a video-focused user experience today. It wasn’t until Facebook’s acquisition of the platform that users could create and share native video and video ads.

Take a moment and scroll through your Instagram feed and notice how many video posts you see compared to static images. If we were betting, we’d say you’re likely seeing mostly video content. 

That should come as no surprise considering videos are growing faster than photos on Instagram. Studies show viewers retain 95% of a message when watching it on video compared to text. Similarly, video content sees twice as much engagement on Instagram than static images. With these in mind, it makes sense for Instagram to shift its focus toward high-performing video content. 

In recent years, Instagram has overhauled its video offering for both users and brands. Due to the rapid popularization of video-first apps like TikTok, Instagram quickly pivoted to add their own video-creation hub called Reels. From a marketing perspective, Reels offers brands a unique, new way to directly and organically interact with their audiences to achieve social media campaign goals.

The Evolution of Reels

Instagram’s future is all about integration. While your screen may still have the Story circles on top, you’ll note the photos you’re used to scrolling past are now interspersed with Reels from people you follow and Suggested Reels from similar accounts. In fact, they’re so prevalent now that Meta reported over 20% of all time spent on Instagram is spent watching Reels. 

This setup can be a lot, but Instagram is betting this mini-Times Square kind of look with photos, video ads, Reels, and Shops all harmonizing together is the future — and they’ve been betting on it for a while. 

So, where did Reels come from? Reels were Instagram’s answer to TikTok and Snapchat, of course, which became a serious threat to its dominance as a visually-driven app. If the present is video, the future is Reels. 

Reels, which are a lot like TikToks (which are similar to Vines) allow users to create their own video, often following trends to do with: 

  • The same currently popular musical track
  • Timelapse videography to help sell a popular “day in the life” format
  • Polls and explainer graphics, usually to correct some stereotype about something (a common trope is, “when your friend asks about…”)
  • Other direct-to-camera content. 

For individuals, Reels can offer small bursts of filmmaking and storytelling style, as well as insights into their lives. For brands, Reels offer a way to organically interact with their audiences and offer a sense of intimacy and connection. 

Instagram personalities like cook Carolina Gelen offer up recipes in short bursts, interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage of things going wrong (which is endearing to the Reel audience). These in turn lead to Reels advertising cooking utensils and aids that brands have gifted her. For marketers, this means Instagram is moving further down the funnel.

The Shifting Social Experience

As data privacy continues to evolve, the historic metrics used for targeting users are shifting. These changes mean your team will need to rely on iterative video content, optimized for performance, to break through the social noise and make a mark. 

This will also be imperative as Instagram continues to invest in building out their social shopping experience. As users get accustomed to social commerce, brands will find success converting audiences with lower-funnel content on traditionally primarily upper-funnel platforms.

So, what does this all really mean for you as a marketer? On Instagram, your team needs to harness video to reach new audiences with dynamic content that has the potential to set your brand apart in a social media era saturated with content. 

The Key Objectives for Instagram Video Marketing

  • Awareness. Show off your product, service, or brand in new ways by showcasing unique features or telling your brand story.
  • Engagement. Capture attention quickly to stay in the forefront of a viewer’s mind. Short quick bursts of content will captivate your audience and keep them engaged.
  • Conversion. Convey a clear, simple message that drives consumers to take action, such as buying a product, clicking on a Call-to-Action (CTA), or visiting a website.

Instagram Ad Specs and Placements Types

With over 2 billion monthly active users, Instagram marketing needs to be a pillar of your social media strategy. As the platform’s user demographic evolves, Instagram has become an optimal channel for advertisers to reach new, and increasingly diverse, audiences. 

But with over 95 million photos and videos uploaded every single day, your team needs to create a stream of fresh, relevant video content to keep pace in the digital footrace for dominance on the platform. In a sea of competitors vying for consumers’ dispersed attention, your brand needs to have a sustained presence across multiple Instagram touchpoints in order to make a mark. 

Here are the five main Instagram marketing ad placements your brand can leverage with high-quality video content.

Related: Instagram Video Ad Specs & Placements

Need help with other networks? Check out our complete Social Media Video Ad Specs & Placements Guide

Reels

Reels, Reels, Reels! As mentioned, these are clearly Instagram’s current focus after sunsetting the placement’s previous incarnation, IGTV.

Advertisers can (and should) focus on making their own and making them seem native to the platform. They can also consider branded content partnerships with current and upcoming Instagram personalities. 

Reels offer insights to creators, so you can see what’s working and what isn’t. If scrollers go to the Reels tab, they may stumble upon yours, too, since that page shows any number of Instagram accounts. Reels work best when they’re short and move quickly, but they can be up to 90 seconds long now. They can be created in the app or uploaded and should be shot in a vertical, full-screen format. 

Video Ad Specs

  • Aspect ratio: 9:16
  • Max resolution: None, upload the highest resolution video available
  • Min resolution: 500 x 888 pixels
  • Max file size: 4GB
  • Video length: Max 90 seconds
  • Frame rate: 30 fps
  • Recommended file type: .mp4 or .mov

Instagram Feed

Instagram Feed video ads are integrated directly into a user’s feed, appearing in between content as they scroll. Users can engage with the ad by liking, commenting, sharing, or clicking on a CTA.

Because users scroll quickly, be sure to include a captivating hook within the first couple of seconds of your video. Several styles of content work well for this ad placement type, including live-action. 

Video Ad Specs

  • Aspect ratio: 4:5 is recommended, but ratios from 1.91:1 to 9:16 are supported
  • Max resolution: None, upload the highest resolution video available
  • Min resolution: 1080 x 1080
  • Max file size: 250MB
  • Video length: 1 to 60 seconds long
  • Frame rate: 30 fps
  • Recommended file type: .mp4, .mov, or .gif are recommended, but additional types are supported

You can include supporting copy, and 125 characters max is recommended as only two rows of copy will appear below an Instagram Feed video ad. Make note that video captions and sound are optional, but recommended especially for videos that have voiceover or dialogue. Use text overlay, like in the QuickFrame-created Rory ad below, to ensure all viewers get the same messaging whether or not they are scrolling with sound on.

Instagram Stories

Over 500 million daily users post Instagram Stories, which consist of either static cards or video content.

Instagram video ads in Stories are fullscreen vertical ads that appear between Stories. Most are 15 seconds or less, though Instagram can accommodate videos up to 60 seconds long. Videos longer than 10 seconds will appear on separate cards with a “Keep Watching” option. 

Stories can now be used to drive consumers directly to an Instagram shop by using such anticipation-building tips as stickers featuring countdowns to new product drops.

All Instagram Stories video ads are skippable, so be sure to employ a captivating hook in the first seconds of your ad. Several video styles work well here, including live-action and stop motion. You can employ several CTAs, which users can respond to by swiping up on your ad.

Video Ad Specs

  • Aspect ratio: 9:16 is recommended, but ratios from 16:9 to 4:5 are accepted
  • Max resolution: None, upload the highest resolution video available
  • Min resolution: 1080 x 1080
  • Max file size: 250MB
  • Video length: 1 to 60 seconds
  • Frame rate: 30 fps 
  • Recommended file type: .mp4, .mov, or .gif. Additional types are supported

Video captions and sound are optional, but highly recommended. Most users consume Instagram Stories with sound on, so think of ways your sonic elements can best capture and sustain a viewer’s attention to help increase completion rates. You can include supporting copy up to 125 characters. Text over this recommendation is allowed but may be truncated.

Instagram also suggests leaving 14% (250 pixels) at the top of your ad and 20% (340 pixels) at the bottom of your ad to avoid covering them with logos, profile photos, and other elements. 

This video from Freshpet shows how text with 9:16 creative and a focus on entertainment and storytelling can be used for both Instagram Stories and Instagram Reels.

Instagram Explore

The Explore page (reached by tapping the magnifying glass in the app menu) allows a user to discover content from creators that they do not yet follow. Instagram Explore video ad placements appear amongst the content Instagram specifically curates for a user based on their interests.

Video Ad Specs

  • Aspect ratio: 4:5 or 9:16 is recommended, but ratios from 1.91:1 to 9:16 are supported
  • Max resolution: None, upload the highest resolution video available
  • Min resolution: 1080 x 1080
  • Max file size: 250MB
  • Video length: 1 to 60 seconds long
  • Frame rate: 30 fps
  • Recommended file type: .mp4, .mov, or .gif. Additional types are supported

Make note that video captions and sound are optional, but recommended especially for videos that have voiceover or dialogue. The primary text for the ad can be longer, but we suggest capping your text at 125 characters to avoid truncation. 

Need help making videos? See how our video production platform can help your business.

Creator Alliances

Meta is heavily investing in creators who can either earn bonuses by adding in-stream ads or take part in setting up shops and “drive excitement with exclusive product launches from the Instagram app” by linking their account with an IG merchandise partner. 

These ads are generally selected by Meta, but consider if your ads make sense for a specific creator or personality and suggest a partnership. 

With the demise of the third-party cookie, this kind of targeting will make sense now and in the future. Having an influencer tag a product on their video may be one of the most effective ways of reaching consumers out there. And if you’re creating your own ad, consider mimicking the style of user-generated content (UGC) to create that sense of warmth and connection — or forge an alliance with a personality to generate those spots yourself. 

The line between posts and ads is going to become an increasingly fine one, as Instagram tells potential advertisers they can “turn any of your posts into an ad instantly”.

Instagram Video Marketing Best Practices

How do you stand out on a social platform that is built by and for the creatively driven? By having a clear set of creative principles to follow.

Instagram has identified three main principles they recommend every brand and user take to heart for more creative Instagram marketing.

1. Always include your logo, brand colors, and featured products in your Instagram video ad. You don’t want a viewer to ask themselves the dreaded question, “What was that ad even for?” after they watch your video.

2. Tell a story that conveys a message or says something about your product or brand, driving your campaign objectives. Humans inherently resonate with narrative storytelling, so crafting an arc that grabs their attention can take viewers on an emotional journey where your brand (or product) is the star.

3. The final principle is a little easier said than done: use expertly conceived creative to produce videos with the highest potential to make an impact. If this is your first video content marketing campaign, especially on Instagram, it can easily feel a little daunting to ideate high-quality videos. 

If you don’t have an in-house team of video professionals or access to a marketplace of creators, we can help. We’ve identified some top tips when planning Instagram video ads for your social media marketing campaign.

Hook Your Audience

Instagram’s ad placements make it easy for users to see your content, but the platform also makes it just as easy for users to skip your ad. There’s nothing expressly stopping a user from quickly swiping away from the content they don’t care about, so give them a reason to care by hooking them in the opening few seconds of your ad. Prioritize front-loading your message and feature your brand or product in those first fleeting moments.

You can also experiment with different video types and formats to optimize your opening hook. Product explainers, how-tos, and Q&A videos are high-performing production types on Instagram, so identify how each format hooks its audience in different ways. Maybe it’s through expert thought leadership, like a professional chef walking viewers through a recipe, or eye-catching visuals, like dynamic animation practically designed to stop thumbs in their tracks.

This video from Hairstory uses Instagram’s Boomerang filter to create an eye-catching opening visual in a user-generated-style video that looks native to the platform.

Learn how to create a filter on instagram!

Prioritize Relatability

Instagram users want to see themselves in the content you produce. Obviously, not literally, but your creative should aim to inspire relatability in your audience. Show them content that makes them say, “Hey! This looks like something I’d do!” Instagram users are attracted to this kind of content because it feels like it was made by a real person, rather than some algorithm. 

You can inspire this relatability by using real customers in your Instagram video marketing ads. Social proof is still a powerful motivating factor and video ads featuring actual customers are seeing increased performance. Using real people (especially real customers) has the potential to frame your advertisements to potential consumers without them ever fully realizing they’re watching an ad.

This video from Firstleaf inspires audience reliability and authenticity by casting a real customer as the star of their ad.

Adopt a Native Approach

Instagram is a community of viral content creators, and users now have the tools to create more stunning and complex videos. Consistently explore Instagram and identify what content styles are trending so your brand can create familiar and native videos for the platform.  

User-generated content has seen increased success on Instagram, with over 92% of users trusting UGC over traditional advertising. 

On the paid side, brands have found success with branded UGC-style content. But, since Instagram is a platform filled with content aficionados, simple UGC will no longer cut it. Video-first apps have conditioned audiences to expect effective storytelling and entertainment. Put a fun and snappy spin on your UGC creative to make it feel new and different.

Prioritize the narrative in your Instagram video ads as audiences are looking to these platforms as a place to connect and have fun. Associating your brand with positive creative experiences and relatable talent will pay off in the long run. 

This video from Gobble melds together two of the most popular video format trends on Instagram, UGC-style content and recipe tutorials.

Iterative Creative + Broad Testing = Methodical Production Strategy

Gone are the days of the one-and-done, big-budget brand commercial. Organizations can’t just create one video asset and expect it to work across the spectrum of platforms and ad placements. 

The goal of a modern-day video marketer is to create a platform and audience-specific asset for every campaign. To unlock scale affordably for marketers, QuickFrame takes a unique approach to performance marketing

We capture a wide array of footage in a single shoot so your assets can be iterated on and performance tested through video post production. Through weekly testing, you surface creative data on what visual elements are resonating with your audience.

Learn more: WTF is Multivariate Testing?

At the outset of an Instagram video marketing campaign, you should identify the key goals and objectives you want to achieve. Use the KPIs you identify to build a performance marketing testing plan to methodically test which creative variables are making the biggest impact on your target audience across various ad placements. The insights you surface from your testing plan will help shape and sharpen your creative for future campaigns — and increase your ROI in the long run.

Additional Instagram Video Marketing Creative Best Practices

  • Be empathetic. The last few years have been difficult, so it’s critical to be sensitive to consumers’ mindsets and rethink your value props to fit contemporary lifestyles.
  • Be authentic. Have you ever seen the meme “How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?” If you are a brand, this meme personifies everything you should not do when attracting an audience. It’s imperative for your brand to remain authentic, especially for younger demographics. 
  • Empower your audience. Use Instagram as a way to invite your audience to participate in your marketing strategies. By empowering your audience to use their voice, your brand will be able to push beyond the two-way conversation concept and enable your customers to participate in incredible experiences. Pampers, for example, ran the #MillionActsofLove campaign and invited their audience to provide advice, tips, and compassion to newer parents battling with late nights and other parenting challenges. 
  • Optimize visuals. For Instagram Feed placements, create content for a sound-off environment, as Instagram audiences are increasingly watching videos on mute. Think of ways to elevate textual elements in your creative arc so it’s more than just a bar on the top or bottom of the screen.
  • Prioritize brand identity. Think critically about your brand image. With decreased targeting capabilities, you’ll need to reframe your positioning to appeal to a wider audience while still driving action.

Instagram Video Marketing: The Takeaway

You know your brand needs to generate and scale creative content for Instagram to stay ahead of your competitors, but just how important is your content? 

In short: incredibly. Think With Google reported that about 70% of a branding campaign’s success comes from the creative. Plus, one Meta study showed creative best practices can significantly increase long- and short-term sales. 

And, as the world continues moving forward, marketing and advertising creative will become even more critical. Now, we’re working on reentering a way of life that feels unfamiliar after the COVID pandemic, economic uncertainty, and other global concerns, so use your Instagram content to excite and motivate consumers to rediscover the things they love. Take this opportunity to reinvest in your Instagram marketing strategy to position your brand as a leader when the world transitions into yet another new way of life.

Just like any social platform, Instagram has changed dramatically over the course of its relatively young life. Where we may have once flocked to the app to flip through filters to elevate our camera phones, now we look towards Instagram as a visual hub to communicate with the brands and influencers we love. 

With a strong creative strategy, proper pre production planning, and a little bit of ingenuity, your business can create a hallmark visual experience that will drive engagement, build awareness, and grow your brand on this wildly popular platform.

Get more video marketing tips: Best Video Formats for Performance Marketing

Check Out All of Our Social Media Marketing Creative Guides

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