While technically Instagram is a photo site, that’s not stopping it from reinventing itself as a digital merry-go-round. Instagram is testing an innovative use of its platform with carousel ads, which let brands post multiple photos on a sponsored post and a “learn more” button linked back to the brand’s site.
Instagram introduced its carousel ad unit last month to enable shoppers to buy directly from their mobile device by swiping an image, with brands having the option to create a call-to-action button on the last slide or image.
With nearly 300 million Instagram users, brands and retailers are jumping on the carousel to test the format and better use mobile and Instagram’s visual advantages to complement their other marketing efforts.
Airbnb was one of the first brands to use Instagram carousel ads, perfect timing to support its new “Never a Stranger” campaign focused on feel-good moments and images promoting community, new friendships and adventure. Its Instagram campaign is supported by a microsite featuring real Airbnb hosts at home in the five locations featured in the ad.
While travel is a perfect (visual, aspirational) fit for Instagram, fashion and retail brands are also natural Instagram pioneers. Gap, for instance, launched like2b.uy on its Instagram feed, enabling followers to order directly from a product photos.
Gap Inc. sibling Old Navy was one of the first brands testing the carousel to promote its line of Baja clothing in a story-like way, creating a visual narrative about good times with friends.
Another Gap Inc. brand, Banana Republic, used the carousel format to showcase its spring collection with Song of Style fashion blogger Aimee Song wearing four different looks.
Stuart Weitzman is testing how Instagram videos and Facebook ads can work together to attract and nurture an audience. Its campaign starts on Instagram, where the brand buys cinemagraphs (by Ann Street Studio) and video ads such as its black-and-white promo starring Gisele Bundchen, pushing cinemagraphs to its target audience.
Seven days after the Instagram launch, the same crowd gets product ads on Facebook (Instagram’s parent company, don’t forget) with a simple reminder: “Don’t forget to buy these lovely shoes.”
Beauty powerhouse L’Oreal Paris hopped on the carousel to “showcase the longevity of its Infallible makeup line, the brand is using the carousel format to detail the day in the life of Kristina Bazan, an influential community member,” as Instagram puts it.
At a local level, New York City is now seeking local Instagrammers—think of them as Instagrambassadors—to represent each borough on the city’s official account.
Users can submit springtime photos on the city’s website to enter the #Signsof SpringNYC contest.
And north of the border, to promote the Toronto Short Film Festival, Red Lion agency has invited Instagram users to a choose-your-own-adventure silent film.
Following on last year’s Instagram Time Machine, the festival is inviting cinema fans to string together clips from the seven silent films in the 2015 festival.
By scrolling down quickly, Instagrammers can enjoy a short film by viewing in slideshow view (stacked and not in a grid) to enjoy flipshow-like interactive scenarios like a street fight scene, with the choice to call the cops or run away depending which direction you flip.
Subsequent clicks might take you to hide in a department store or hospital, go on a date, or fake illness to leave a bad dining experience.
“Instagram represents the right platform for this campaign because it is an inherently social and visual application,” says Matt Litzinger, president and chief creative officer of Red Lion. “Silent films, and all films in general, are both of these things. In a lot of ways, the unifying cultural impact film has is now also occurring through social applications like Instagram.”
In another entertaining use of the carousel ad format, Showtime was one of the first brands on-board, using its sequential storytelling format to build buzz and awareness for new series Penny Dreadful.
Beyond fashion, beauty and travel brands, Samsung is leveraging the carousel ad to tell the story of the enhanced camera capabilities of the new Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge smartphones. Each ad is a mini photography tutorial and highlights a different camera feature.
The format still has a few challenges: Instagrammers scrolling through their feeds may miss the call to action on the last image, and not realize that an image is interactive if they miss the dots beneath the image indicating they can swipe to the left. Still, early indications are that brands and fans alike enjoy having more ways to interact and engage with compelling, visual content.