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Instagram Reels Lets Loose With Ads

3 min read

If revenue generation marks a nascent feature’s graduation to maturity, then Instagram’s TikTok clone, Reels, has arrived, as the Facebook-owned platform just launched ads on the short-video feature globally.

The early signs must look good. The company only began testing the ads in select markets in April, with a notable lineup of ad partners including BMW, Nestle/Nespresso, Louis Vuitton, Netflix and Uber, among others. Although the company hasn’t disclosed any hard numbers form the test, the Thursday announcement arrived just two months later.

“We see Reels as a great way for people to discover new content on Instagram, and so ads are a natural fit,” said Justin Osofsky, Instagram’s chief operating officer. “Brands of all sizes can take advantage of this new creative format in an environment where people are already being entertained.”

The offering was designed to fit inside the context of the Reels and Instagram experience. Ads feature still images or videos set in vertical full screen — a format Instagram users are already familiar with, thanks to Stories ads — and play for up to 30 seconds, or half the maximum 60-second time limit of organic Reels videos posted by users.

They’ll pop up wherever people watch Reels — whether that’s the Reels tab or via Stories, Explore of the main Instagram feed — nestled in between individual clips. Users can interact with the ads as well to comment, like, view, save or share them.

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Instagram gives people some control over their ad experience through user settings, and that approach extends to Reels as well. And should an objectionable ad show up, they can tap the “…” menu interface to hide or report it. Reels ads will also be available through an auction-based model, similar to other Instagram ad products.

That may be why there was no whiff of content editing tools in the announcement, or whether Instagram will offer business support for advertisers. Then again, businesses that pay for Instagram ads probably know the drill already and have plenty of Instagram-friendly assets.

The company seems confident brands will flock to Reels ads. After all, “Reels is the best place on Instagram to reach people who don’t follow you and a growing global stage where brands and creators can be discovered by anyone,” it wrote on its business blog. “These ads will help businesses reach greater audiences, allowing people to discover inspiring new content from brands and creators.”

The promise of bringing brand or product discovery to consumers who are inclined to like it, but may not necessarily be looking for it, is a powerful proposition. That’s tempted brands like Sephora, Louis Vuitton and Balmain to jump in, and they reported early success with viral Reels videos when the feature made its debut in August 2020.

Out of the gate, Louis Vuitton nabbed an average of 5 million Reels views, then ratcheted that up to 7 million earlier this year. Marketers have been marveling at how every LV Reels video seems to go viral.

While Reels may seem like a knockoff of TikTok, it has the weight and bearing of Instagram and Facebook behind it, possibly making it attractive to large brands who want to partner with well-established platforms.

This may or may not inform the tech giant’s strategy. But the company clearly senses that it has an opportunity on its hands. In less than a year, Instagram launched Reels, redesigned its primary app to feature Reels, in addition to Shop, and then rolled out a suite of insights tools to help brands understand their audiences better in Reels, as well as Live.

These efforts still seem a bit scattershot for now, but it’s likely the social media giant will someday spin Reels in new directions, perhaps from a social video and ad platform to a full-on commerce pipeline. It’s not there yet, but the wheels are in motion.

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