Media buyers applaud Canvas ads in Instagram Stories, but say there are limitations

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Facebook finally brought the long-awaited Canvas ad format to Instagram Stories on Tuesday, letting advertisers promote their products and services to 250 million Stories users with a carousel of images and text-based posts contained in a single ad.

Although only a couple out of the nine ad agencies this reporter contacted have tested the Canvas unit in Instagram Stories so far, the majority welcome this move, saying they would be interested in experimenting with the ad unit because it makes Instagram ads more immersive and easier to buy. (You can see what Canvas in Stories looks like in this Instagram blog post.)

Agency RPA is an early adopter of Instagram Canvas ads. Mike Dossett, the shop’s associate director of digital strategy, said that when done right, brands could earn the attention of Instagram users through Stories ads, but the options for what to do with that attention were previously limited. Canvas within Instagram Stories allows advertisers to capitalize on that earned attention within the app, with a more aesthetically connected visual and interactive experience than simply clicking out to a mobile website, he said. Dossett declined to share specific numbers quantifying the performance of Instagram Canvas ads in the agency’s initial tests due to “the stricter-than-normal nondisclosure agreement for the beta.”

Meanwhile, social media shop Epic Signal will soon launch a campaign featuring Canvas in Stories. Josh Druding, director of social strategy for the agency, expected to see higher engagement with Canvas in Stories than on Facebook, where his team has seen mixed results with the format. “I think this is due to the experience still being new to a lot of Facebook users. You have to make it very clear as it relates to what you want the user to do. Once they do open the canvas, it’s a brand-new experience and could seem overwhelming,” said Druding. “On the flip side, Instagram Stories has seen much more success with interactive, vertical ad formats. Since this behavior has already been easily adopted, I wouldn’t be surprised if users are more responsive to the Canvas experience on Instagram.”

From a media-buying perspective, the pricing for Canvas in Stories is auction-based, as it is available through the Audience Network. There is no set CPM, CPV or minimum spend requirements for this ad unit, according to Dossett.

One media director from a New York-based agency, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that in general, ad pricing for Instagram Stories has been lower than average Facebook CPMs, perhaps due to advertisers not having creative and the slow adoption curve of new ad units on Instagram. The price for Facebook Canvas varies depending on the size of the buy, the targeting, the timing and the success of the unit — some Canvas ads are less than $5 CPM while some are $10 CPM, for instance, said this executive. He believes Canvas for Instagram will be less expensive to start and experiment with, but eventually cost more.

While media buyers largely welcome Canvas in Stories, Dossett pointed out there are some limitations because for now, the Canvas unit is not the same experience across Facebook and Instagram. “Some of the more interactive features like linked Canvases, tilt-to-pan images or video and 360-degree video are not currently supported [in] Instagram Stories Canvas ads like they are on Facebook,” he said. “So in order to take advantage of the placement optimization, brands will need to create streamlined Canvas experiences that can successfully translate across both platforms without sacrificing creative immersion.”

While Facebook continues to create efficiencies and consistency in terms of cross-platform media buys, ad creatives are now facing the challenge of developing content for standard square (1:1) or rectangular (16:9) ad formats, along with emerging vertical formats (9:16), according to Druding.

“The rise of vertical ad formats creates a challenge because the subject needs to remain in the center of the frame. You can’t simply repurpose content that’s captured for 1:1 or 16:9,” he said. “The time is ripe for advertisers to be testing vertical ad units.”

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