Are Facebook Stories Ads Beginning to Catch On With Brands?

Agencies are still far more bullish on Instagram

Early Facebook Stories ads from KFC and Kettle Facebook

Facebook introduced ads for Stories last September and, while the social network and some of its advertisers are bullish on the option, the jury remains out among the ad community in general.

Over 500 million people are using Stories on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp (where the feature is called Status), and the social network said more than 3 million brands are using Stories ads across Instagram, Facebook and Messenger.

Ad agency executives are bullish on the Stories format in general.

McGarryBowen New York executive director of strategy Laura Chavoen said, “Stories’ placement at the top of the screen when Instagram is opened offers brands immediacy, and as Stories are viewed or scrolled, consumer ‘right tap’ sequential navigation brings brand content on-screen, where strong creative invites deeper engagement. The intimacy of Stories, in part due to their finiteness, provides brands the opportunity to bring consumers into the brand in unique ways.”

Her colleague, McGarryBowen Chicago director of strategy Kevin Kovanich, added, “Organic Stories will disappear in 24 hours, but those stories are reaching your biggest fans in real-time—people who have chosen to follow your brand and see your message. Yes, it’s fleeting, but you’re hitting that engaged audience with the content that they expect from your brand. Plan for this content to be real-time and in the moment. Paid Stories can live on for longer, so we always make sure that the message can live on for an entire media flight. You don’t want a Fourth of July message showing up in people’s feeds on Halloween.”

Digitas North America vice president and director of paid social Danisha Lomax stressed the feature’s emotional impact, saying that Stories have “become a great way for brands to show their human side and emotional side to the masses and people they’re trying to reach. Brands are looking to combat ad avoidance and provide messages that people trust. Stories have become a great place and opportunity for brands to create a sense of urgency in their messaging, a sense of FOMO.”

While Facebook would not break out the number of Stories advertisers by platform, the consensus among ad agencies is that the bulk of that activity is occurring on Instagram.

Periscope social creative director Bridget Jewell said, “The efforts we’ve done for brands on Facebook Stories and the ones I see from small and midsized businesses, personalities and people are all duplicative. It’s not unique content to Facebook that I have seen yet. When you create an Instagram account, you’re following the same people you follow on Facebook. Why would I go on Facebook to create the same content?”

MediaCom social marketing strategist Dani Klein used even stronger language, saying, “I maybe have once seen a branded story on Facebook. The usage of stories on Facebook is still low.”

Klein’s colleague, head of social media Jeff Semones, sang the praises of Instagram, saying, “Instagram relative to Facebook is the platform du jour where all of the enthusiasm and a great deal of energy and audience growth are migrating. It’s just the place to play right now. The performance of Instagram Stories is driving adoption and increasing usage, while outperforming standard content (images and video). Facebook Stories is a paid media advertising play.”

Facebook said it studied 17 campaigns and found that Facebook Stories drove cost-efficient brand lift on par with News Feed and Instagram Stories.

Some of the brands behind those campaigns shared more specifics, as well.

Mark Aikman, general manager of marketing services for Mercedes-Benz USA, said Stories make up around 10% on average of its ad delivery, with that number reaching 22% for branding-focused initiatives like its A-Class Bucket List campaign.

Aikman said the company’s campaign are twice as cost-effective when Stories are included in the mix, adding, “Stories increase the efficiency and efficacy of Mercedes-Benz USA’s brand and direct response strategies by expanding our opportunity to reach customers (beyond the feed) where they are spending their time with full-screen, eye catching creative. Seeing the consumer shift to significant time spent within Stories, we knew that we wanted to prioritize reaching our audiences in this placement with full-screen, short-form content across our full funnel objectives.”

For the A-Class Bucket List campaign specifically, Aikman said Instagram Stories achieved 54% of the reach of the overall campaign, helping it to reach 61% of millennials in the U.S., and he added that CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) were 1.6 times more efficient on Stories.

James Clarke, senior director of portfolio media, analytics and customer-relationship management at Frito-Lay North America, said his company uses automatic placements to enable Facebook to deliver the most efficient impressions, whether via News Feed, Instagram’s feed, Stories or Messenger.

He added that Frito-Lay develops 9:16 aspect ratio specifically for the Stories format in order to maximize the use of space and drive effectiveness, saying that it recently worked with agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Facebook Creative Shop to create a rock, paper, scissors game using Stories’ carousel format.

Clarke said Stories helped Frito-Lay lower its CPMs and improve its return on investment.

Milk Bar vp of brand and marketing Sarah Tabb said of Stories, “It’s an easy platform for storytelling in an accessible way that doesn’t require big video production budgets (read: shot on iPhone). To some extent, Stories take pressure off of the content and allow us to be ourselves on a whim. It’s not always polished or slick, but our audience loves it, and the ability to let our fans in more regularly behind the scenes is getting us better engagement and organic conversion.”

She added that Milk Bar began investing in Stories during the holiday shopping season last year to promote its direct-to-consumer care packages, and it found that the returns were stronger than those from News Feed ads.

Tabb also detailed how the company is using Stories to get feedback from its fans: “We’re planning a U.S. pop-up tour this summer. We literally crowdsourced where to go via the questions and poll tools in Stories. We received thousands of responses, and maybe even a few backyards to crash in around the country. And we’re hitting the road now to follow through on it. Functionalities like these are easy ways to get fast feedback at mass scale from our most dedicated fans.”

She concluded, “The reality is that on the whole, people just aren’t scrolling the feed like they used to, and even when they are, it’s a myth to think that an audience is paying more than one to two seconds of attention to your feed ad. On the flip side, I think Story ads are more effective because they allow physically more room than the standard square feed post and more space to play with video, animation and multicard storytelling that’s more eye catching in a way that you don’t see when you’re mindlessly scrolling through the feed.”

Milk Bar David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.