How to create great Instagram video ads for your app install campaigns

With Instagram ads, Facebook started to offer a new platform to advertisers, leveraging what the company has been learning with Facebook ads. And Instagram video ads are a promising format.

Before giving advices and examples on how to produce good video creatives for Instagram ads, let’s take a quick look at why you should consider Instagram ads and the different ad formats available.


Why you should consider Instagram ads

Here are a few things about why you should consider Instagram ads:

  • Instagram has always been a mobile-first platform, making it perfect for mobile app install ads.
  • A growing user base (more than 600 million monthly active users) that already brought more than 1 million advertisers.
  • Advertisers use the same Power Editor tool (or Ads manager) for Instagram than Facebook, making it easy to try ads on both but also to reuse ads that worked well on the other platform.
  • Instagram is a platform focused on visuals, making it perfect for visual ads. The fact that videos autoplays catches the attention.
  • 90% of Instagram’s audience is under the age of 35.
  • Instagram Stories (copy from Snapchat stories) already has passed Snapchat in daily user count with 200 million users.


A look into Instagram ad formats

Photo and video ads on Instagram are quite similar to a standard user post. Here are the different formats:

  • Instagram photo ads – still images, like what most users are used to see in their feed
  • Instagram video ads – lets you show your app in action. 1 in 4 ads on Instagram is a video.Percentage of video ads on Instagram
  • Instagram carousel ads – similar to facebook, carousel ads let you include several photos or videos in one ad (users swipe to see past the first creative). We won’t get into carousel ads using video in this post, but it is also an interesting format.
  • Instagram stories ads – initially a copy of Snapchat stories, the incredible growth of Instagram Stories of course led to a new ad format for Instagram. These vertical videos ads need to be thought for the Stories format, and much closer to what Snapchat ads look like than current Instagram video ads for the feed.

Instagram has both mobile app install ads and mobile app engagement ads, to do retargeting and get users back to your app if they already have it.

App install ads represented 26% of all ad impressions on Instagram in Q2 2016 and were used mostly by games, shopping and entertainment app advertisers (more Instagram stats here).


How Instagram mobile app install videos are displayed

To better understand the advices we give in this section and make it easier to follow, it’s important to have a clear view of how Instagram video ads are displayed in a user’s feed.

Anatomy of Instagram video ads

When a user expresses interest (watches for a few seconds), the full width call to action below your video creative changes to blue (like in the picture above). When people tap it, they are brought to their app store.

Want us to take a look at your app and send you a free script and our recommendations for your Instagram video ad? Contact us here.

How to create great Instagram video ads

As mentioned above, if you’ve been advertising on Facebook and have video ads that are performing well, this is a good starting point. Do however keep in mind some of the specificities of Instagram to optimize your ads.

Not all examples below follow best practices, but with all of them put together you’ll have a good idea on how to get it right. And the good news is: you can do much better than many Instagram video ads currently being displayed (contact us if you want our help!)

Use the recommended formats (hint: square videos, maybe vertical soon)

Initially, video clips on Instagram were limited to 15 seconds at a 1:1 ratio (640×640 – square videos). Now ads can be up to 60 seconds in length and displayed at either 16:9 (1920×1080 – HD landscape videos) or 1:1 (1080×1080 – HD square videos).

Does it mean you can just re-use an existing video from a TV campaign or other marketing efforts?

Not so fast.

Those are the technical requirements, but design recommendations from Facebook currently state that you should use an aspect ration of 1:1.

Instagram ad: landscape or square
A square video ad takes up more screen real estate, and is therefore more likely to be seen

And the reasoning is pretty easy to grasp when you compare a square video ad to a landscape video ad in a user feed: the square video takes much more screen real estate than the landscape one, making it more visible. The same goes for Facebook video ads by the way (which makes life easier). But the square format has even more meaning on Instagram, being the original one.

Instagram also rolled out vertical video ads (4:5 ratio, as opposed to 2:3 recommended on Facebook) in November 2016 and some brands have seen good results. So don’t hesitate to experiment!

Be creative / mindful of quality

Instagram has built its success on being a creative platform. So it goes without saying (still saying it – just in case) that you don’t want your Instagram ad to be an eyesore.

Your video creative should be eye catching and stand out, but fit in nicely in someone’s feed. You don’t want people to be annoyed by it and simply hide it. You’d much rather they tap the like button. So stay away from cheesy stock photos and videos.

Instagram initially announced they would review each ad, but clearly this has not been the case.

Instagram's ugliest ad
Maybe the targeting was good but I doubt anyone at Instagram reviewed this ad

It’s interesting to note that like on any other posts, people can comment on Instagram ads (much like on Facebook). Which may or may not cause some backlash. So be mindful about the promises you make.

Comments on Instagram video ad

You’ll also notice that the call to action is repeated at the bottom of the comments, making it easy to get people to the App Store.

Show your brand, but not too much

In line with the point above, you don’t want to be too much “in your face” with your branding. It can be present of course, but we recommend showing it on your product (your app or game). Especially because it’s already on your Instagram handle.

If you decide to show it somewhere else than the very end or through your app UI then favor a logo in the corner to a full page logo.

Avoid an intro with just your logo, as it’s already in your Instagram handle and you could be losing an opportunity to catch the eye of the viewer with a strong start.

Make the first 3 seconds count

Your Instagram ad shouldn’t be too salesy, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t catch attention and hook the viewer.

Because of autoplay, the first 3 seconds of your video are critical, so pay specific attention to that. You want a change of color, background, or dynamic cuts.

It’s also a best practice to have an overlay text appear during those first 3 seconds (see more below).

Do not rely on sound

Instagram video ads autoplay, but the sound is not on until the viewer taps the ad or the unmute button.

This means that people should be able to clearly understand the narrative and your app’s value proposition without sound.

Don’t rely only on a voice over. Instead, use bold visual storytelling and easily readable overlay text.

Let’s look at how Google did it for their Google Duo ad.

Here is the initial video:

And here is the Instagram video ad:

I love the last bit of dialogue (made me watch again – poor sock), but not hearing it does not prevent the understanding of the video.

Optimize for mobile viewers

Instagram app install ads are only viewed by…mobile viewers. Surprise.

When adding text captions/overlay texts, subtitles are a start but prefer clear, bigger and concise texts that emphasize the key points. You need to make sure that everyone is able to read it.

Same thing goes for the visuals, gameplay or app screens you’re showing.

So make sure you don’t only look at your video creative (and thumbnail) on a big desktop screen: try it on an iPhone 4 😉

Don’t make it too long

You’re allowed to have a 60s Instagram ad, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best length. People have a short attention span, and in most cases you should keep it short.

We recommend 15s to 25s. And again, don’t forget to hook your viewers in the first seconds (see point above).

Average length of Instagram video ads
Instagram ads’ length has increased, mainly due to more brand advertisers (source: Sensor Tower)

If you have a specific story you want to tell, and it requires more time, then do it. And maybe test a shorter version of it too 😉

Show off the gameplay or the user experience

Don’t forget it’s a mobile app install ad.

So even if you have some storytelling and you’re not showing only the app, do display at least some screens.

You want potential users to know what they’re getting into, especially if you don’t have a very well known app or game. Not only do you set the right expectations, you also get new users that are already familiar with your app and hopefully get a better retention.

For games, also include some of your game assets (characters, etc.) in your video.

End your video ad creative with a strong Call To Action (CTA)

It’s nice that you created a cool video, but don’t forget to make it clear to viewers that you want them to download their app (or do another action – see below). You want a direct response to your ad.

It can be a call to action in the voice over, but it should also be an overlay text to make it very explicit.

Keep it simple, no more than 4-5 words. Make sure this CTA is in line with your video, and with the rest of your ad (caption and Instagram Call To Action below the video).

Instagram ad call to action examples

Let viewers know that the app is available on their store. Since you can target per OS, you can have different versions: one for iOS, one for Android.


Choose the right Instagram ad CTA

When creating your Instagram ad, you have a choice between several CTAs:

  • Book Now
  • Contact Us
  • Download
  • Learn More
  • Shop Now
  • Sign Up
  • Watch More
  • Apply Now
  • Play Game
  • Install Now (not in Instagram’s specs, but it’s out there)

For a mobile app install ad, the default choice seems to be “Download” or “Install Now”. However depending on your video creative and the call to action you have at the end of it, there might be one that works better for you.

A “Sign Up” CTA could for example work if you have a message about signing up today to get some kind of benefit, etc. Although signing up may be a bit intimidating.


Get your caption right

Your caption is text only, and a maximum of 125 characters is recommended.

As we’ve seen, it is displayed below your CTA. It should be in line with your CTA, and give it more context. But don’t make it sound too boring or salesy.

Instagram ad hashtag

Since hashtags are popular on Instagram, make good use of them. It can help you reach a broader audience.


Don’t forget the thumbnail

Why would you need a thumbnail for a video ad? Especially if it’s auto-play?

Well, you don’t know if your users all have good mobile data connectivity when your ad is served. Or if they have specific settings in the app.

Better safe than sorry. So be sure you choose your thumbnail thoughtfully, as it can display before the user taps the “play button”.

Vikings did a good job for their thumbnail. This is what displays with an Edge connection (no autoplay)

And check out the corresponding video below. It could have been produced better, but the idea works!

The thumbnail image ratio should match the ratio of your video, and you don’t want too much text in it (Facebook lifted the 20% text ban, but no need to get less exposure if you can avoid it!).


Always be testing

Before we wrap this up, keep in mind that those are recommendations. It does not mean that you have to follow them strictly or at all costs, as some things will depend on your brand, app or audience.

Once you’ve had some good results with Instagram video ads, keep an open mind and don’t hesitate to test different creatives. Whether you’re producing your Instagram video ads in-house or with us, the additional cost and time it takes to create alternative versions is worth it. You can also experiment with the other elements of your Instagram ad.

Instagram is a promising platform for advertisers, including app publishers. It is already getting competitive, and it is also a platform where you can leverage great targeting and scale your advertising.

For your video ad creatives, just keep in mind how they are displayed and:

  • Use square and maybe vertical videos (experiment)
  • Be creative and create a polished video
  • Make the first 3 seconds count
  • Do not rely on sound
  • Optimize for mobile viewers
  • Don’t make it too long
  • Show off gameplay or user experience
  • End your video ad creative with a strong CTA


Do you have any other insights to share with us? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Sylvain Gauchet

Hi there, I'm Sylvain and I'm one of the co-founders of Apptamin. Apptamin is a creative agency specialized in app videos (video ads, app store videos, etc.) where we find engaging ways to present mobile apps and games so our clients can either increase their conversion rates or improve their user acquisition.

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