Instagram's New Carousel Ads Are Like Print Magazine Spreads With Links

Brands Can Include up to 4 Photos in a 'Carousel' Plus a Link

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If Facebook is looking to steal TV ad dollars with its autoplay video ads, then its photo-sharing service Instagram has its sights set on print magazine money with a new ad format.

Instagram has created a slideshow-like ad format that lets advertisers include multiple photos in an ad and a link to the brand's site. Advertisers can arrange these "carousel" ads so that they tell a story or show off a product in a particular sequence as people swipe through them. The ads also carry a "learn more" link that opens an advertiser-chosen web page when clicked.

Instagram decided to create the carousel ads after seeing that people wanted to get more information from the service's existing ads and advertisers wanted to give it, according to the company's global head of business and brand development James Quarles. People were screen-grabbing photos and leaving comments or captions asking where they can find an item in the captured photo. And advertisers had been asking for ways to tell deeper stories with their ads.

In response, Instagram has given advertisers an alternative for the next time a company like Apple mulls a 12-page print spread in Vogue to promote the Apple Watch. And it's improved upon the analog format by appending a link people can click on to find out more about what's being advertised.

Instagram's carousel ads will "probably have a couple handfuls of initial launch partners," Mr. Quarles said. He declined to say which advertisers will be part of that initial roll-out.

Advertisers can specify the order of photos in a carousel and include up to four photos, but no videos. The carousel ads are being sold on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) basis.

Coinciding with the carousel ads' roll-out, Instagram has added an in-app web browser. However it's not a full-blown browser. The browser doesn't include a search bar or URL, so people can't use it to navigate directly to websites unless there's a link to those sites on the advertiser's page that opens from the ad. But the addition does open up Instagram to marketers who are looking to do more with their ads than raise brand awareness.

"We're giving that opportunity for brands to harness the interest and harness that interest into a location," Mr. Quarles said of the "learn more" links.

Instagram has claimed that 300 million people around the world use the photo-sharing service each month. Last year in the U.S., 64.2 million people on average used Instagram each month, a 60% increase from 2013, according to eMarketer's latest estimates. That would make Instagram's U.S. monthly user base bigger than Twitter's, which numbered 48.4 million last year, per the research firm. EMarketer expects Instagram's U.S. audience to hit 106.2 million people in 2018.

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