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Blink, and you’ll miss it. We’ve entered the era of five-second spots. Fast-twitch campaigns. Swipe right. Swipe left. Skip that. Hashtag this. Music videos that once told a story in a scant three minutes now look like long-form documentaries. Who’s got time for it? By the time you’ve read this paragraph, you could have seen ten different ads in your social feed.

Diagnosed or not, a new generation of consumers behaves as if it is afflicted with ADHD. To reach these consumers, brands, marketers and creative agencies are speaking to them where they live, which increasingly is on their phones, via Instagram Stories. Billed as an informal way to share images and videos, these posts have a life span of 24 hours. So the experience isn’t just brief, it is ephemeral. 

The platform presents an intriguing opportunity for brands savvy enough to embrace it. According to Kay Hsu, global lead for Instagram at Facebook Creative Shop, 70 percent of Instagram’s 600 million monthly active users now follow brands. Instagram Stories gives brands “a new creative canvas, one that’s immersive and interactive,” says Hsu. J.Crew is leveraging the Instagram ephemerality to promote one-day presales. Building supply store Lowe’s is working with Instagram Stories tutorials to explain home improvement projects in ten-second-long “how-to” videos. 

Part of what’s attractive to brands is Instagram Stories’ informality. “[It] lets you tell a story that’s just a moment from everyday,” according to Hsu. As an example, she points to the Mercedes-Benz behind-the-scenes photo shoots, which offer a refreshing departure from the high-gloss, burnished brochures of most car companies. “It’s a different take on the brand that provides intimacy and connection.”

The format is relatively new—Instagram launched Stories in August 2016—and Hsu says, “It’s ripe for experimentation.”

One of the most successful experiments in Instagram Stories so far has been Bacardi Instant DJ, an interactive experience that transforms the user’s phone into twin turntables designed to play built-in, preloaded tracks. All the user has to do is thumb-tap the virtual turntables.

For Marcos Kotlhar and Danilo Boer, BBDO New York’s executive creative directors for the Bacardi Group, and the team responsible for the Bacardi Instant DJ project, the way forward for brands is to adopt the behavior of their audience. “Instagram Stories is meant to skip,” Boer says. “Look at the way Stories is built. They make it in a way to eat short bites of information. You don’t have to watch the full ten-second clip. We told Bacardi, ‘Let’s use the behavior people already do. Skip, skip, skip. Do that, and people won’t hate your ad.’”

Kotlhar agrees. “If people skip, make something that skips,” he says. “Skipping has become a habit. Even if your brain is engaged, your thumb is skipping. We had to embrace that behavior and reward people with something entertaining and fun.”

BBDO New York used Instagram Stories to create Bacardi Instant DJ, enabling Instagrammers to play beats and short clips and record scratches with their thumbs.

Instant DJ exploited the back-and-forth skipping functionality built into Instagram to play a sequence of short clips, beats and scratches on a pair of virtual turntables controlled by thumbs. The team at BBDO New York compiled ten clips to work seamlessly together, then uploaded them to the Bacardi account. There was approximately a minute of content uploaded in total, but players could play as long as they wanted. After 24 hours, the DJ set disappeared, so the team reuploaded the tracks every 24 hours for a week. 

Bacardi Instant DJ was promoted on Bacardi’s social channels with a reach of 9.6 million followers. According to the Bacardi social team, more people engaged with the Instant DJ campaign than with any other campaign Bacardi has run on social media. 

Get a clue. Solve a puzzle. And go deep into the experience. That’s exactly what Nickelodeon had in mind when it tapped West Reading, Pennsylvania–based interactive agency Neo-Pangea to turn its Instagram campaign for movie release Legends of the Hidden Temple into an “Instadventure.” Supporting the release of the live-action TV movie inspired by the 1990s television show was a natural fit for Instagram, says Dave Perry, Nickelodeon’s vice president of social media. “The original show had contestants completing challenges, answering trivia and finding clues to navigate the hidden temple. We wanted to echo that interactivity through Instagram.”

Launched three days before the movie’s premiere, the Instadventure was a clever “hack of the platform without breaking the code,” according to Aaron Beaucher, partner and Neo-Pangea co–creative director. “We were able to exploit most of Instagram’s native functionality to accomplish the game play, with features such as pinch and zoom. With Instagram, you can upload images and tag other people in the image. We created multiple accounts; using the tagging mechanism to link the accounts together, we could lead people through the adventure one clue at a time.”

After building a narrative that took players from room to room in search of clues, the team hid amulets throughout each scene so players had to zoom in to find small clues. “Burying an item inside an item inside another was something we hadn’t seen done before,” Beaucher says. “It forced players to look under items, look behind items and took you to another account. The calls-to-action made the experience run deeper.” As the game progresses, players collect badges, take on new challenges and are eventually rewarded with an exclusive bonus video clip.

This campaign for Legends of the Hidden Temple, a TV movie based on Nickelodeon’s 1990s game show, encourages visitors to find clues and answer riddles in a virtual Instagram temple. Neo-Pangea implemented multiple Instagram accounts that created continuity by linking to each other.

Designing a seamless experience on Instagram that was just hard enough to reward gameplay was a considerable challenge, Beaucher recalls. “The user experience has to make sense to people. The overall complexity demands that right out of the gate, you have to figure out the flow and where the paths lead. We designed it on paper, then ported it over to a wireframe for clarity. Once we did that, we could share it with Dave and his team, so the scope of what we were trying to do was clear.”

When Neo-Pangea presented its user-interaction map, Perry recalls, “We would look at it, and it was like our minds would explode,” he says with a laugh. “Their blueprint looked like something Wile E. Coyote designed to build a contraption. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to lay out a complex road map.”

In all, the account garnered 4,500 followers across all accounts. Two thousand finished the game, and the in-game videos were seen more than 12,000 times. Besides the metrics, the amount of engagement really appealed to Nickelodeon. “To complete a day’s challenge required 25 taps if you clicked everything perfectly,” Perry says. “Typically, it took up to 50 taps to complete a challenge. We felt the engagement rate was extremely high.”

Meanwhile, back at Facebook Creative Shop, Hsu offers branders and marketers this advice: “To tell your story effectively, tell your story as quickly and visually as possible.” Forgo a narrative arc that introduces characters, conflict and conclusion. Hsu says, “If you are looking for brand recall, get the brand message as prescriptively clear as possible. Bring up the main point quickly. I tell brands, you aren’t competing with other brands. You are competing with babies …, cat videos, dog videos!”

Faced with that, what is your brand offering? “Relevance? Information? Entertainment?” Hsu asks. “Whatever it is, it needs to be compelling enough that your audience wants to stay with the platform.”

For Boer, it’s all about engagement and attention. “People will continue to engage,” he says. “You just have to talk to them in a different way. If they can only watch for one second, then make a one-second ad.” ca

Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at sam@wordstrong.com.

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