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Instagram Influencer Marketing

Branded Content Ads 101: Your Complete Guide to Branded Content on Instagram

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How did you discover the last product you bought? 

If you’re anything like your fellow consumers, there’s a good chance it was social media—more specifically, Instagram. It’s the perfect place to discover new products and brands in between sunset pics and mesmerizing recipe videos. 

But shoppers are less likely to buy into content from brands themselves and are instead looking to their favorite influencers and creators for product inspiration. 

In fact, 63% of 18-34-year-olds trust what an influencer says about a brand more than what the brand says about itself, while 82% of consumers feel that if a creator is personally interested in a brand, they’d buy it. This shows that we actively look to influential people in our communities to help us discover new products.

With so many brands clamoring for the attention of Instagram’s one billion monthly users, it’s hard to stand out, which is where branded content ads come into play. This collaborative ad format is a great way for marketers to reach new audiences with high-performing, influencer-generated content and take advantage of targeting and analytics capabilities that aren’t available via organic influencer posts. 

What is branded content on Instagram? 

Branded content is a piece of content co-created with a brand and influencer (or creator) that involves an exchange of value or payment to promote a product or service. 

You can identify a piece of branded content via the paid partnership tag in the header or at the top of the post. It’s only available for business and creator accounts on Instagram and allows creators to disclose their brand partnerships in feed posts, Stories, Instagram Lives, Reels, and videos.

Brands can unlock juicy organic insights on their branded content, including reach, likes, and comments for feed posts, and taps forward and backward, replies, and exits for Stories.

An Introduction to Instagram Branded Content Tools

Instagram has a suite of tools you can tap into to aid your branded content. Only business and creator accounts that comply with Instagram’s general Community Guidelines can access the tools.

Once compliant, you can unlock tools that can boost the performance of your branded content and make it work harder for you, including:

  • Tagging features that make paid partnerships obvious in the feed
  • Detailed insights so both you and the creators you work with can see how well your partnership posts are performing
  • Branded content ads to increase reach and target more users with branded content 

Branded content is a win-win for both brands and creators

Today’s consumers crave authenticity. We don’t buy into an influencer’s recommendations because they’re famous, we do it because we believe they’re authentic and credible. We trust them. 

When you work with influencers, that trust is automatically transferred to your brand. It also adds a layer of credibility to content creators by establishing them as a recognized brand partner—they can essentially build their reputation and gain more brand partnerships. 

Partnering with trusted influencers can expand your reach and give you access to new audiences while creators maintain control over their content. Additionally, you have almost instant access to content that you don’t have to create in-house. For example, instead of sending your team from San Francisco to Los Angeles to get beach content, you can work with LA-based influencers who are already on the ground there.  

Turning branded content into ads offers increased functionality while leveraging the experience, trust, and creativity of the influencers you work with. 

There are three big benefits that come with this: 

  1. Integrity: Leveraging branded content ads offers creators protection and transparency while adhering to Meta’s branded content policies. 
  2. Creative empowerment: Creators have greater control over what content is turned into an ad and don’t lose control of their audience.
  3. Enhanced permissions: With Aspire, you only need to get permission once to simplify the full branded content experience. 

The results speak for themselves. Our research shows that running branded content ads with business-as-usual ads in the same campaign can dramatically improve campaign performance. It can lead to 53% higher click-through rates, a 19% drop in CPA, and a 99% probability of outperforming business-as-usual ads only. 

And when compared to other types of Instagram partnerships, like account takeovers and allowlisting, branded content ads still come out on top. Research by Meta found that Instagram branded content ads see an 82% increase in the possibility of winning for purchase outcomes, a 3.9% lower cost per purchase, and a 2.4x conversion lift.

How branded content works: Getting set up 

Step 1: Make sure you (and your chosen partners) meet the requirements

Before you begin, make sure you’re set up for success with the right account type and a refresh of Meta’s advertising guidelines. You’ll also need to connect or reconnect your Instagram Insights due to the new permissions required.

Step 2. Send terms with branded content and branded content ads

Through Aspire, you can send terms and permissions to the partners you work with to ensure everyone’s on the same page. At this point, you can discuss how long you want access to partner content and any guidelines you have for your influencers, such as not mentioning other brands during their engagement with you.

Step 3. Creator accepts brand terms

Once your partner has accepted and signed your brand terms, you’re good to go. These permissions will last as long as you have specified for your engagement, so you don’t need to re-sign them every time you work on a new piece of branded content.

Step 4: The creator posts the branded content

Now the fun can begin. When a creator has the content ready to post, they can tag it with a paid partnership label in the Advanced Settings—this is a must-do for branded content, especially if you want to turn it into an ad. The post will now show up on Instagram with the tag “Paid Partnership with [your brand’s IG account name]”.

Step 5. Boost the branded content post

If a post is doing particularly well organically, it’s a good idea to boost it so it can reach an even bigger audience. You can boost the post just like you would any other piece of content, by choosing your budget and the type of accounts you want to reach.

Instagram’s Branded Content tools make it easy to promote partner content in either a feed or Stories format. To do this, the creators you work with have to toggle on the option to Allow Business Partner to promote their content in the advanced settings of each Instagram post.

We recommend discussing this with your partners ahead of time to avoid any bottlenecks!

Step 6: Create an ad from a piece of branded content

Instagram stores all the partner posts between your brand and your chosen influencers so you can choose which ones you want to run as ads. Simply select Primary and Partner Identity, select Post, and choose the content you want to run as an ad.

You can also create a Branded Content Ad from scratch if your chosen partner hasn’t created the content yet.

How to create a Branded Content Ad from scratch

Before you begin: Request ad creation access from the creator (go to Settings > Business > Branded content > Request ad creation access). 

Search for your chosen creator’s handle and send a request. 

Once accepted, you can create branded content ads in your Ads Manager and submit them directly to the creator for approval. Creators can also give partners account-level permissions, but if a creator revokes access, any branded content ads you’re currently running will be paused. 

Once you’ve done that (and ensured you’re eligible and approved for branded content): 

  • Go to Ads Manager > +Create
  • Choose the objective of your ad
  • Create an ad as you normally would (choose a budget, schedule, audience, and delivery format) 
  • Select IG feed placement only (unless you have assets that fit other placements)
  • When you get to the Identity section, select the creator’s Instagram handle
  • Toggle the Branded Content tickbox
  • Choose your creative (bear in mind, you can’t use catalog feeds in Branded Content Ads, just a manual upload of video or images) 
  • Click Publish and wait for approval 

Once you’ve started working with partners you can manually approve branded content posts (or toggle the setting that automatically approves them):

Step 7: Manage your ongoing branded content strategy

Once you’ve started working with partners you can manually approve branded content posts (or toggle the setting that automatically approves them):

  • Go to Settings > Business > Branded content
  • Toggle Manually Approve Tags to on or off

Top tip: It’s a good idea to keep approval turned on so you can control who’s tagging themselves as an official brand partner. From here, you’ll be able to review incoming Tag Requests in the Branded Content Tab and curate your own list of Approved Business Partners (which means you can automatically approve content from the influencers you work with regularly).

You can also choose to run content as an ad in feed or Stories format as well to track results and measure the outcome of your branded content ads.

Check the Performance of Your Branded Content Ads 

You can easily view the insights from branded content you’ve been tagged by going to Page Insights > Branded Content.

Note: You can get different insights for different post formats:

  • Feed posts: You can see reach and engagement metrics with no time limit
  • Stories: You can see reach, taps forward, backward, replies, and exits for up to 14 days
  • Instagram Live: You can see Live insights for up to two years (or until the Live has been deleted)

How Brands Are Using Branded Content Ads on Instagram

Weaving Branded Content Ads into your Instagram strategy can get more eyeballs on your products, increase your reach, and boost brand awareness and trust. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s some inspiration from existing brands to get your creative juices flowing. 

Partner with a handful of established creators

Clothing brand Vuori tested three different strategies for promoting its influencer content—allow-listing, organic content, and branded content ads, which were by far the biggest success. The brand partnered with established creators to produce a series of engaging Reels. 

Vuori found that branded content ads led to a 25% decrease in cost per purchase compared to the other strategies and a 20% decrease in cost per purchase compared to ads posted from its own handle. 

Partner with multiple creators–both big and small 

It was the same story for Viator, which ran a campaign of creator-submitted branded content that led to a 59.7% lower cost per acquisition. The brand partnered with multiple creators, including travel influencer SincerelyOphelia, encouraging them to share their travel experiences which Viator then turned into Branded Content Ads.

Create Branded Content Ads in a variety of formats

Volvo turned Stories and feed posts by creator Song of Style into engaging ads that would resonate with Instagram viewers. Song of Style effortlessly weaves the product into the creative without being overt about it.

There are plenty of ways to use branded content ads as part of your Instagram strategy, but we highly recommend experimenting to see what works best for your audience and products.

Your best chance of success is using it alongside other content marketing strategies and creating a cohesive ecosystem of branded content that you can build on.

5 tips for successful branded content ads

Now you know how to get started with Branded Content Ads, let’s dive into some ways you can set yourself up for success.

  1. Find the ideal mix of creators

Choose a smart mix of established and aspiring creators that drive performance at the right cost.

Our research found that there’s no difference in performance between established creators (1 million + followers) and aspiring creators (<100,000 followers) for lower-funnel campaigns.

In fact, leveraging both types of creators leads to an incremental reach to new audiences over business-as-usual ads and SPA performance improvements by increasing audience liquidity.

  1. Double down on top performers

When your branded content campaigns are underway, you’ll be able to see which creators are your best performers. Once you’ve identified them, double down on their potential by creating more content and expanding your campaigns with them.

  1. Show the product early

Branded Content Ads that show the brand in the first three seconds drive 44% more brand interest. Encourage creators to get your product out early and mention it at the start of their content.

  1. Give partners creative control

Influencers know what works best for their audience and what kind of content is more likely to convert. Instead of providing creators with a list of do’s and don’ts, give them free rein to integrate your brand thoughtfully into their content.

  1. Design your content for sound-off viewers

Not everyone scrolls through Instagram with the sound on. Make sure the creators you work with understand that their creative must ultimately work with the sound off—Meta research found that ads designed for sound-off drive 38% more brand interest.

Get started with Branded Content Ads and Aspire

Branded Content Ads are becoming a huge avenue for influencer marketers to reach new audiences, increase visibility, and generate more awareness of their products and services. Use Aspire to connect with relevant creators and create a slick Branded Content experience with built-in permissions and automated approval. Book a demo to see Aspire in action >

To see Branded Content Ads in action, view our partner webinar, Meta + Aspire Present: How To Lower Ad Costs With Branded Content Ads.

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