Co-authored by Erin Klingsberg.
Editorial note: On May 1, 2023, Instagram renamed branded content ads to partnership ads, providing additional functionality for brands to amplify creator-generated content. CreatorIQ continues to monitor updates and work closely with Meta to ensure our customers have best-in-class access to new APIs and product launches.
Creators are known for their authenticity and originality, drawing audiences from all walks of life into their unique perspectives and approaches to storytelling. Earlier this month, CreatorIQ’s Chief Product Officer, Bhavin Desai, partnered with Meta’s Industry Manager of Entertainment, Calvin Yu, to discuss the unique benefits that brands experience when partnering with creators, and how these brands can leverage Meta’s new innovation, branded content ads, to drive even more reach.
Moderated by CreatorIQ’s Senior Product Marketing Manager, Erin Klingsberg, the panelists highlighted how brands are shifting toward creator-led marketing. In 2022, CreatorIQ saw 50% more campaigns executed featuring the 1.9M unique creators within our influencer marketing solution. Ninety-seven percent more creators were added to brand CRMs, with Instagram ranking as the leading platform utilized in campaigns.
This year, brands aren’t just driven by volume alone. Because traditional targeting methods have become more challenging to execute due to restrictions on device tracking, cookie permissions, and other privacy guidelines, ad costs have risen, and performance has taken a hit. To combat this, brands are investing in creator-led strategies in 2023 by utilizing creator-made content across marketing channels, including paid advertising.
Incorporating creator content coupled with the creator’s followers is an effective method for reaching target audiences. Let’s take a look at how brands can effectively leverage creators’ content and audiences for paid advertising in order to expand reach, improve performance, and increase ROI.
What Is Branded Content, and Why Should You Use It?
Currently, brands can run creator content as an ad in different ways—either by reusing creator content on their owned and operated handle as a sponsored ad, via allow-listing or account takeovers, or as a branded content ad.
Before we dive into branded content ads, let’s take a moment to understand branded content itself—the original sponsored content that makes up a branded content ad. Branded content alone, as Meta defines it, is any “creator or publisher's content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value, such as monetary payment or free gifts.” PR packages or product seeding is considered branded content, and should be disclosed as such.
Branded content ads are ads created from an original branded content post that you can amplify from a creator’s handle, providing access to a wider margin of consumers, in addition to a creator’s organic audience.
It’s important to remember to disclose partnerships and the commercial nature of content. The Branded Content Tool on Instagram allows brands to grant permission for a creator to tag them as a Paid Partner in a post. Any additional hashtag disclosure, including #ad or custom keywords used to track campaigns, should be treated as an additive, rather than a replacement for using the tool to add the Paid Partnership label.
Currently, the FTC does not provide explicit guidance on how influencers should disclose that their posts are branded content. Instead, it offers recommendations and best practices. The Branded Content Tool is Meta’s solution to creating an effective way to provide consistent transparency about paid content to its communities. It’s recommended that brands and creators always use the Branded Content Tool to adhere to Meta’s branded content policies. Brands and creators are also advised to work with respective organizational legal counsel to determine how best to meet FTC guidelines.
How to Optimize Ad Spend on Instagram
Because branded content ads are created from a partnership between a brand and a creator, and are run from the creator’s handle, the content is denoted as “sponsored” and always includes the brand’s handle along with the creator’s handle. By ensuring partnership transparency, and through the use of signals from both creators and brand handles, branded content ads are the most effective way to rank higher and share creator content beyond organic reach.
This signaling is exclusive to branded content ads, and a core value proposition of the product. Traditional ads only leverage signals from one handle in the ads auction, whereas branded content ads leverage signals from both the brand and the creator. This means that the algorithm has an additional signal when determining how to deliver the ad.
Beyond just ranking benefits, branded content ads also benefit from the endorsement value of a creator. While this endorsement value can also be present in "whitelisted" ads from the creator handle, branded content ads more explicitly communicate both the brand and the creator in the ad's header.
According to Calvin Yu, when comparing creator handle ads without the sponsored label, Instagram found that branded content ads:
- Increased the probability to win in purchase outcomes by 82%
- Lowered cost per purchase by nearly 4%
- Saw a 2.4 times higher conversion lift
When the intent is clear, audiences respond positively to the content and its call to action. But this intent can sometimes cause confusion among creators, as Bhavin Desai noted:
“Historically, there is sometimes an assumption among creators that branded content performs worse, and out of fear, creators tag their brand partnership in other ways. It’s pretty clear here that the label is used to drive stronger ad performance, and it’s a win-win situation to use the Paid Partnership label—especially if it means their content will get even more reach and conversion.”
Beyond performance, branded content ads are beneficial to creators as well. Branded content ads give creators more control, so they are more likely to agree to grant ad permissions. It’s also an easy process with no added work on a creator’s part to grant one permission that simplifies the full branded content experience. Above all, the integrity and protection that the sponsored label provides can offer assurance to creators when discussing the usage of their content and likeness for paid advertising. It’s a transparent label that adheres to Meta’s branded content policies, and can help put creators’ minds at ease.
Best Practices for Effective Branded Content Ads
Based on budget and campaign objectives, it’s recommended to diversify your mix of creators in order to drive performance at the right cost. Keep in mind that when creator content is boosted as an ad using the Branded Content Tool, the content will appear in the feeds of people who may not know the creator you're partnering with. Here are some best practices for branded content that can be repurposed as ads:
- Introduce the product early, which has been shown to drive an increase in brand interest.
- Design for sound off, as consumers often watch content in public and with others around them. Ads designed this way also have been shown to drive more brand interest.
- Let your creators bring their strengths to the table, and come up with ways to weave your brand in creatively and authentically.
- Keep it short and sweet. Optimized creative sees twice the brand awareness.
- Let the creator lean into a visual style that’s authentic to them, and strike a good balance.
Meta recommends starting a branded content ads strategy by running a mix of branded content ads alongside how you're currently running ads. In an internal study across 15 advertiser tests in 2022, Meta found that when this mix was combined into a single campaign, there was a 53% increase in click-through rate, and a 19% reduction in cost per acquisition. This method clearly outperforms business-as-usual strategies.
Branded Content Ads at Scale With CreatorIQ
With so much opportunity and investment in creators, brands are leveraging creator-made content across marketing channels, with a concerted effort in paid advertising. Branded content ads help lower CPA, and when scaled through CreatorIQ’s solution, brands can:
- Increase reach and ROI
- Access a massive amount of high-quality creative produced by creators
- Maintain integrity with built-in sponsorship disclosures
- Make the overall process more streamlined and efficient
CreatorIQ’s solution makes it easier for brands and creators to partner together through CreatorIQ’s platform by integrating and scaling branded content activation in a streamlined way that saves time and eliminates manual work. Now, brands can simply grant creators the ability to tag them as a paid partner without ever having to log into Meta’s Business Manager. What’s more, it eliminates extra work for your creators—all they need to do is tag you. And if you’re partnering long-term, their tagging ability never expires.
Notably, since granting boosting permission is now nested under Branded Content, it’s never been easier to get ad permissions from creators and tap into the benefits of branded content ads. This improved experience for creators can help boost your paid strategy by removing barriers to activation, reducing your time-to-value, and increasing your ability to scale. Because of this, when considering a branded content ads strategy, it’s encouraged to start thinking of branded content holistically; the more branded content is tagged using the Paid Partnership label, the more branded content ads can be created, and your potential ROI increases.