social media how toWant to make sure your ads stand out on Facebook and Instagram?

Have you tried Carousel Ads?

While many businesses use Carousel Ads solely to promote products, the ads also provide an excellent opportunity to showcase your brand’s unique narrative.

In this article, I’ll share how to use storytelling in carousel ads to promote your products and stand out from your competitors.

tell a story with facebook and instagram carousel ads

Discover how to tell stories with Facebook and Instagram Carousel ads.

Listen to this article:

#1: Grab Attention With the First Image

The first rule of storytelling (and advertising for that matter) is to start out strong. Be sure the first image in your carousel ad series grabs attention and makes sense on its own.

Since users may not scroll through all of the images in the series, you want to get your message across right away. Otherwise, you risk confusing your audience and wasting impressions.

For example, in Progressive’s #ActYourAge carousel ads, the first image immediately stands out.

progressive carousel ad

Make sure the first image in your series grabs attention and can stand on its own.

It uses a white background, which is very different from normal photography on the platform, and has a man playing with a baby’s mobile (also known as a carousel). The picture is so unexpected and kooky, the user can’t help but read the line below: “Dump your parents’ car insurance company. #ActYourAge.”

While your first image shouldn’t rely on any of the others to get its point across, it should still be intriguing enough to get users to swipe through to the end.

#2: Make Them Swipe

With any story, the point is to keep the reader engaged throughout and ultimately to read through to the end. Just as authors want to keep their readers interested, the same is true with carousel ads.

Once you’ve hooked the user with the first image, encourage continued engagement with the other images. This gives your brand more exposure and increased recall.

This carousel ad by Tesco Foods certainly elicits the “I can’t stop swiping” response. To see the entire photo users must swipe through all of them. This is a great example of drawing a user through a story and, in this case, a very delicious-looking one.

carousel ad example

Keep users engaged so they feel they must swipe through to the end.

Test out this concept for your brand. Use Photoshop’s splice tool (or play with pictures in your favorite design program) to cut separate images from a larger one.

#3: Create a Scene

Relating to your audience and evoking emotion are the other important parts of storytelling. To do these, provide the context necessary for users to feel like they’re right there with you. Place them at the scene.

Choose photos carefully to create imagery for carousel ads. Then write copy to draw in your audience.

The TV series Wet Hot American Summer did a great job getting their audience members to envision themselves at Camp Firewood. Pictures show the characters hanging out and doing things with their friends. Plus the image and copy pairing is so clever that users not only picture themselves there, they also remember how they felt when they attended summer camp years ago.

carousel ad example

Using images and text, set a scene that is relatable to your audience.

Obviously it’s easier to set the scene when you’re advertising something with a plot, like a television show or movie. However, for products and services, figure out how your brand fits into your customers’ lives and create a scene that demonstrates it.

For example, if you’re advertising a shirt, rather than show still images of it, think about the lifetime of the shirt. It goes from fresh and new in a package to being worn to being cleaned to being borrowed by a friend, etc. Photos that showcase a story create a plot, which evokes emotion from your customers.

#4: Think Sequentially

The order of events is essential to story comprehension. A well-edited sequence provides a natural pace to the story within your ad. Help move your users through your story.

Showtime did a great job incorporating natural sequence into its recent ads around the second season of Penny Dreadful. In just four photos you can tell the story is about a man on the run. He shoots someone, says goodbye to his girlfriend and runs away to a church.

carousel ad example

Sequence the images in your ad to increase story comprehension.

Keep in mind that sequence doesn’t necessarily mean chronological order. It just means every action captured leads to a reaction.

#5: Incorporate Visual Variety

In videography, visual variety means shooting multiple shots of the same scene from different locations, angles, distance and so on. Choose an assortment of images to build a story and ensure visual interest.

In this jean ad from Target, each shot has a role in painting the big picture. It brings the audience into the design studio, shares what the studio is like and displays what kind of jeans are being made.

carousel ad example

Use a variety of image shots to make your ads interesting and paint the big picture for your audience.

Most feature films show multiple images to set the scene. This is something you can easily do with carousel ads.

#6: Consider the Platform

No matter what your story, if you want to stand out, think about the channel first. Look at the platform’s audience, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram, and what they expect out of it. Then design an ad that speaks to them.

For example, Buick hit it out of the park on Instagram with these ads about its new 24-hour test drive service. The photography is beautiful (an Instagram must), and it uses a popular photo filter. Buick is also leveraging some of the top content categories that receive the most engagement by users on Instagram: fashion and fitness.

carousel ad example

Make sure whatever story you tell, it’s in alignment with the platform.

Develop a channel-specific story that makes the best use of the platform, and increases engagement with your intended audience.

#7: Leave Your Audience Wanting More

If there’s a place to break the rules of storytelling, here it is: do not give a conclusion. Rather than offering a natural ending, lure users into clicking the learn more button, so they can finish the story on your custom landing page.

For example, Sour Patch Slurpee takes viewers through the first four images of a Sour Patch Kid story. So much excitement is generated that users want to see what comes next. After they click, they’re directed to a landing page that extended the “party” to its audience. This custom landing page asks users to share their #SPKSlurpeeSelfies.

carousel ad example

Create a story that leaves users clicking for more.

The purpose of carousel ads is to increase awareness and engagement. However, the ultimate goal is to get the audience to continue the experience and click through to a landing page. When that happens, you’re able to establish a relationship, continue the interaction and possibly capture your users’ information.

Final Thoughts

With today’s cluttered ad space, it’s getting harder to really stand out. If you want to build a breakthrough carousel ad, start by creating an engaging story that takes your audience along for the ride.

What do you think? Do you use storytelling in your carousel ads? What techniques are most effective? Which brands’ ads really stand out? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

tell stories with facebook and instagram carousel ads

Tips for telling stories with Facebook and Instagram ads.

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  • Nice post!

    I admit that I’ve never seen a carousel ad and will look for them in my New Feed. Of course, that’s the problem. I don’t pay attention to my FB News Feed because I’m too busy writing and managing pages (companies may not budget for ads – don’t ask). Trying to keep up with every little nuance of social media may be trickier than what was thought possible. 🙂

  • Carrie Ann Rathbun Hawks

    I totally agree! I think all of this is great and would love to do it, but it would take up all of my time, while clients are paying for lots of other things besides social media. guess I need to be more thoughtful about how I can apply these great ideas and be assertive with proposing them. Then it’s “gee, how do I get this done?”…LOL

  • What software and or apps do you recommend for creating the carousel ads? Both for adding text, and for creating what I assume is a ‘slide show’ effect. I haven’t seen one of these ads yet but they sound great!

  • Faline Jones

    This sounds like a great way to take my carousel ads to a new level in Facebook. However, I’ve had the understanding that the carousel photos are given different priority as the ad goes on based on which photos get the most clicks. Those would be placed at the beginning of the carousel as the ad continues to reach new people. So, then it would always be shifting as the ad went on. Do you know if this is true? It would not make for good story telling then.

  • I can’t even keep up with my email (300 a day), and take care of grandkids, and participate in writing groups, keep up with my own writing (WIP), keep up with FB friends, family, etc. Trying to keep a platform, ehance it for best effect, and keep up with day to day stuff is already sapping my energy. When/where do I draw the line?

  • OMG you just gave me the best idea for an ad on something I’m working on right now – can hardly wait to give it a try!

  • I would recommend hiring a VA or hiring out your social media if this is something you can’t keep up with. Doing it all will keep you small girl! 😉
    It’s scary to do, but think of how much more money you could make with, say, 5 extra hours to focus solely on finding new clients? It easily covers the cost.

  • This option can be turned on or off when creating your ad.

  • Faline Jones

    Awesome, thanks for the tip. I’ll have to look for that the next time I create a carousel. And I am going to tell a story!

  • Michael Kerrisk

    Can someone please point me to where I might find information about advertising on Instagram?

  • Ben Guez

    I am using the carousel tool on facebook for my client but on Instagram their ads is not open to everyone yet correct?
    Do we have an idea about the date when they will release it?

  • Claire Formosa

    Great post!
    Haven’t used carousel ads yet, but this will help me plan a good one!

  • treb072410

    Nice post Allie!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Kenethe1234

    No idea about carousel ads yet, but hope this blog will help me understand everything completely and choose a good one!

  • Allie Wassum

    Hey there! It’s best to find great pictures and upload them in the ads interface (for these ads you’ll use Facebook’s Power Editor). All you need is a sequence of four photos. And keep in mind the 20% text rule – if there’s text in your image, it cannot exceed 20% of the space.

  • Allie Wassum

    Yep, that’s not a necessary option, but do keep in mind that there’s a 10% swipe rate on the first image, so make sure it really grabs the user’s attention. Once you get a user to swipe through that first image, then 2/3 of those people will swipe through to the end!!

  • Allie Wassum


  • Allie Wassum

    Yes!! This should be open to everyone by early next week and will be available in Facebook’s Power Editor tool! Good luck 🙂

  • Allie Wassum

    Thanks Claire!

  • Allie Wassum

    Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Allie Wassum

    Try looking on your mobile device. There are a ton more carousel ads running on mobile, it’s admittedly much easier to swipe on a smartphone vs. desktop.

  • Allie Wassum

    Hey Aleta – I think you should just try to minimize your efforts to make the most impact on one channel. Basically, make sure what you do post is fabulous versus trying to do too much. And, besides, those grandkids are super important!! Try to find inspiration in down moments and put reminders on your calendar to get social. The more you do it, the easier it will be to accomplish. You want avoid it feeling like a chore, because everyone can pick up on that!

  • sophie touloudjian

    I think it’s a great idea. However, I sell all sorts of stuff on my website which I want people to check out. but I’m not quite sure how to relate my product to a carousel ad. Thanks you 🙂 It was a great article. I think I got my answer already anyway. 🙂

  • Thanks, Allie. I really needed that. I put myself on a schedule for today and it seems to be working so far. Can’t have the same schedule every day, but I can do it on a day by day basis. Have a great day.

  • treb072410

    Your most welcome, cant wait to read your next post!

  • Subodh Rkr

    Not yet saw the carousel ad on my device.

  • Marketing Sweet

    Thanks for the excellent tips Allie! I particularly like the idea of splitting an image into sections in the carousel ads so that it engages the Facebook user and incentivises them to swipe across to view all elements of the ad.

  • Aaron Pearson

    Completely agree, Amanda! I will definitely start looking for them more on my feed.

    How much more successful would you say the companies that do run ads are compared to those who don’t?

  • Aaron Pearson


    It sounds like you are at that line. Sometimes it is just easier and more efficient to pay someone to take it over and put in the effort. You can’t do it all all the time. =)

  • Good question Aaron. I think running ads can make a significant difference, if you’re strategic about them and write great copy.

  • Quick one – I have no issue creating Instagram ads through Power Editor, but don’t have the option to create Carousel ads on IG – only FB. Is this based on Campaign setting that isn’t through Clicks to Website, but something else? Or how do you specifically ad another image to the Instagram ad?

  • Shetul Majithiya

    Is there any way to share pictures in a carousel way on facebook without using the paid ads? I saw some posts which were not sponsored but were in a carousel format. Are there any open graph tags to do this?

  • Allie Wassum

    Hi there Jason! Right now Instagram is only allowing advertisers to do Carousel ads via an IO with the company. But it will be opening carousel ads to all advertisers via Power Editor on Oct. 28th, and the interface will be super intuitive!

  • Allie Wassum

    Hi Shetul, right now carousel ads are paid only. Maybe the posts you saw are part of Facebook’s ongoing experimentation with new post types and formats – which would be super awesome!

  • Fantastic. Thanks for the info Allie. 😀

  • Yeah, Carousel posts are possible. By embedding the link in a post, it pulls through multiple images (or you can add images) which then display as Carousel form, and you can edit the titles, like standard links. This may be purely area based as I’m in ANZ and a lot of features are tested here early on. Screenshot here shows the usage – Add image via the + and it’ll give you a carousel.

  • Allie Wassum

    Sure thing!

  • Kenneth Paulino

    Thanks Allie, great article and podcast. Is the Oct. 28 date for advertisers in the states and an international roll out later? I live in Guam so we are considered International for some reason.