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Why Nike Wants to Be as Interesting as Beyoncé and Avocado Toast

You might not think twice about stitching together your latest photos and videos into an Instagram Story for all of your followers to enjoy, but the advent of Stories is creating new challenges, as well as new opportunities, for brands.

Now “part of the DNA of Instagram,” the two-year-old Stories feature became a “pressure release valve” where people could share content that otherwise wouldn’t quite mesh with their perfectly planned profiles or ruin their posting cadence, the social app’s global head of business and media Jim Squires said at Advertising Week in New York on Oct. 3. And Instagram’s users, which now top 1 billion, responded enthusiastically; as of June this year, 400 million accounts created Stories daily, a 4X rise from 100 million in October 2016—two months after launching the feature. The ephemeral format brings a new element of spontaneity and candor into a platform known for careful curation, and it can aid brands and individuals in revealing different sides of their personas.

Much as Facebook’s newsfeed became “standard format” across the marketing industry, so now is Instagram Stories, Squires noted. As a result of that growing popularity, the platform has debuted a number of additional features to help brands better serve customers, like the recent launch of in-Stories advertising.

For brands like Nike, however, creating content for Instagram Stories means breaking out of a long-established comfort zone. The hardest part of putting together compelling Stories, said Jackie Titus, Nike’s director of global brand impact and head of social strategy, is right-sizing the amount of effort that goes into creating something that will disappear after 24 hours.

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“Stories probably is the biggest leap we made in terms of getting comfortable with the Instagram platform because of how short it lasts,” Titus explained. “We had a lot of hard conversations in the beginning.”

Encouraging the marketing team to “lean into” Stories required “educational moments,” she added, and came down to focusing on the metrics: If a Nike Story achieved its reach and consumer engagement goals, did anything else really matter?

There’s an upside to Stories’ limited life span, however. Titus said the format allows Nike to publish content more frequently when needed, and if an idea fizzles—well, at least it’ll disappear fairly quickly. And if it catches on in Stories, there’s room to build on that kernel of thought in a larger way.

Creating content for Stories has even required the team to adjust the format they’re used to using. Not so long ago, vertical video would be roundly mocked as amateurish and inelegant, the kind of uninformed thing your Luddite parents or grandparents would do; now it’s the preferred aspect on Stories. That’s because our phones are vertical most of the time; it’s how phones fit into our hands, how we read news and texts and swipe right in dating apps. For their part, Millennials, oft derided for supposed laziness, just might be too unbothered to ever rotate their phones to accommodate content, as Instagram data shows that 72 percent never hold their devices horizontally.

This shift to video captured and presented vertically is new and different for Nike, which like many big brands is more accustomed to a “cinematic” approach to shooting commercials destined for TV, Titus said. Capturing snippets of video for Stories allows Nike to take some risks and have a little fun, she added. A Story promoting its then-new Epic React running shoe last year featured actor and comedian Kevin Hart trying out the sneaker for the first time. Because not everyone chooses to turn on the audio when watching a Story, Nike needed a way to visually convey Hart’s comedic take on the shoe’s “brand new running sensation” stemming from a new cushioning foam technology.

“It feels like goose down pillow on your feet!” Hart said in the spot. “With actual goose in them!” And to drive the point home, Nike brought in some animated elements to turn the actor’s feet into honking goose heads.

Those elements native to Instagram—text overlays, sketching, animation and the like—enable new ways of communicating effectively in short-lived videos, Titus noted. And given how quickly Stories and other video content are digested, the onus is on the brand to deliver something worthwhile when someone is checking Instagram in those “in-between moments” like waiting for a bus or train to arrive.

Competing for attention is no easy task on Instagram, Titus said. “We have to be just as interesting as Beyoncé and your friend’s avocado toast, because in the feed we’re stacked up all the same.”