The Ultimate Guide to Facebook Canvas Ads

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Ken Calcitas
Ken Calcitas



Nowadays, Facebook is one of the top platforms for digital advertising -- in fact, 93% of social media advertisers use Facebook ads on a regular basis.


Additionally, since Facebook offers a wide range of options for effective and measurable advertising, it's a good opportunity to reach an audience regardless of your budget.

If you haven't explored Facebook advertising yet, now's a good time -- at the end of 2018, ad costs on Facebook dropped by 2%, while ad impressions skyrocketed by 34%, making it more appealing for marketers than ever before.

Among the various offerings in the Facebook ad family is the Instant Experience. Formerly known as Canvas Ads, Instant Experiences are mobile-friendly, lightning fast, and deeply immersive. They offer rich, visual experiences for your viewers -- keeping them engaged as you highlight your brand and products or services.

To help you find success with Facebook Instant Experiences, we've created this guide (based on our 187-page Handbook for Facebook Video Marketing). Keep reading to learn what Facebook Instant Experiences are, and how you can increase both brand awareness and revenue through the new tool -- for cheap.

Download Now: Free Facebook Advertising Checklist

What are Facebook Canvas Ads (i.e. Instant Experiences)?

Facebook Canvas Ads, now known as Instant Experiences, let you create full-screen, mobile-only pieces of content within the Facebook app.

You might think of them as a mini landing pages for your business, keeping customers engaged with your campaigns without requiring users to exit the Facebook app at all. These Instant Experiences are particularly effective for segments of your audience who regularly check Facebook and enjoy consuming content within the social media platform.

Viewers can interact with Instant Experiences on both iOS and Android. Once a person clicks on your ad, the Instant Experience loads instantly (15 times faster than a website page) and opens to a full-screen format. From there, users can interact with multiple forms of content.

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Instant Experiences transports viewers into your world. You can engage and inspire them with images, videos, swipe-through carousels, slideshows, and more -- all within a single ad.

Visuals and video do the heavy-lifting here, which lets you tell compelling stories to capture your audience's attention while simultaneously collecting data that will help you convert those prospects into customers.

Building Your Brand with Instant Experience

Instant Experience ads are great for both direct response and branding campaigns. No matter which stage of the marketing funnel you're working on, you can create an immersive experience that mirrors your website without taking users away from their Facebook browsing.

Facebook tests revealed that 53% of users watched at least half of every Instant Experience ad they were served. Best of all, many of those ads were over a minute long -- that's some serious screen time your company could be getting.

Additionally, the average phone user spends 90% of their browsing time in-app, as opposed to standalone websites -- so if you're doing mobile-first marketing, it makes sense to build your campaigns in the places your audience spends the most time.

How to Use Instant Experience Ads

Most advertisers use Instant Experience ads in their branding campaigns because of the unique full-screen nature of the ad. However, there has been a huge amount of success with direct response campaigns, otherwise known as demand generation campaigns, as well.

When Canvas Ads became Instant Experiences, it was more than a simple renaming exercise. Facebook also added extra features, including:

  • Analytics functions
  • Ability to embed Facebook pixels
  • Ability to add third-party pixels for A/B testing
  • More design template options
  • Re-engagement capabilities

To use Instant Experiences, follow these three steps:

1. Start with a design template.

If you don't have the luxury of a design team, Facebook has you covered. Pre-made templates can help you get your Instant Experience campaigns created and published -- fast.

  • Instant Storefront helps you sell your products in a grid format.
  • Instant Lookbook lets you showcase your products in the context of a lifestyle magazine.
  • Instant Customer Acquisition helps you motivate customers by displaying your offers and including a clear call-to-action.
  • Instant Storytelling uses images and video to create a highly visual experience and give potential customers a better feel for your brand.

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2. Double down on lead generation.

An amazing new feature for Instant Experience ads is a lead generation add-on called Instant Forms. This add-on allows you to collect emails, phone numbers, and any other information you might need from within the Instant Experience ad, enabling your sales and marketing teams to create more customizable and engaging content for your prospects.

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In the past, lead generation campaigns on Facebook had difficulty capturing high-quality leads, mainly because there was such a low amount of friction between clicking an ad, and signing up for the campaign. As a result, users tended to get a little too click-happy.

Typically, these leads only had a vague interest and weren't highly-qualified leads, resulting in both poor data and wasted budgets.

Capturing lead generation data from an Instant Experience ad solves this issue by ensuring that users must go through a "landing page" experience before giving out their information. This can help advertisers find the qualified leads they're looking for on Facebook, while enjoying the low cost that typically comes with Facebook lead generation campaigns.

3. Link to your campaigns.

All of your Instant Experience campaigns can now be linked together. This enables your visitors to navigate through two or more of your Instant Experiences -- creating a seamless journey similar to a mobile website, without requiring users to venture away from the Facebook app.

Ultimately, it's critical your ad experience is as frictionless as possible. Facebook's Instant Experiences ensure you're meeting a segment of your audience on an app they already enjoy, without requiring them to leave Facebook to experience your brand's content. 

How to Create an Instant Experience Ad

Creating ads can often feel like a daunting undertaking.

For Instant Experiences in particular, the emphasis is on beautiful, striking imagery and design aesthetics that will intrigue your viewers while effectively delivering your message -- it's definitely a little more pressure to perform than your average text-based ad!

Fortunately, to make it easy, Facebook offers multiple templates that can be used to help showcase your products in the Instant Experience format.

Whether you choose to use one of the pre-made templates or create a one-of-a-kind campaign from scratch, it's easy to get started -- here's how.

1. Head to your Facebook Ads Manager and create a new campaign.

2. Choose a marketing objective that's supported by Instant Experience, such as traffic, brand awareness, or conversions.

Like any other ad, you need to keep the end goal of your campaign in mind when you're working on building and launching your Instant Experience. Scroll down and give your new campaign a name, then click "Continue".

3. Work your way through the audience, budget, and scheduling selections for your ad, then select the format for your ad (e.g. carousel, video, single image, etc).

Note: If you choose "Collection" your Instant Experience will automatically be set for full-screen.

4. Mark the checkbox for "Add an Instant Experience".

It's here that you can select a pre-made template to start building your creative, or make your own custom ad.

5. If you want full control over the design and layout to showcase your brand, it's recommended that you build a custom Instant Experience.

We're going to select this option.

Give your Instant Experience a name, select the components you want to add, and choose how you'd like to fit them onto a mobile screen. Once you're done, click "Save".

Note: To name each creative component, hover over its name (e.g. "photo") and click. Renaming each component makes it easier to identify later on if you need to change it.

6. To see what your live Instant Experience will look like, or let someone else preview it before it goes live, click "Mobile Preview" and select the Facebook or Instagram preview, or click "Share".

If everything looks good to roll out, click "Finish".

And that's it! You can now publish and run your Instant Experience campaign for the world to see.

Best Practices for Creating Instant Experience Ads

When designing your Instant Experience ads, it's important to be crystal-clear on the goal of your campaign, and have polished, eye-catching visuals ready to go.

Ads created in this format need to be visually striking to entice viewers into watching your experience.

Additionally, when it comes to your ad text, it's vital you ensure your creatives can be read from the top-down. Even if you have carousels, it's important that the ad experience is readable, especially if the user doesn't swipe through your carousels.

1. Try Collection, the highest-performing format.

When you're creating Instant Experiences, keep in mind that the best ad vehicle here is the "Collection" format. This requires that you use at least five images in your ad -- and every image counts.

Collection ads consist of a large header with four smaller images underneath. When done correctly, collection ads tell a great story and showcase your products in a unique way.

Ultimately, collection ads can result in higher click-through rates and better overall performance for your campaigns. Collection ads in Instant Experience tend to be thumb-stoppers!

2. Keep your design in mind.

With a high level of customization comes an equally high risk of design error. Low resolution images or too much copy can damage your campaigns.

If you don't have designers on-board to help with your advertising creatives, make sure you read through Facebook's help guidelines to ensure that you're creating an ad with the design specs that will drive results for your business.

You don't need a Nike-sized budget to get the most out of your Instant Experience campaigns, but seeing how leading brands are using these ads can help get your creative juices flowing.

Here are a few success stories.

1. New Balance

The New Balance campaign for the relaunch of one of their products included Instant Experience as part of their advertising funnel. This helped nurture their potential customers from the awareness stage to purchase.

As a result, New Balance saw a measurable lift in consumer engagement and sales from both new and existing customers.

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2. Dollar Shave Club

As you'd expect, Dollar Shave Club isn't afraid to be innovative with its campaigns. With its "cutting edge" business model, the company was looking for ads that were cost-effective and easy to run.

Using Instant Experience and the collection ad format, they were able to create an immersive user experience that increased their subscription rate by 1.5X while also reducing their cost-per-subscription by 30% (compared to traditional link ads).

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3. Airbnb

This campaign required creatives that were designed specifically for advertising on the Facebook platform.

Instant Experience was the perfect choice to run the ads on, as it enabled Airbnb to showcase its dedication to storytelling and the user experience. The high-quality video and visuals helped them reach 125 million people, and increase subscribers across their target locations.

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4. Cirque du Soleil

To promote its new show, Cirque du Soleil chose to use Instant Experience to capture the incredible costumes and performance artists that have made it a much-loved global sensation.

The goal was to drive awareness and encourage people to buy tickets to their latest show. The highly visual campaign paid off, with an impressive 8.8X return on their ad spend, plus further returns from re-marketing.

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Final Thoughts on Facebook Canvas Ads

If you're looking for a cost-effective strategy to convey your brand message and showcase your products, it's worthwhile to consider using Instant Experiences.

With rich, immersive imagery delivered to your customers in a full-screen, fast-loading page, your brand comes to life and has the opportunity to reach a new audience.

As an advertising format, Instant Experiences provides a valuable combination of storytelling and performance, enabling greater engagement with lower acquisition costs -- a win, win.

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An actionable process for launching Facebook Ads, including hacks from members of HubSpot's Paid Ads team.