It’d be easy to dismiss Instagram Reels as a shameless TikTok clone.

Whether it is or isn’t, that doesn’t change the fact that people like it.

Since its launch in August 2020, search activity around Reels has caught and overtaken another of the platform’s video-based features, Instagram Stories:

Not only that, but research conducted shortly after the launch of Reels revealed that 87% of Gen Z TikTok users who have also used Reels for Instagram agree that the two platforms are basically the same.

In other words, the people representing the largest proportion of TikTok’s user base don’t see any distinction between TikTok and Instagram Reels.

So, if you’re already using TikTok or planning to add it to your social media marketing strategy, you should consider doing the same with Reels.

With that in mind, we highlight 20 real-world examples of brands using Instagram Reels to reach new audiences, engage existing customers, generate leads, and drive sales.

But first, let’s start with a definition.

What Are Instagram Reels?

Image source

Instagram Reels are Instagram’s answer to TikTok: a feature that allows users to create and share videos with their followers or anyone else who uses Instagram.

Both platforms allow users to upload videos of up to 15 minutes in length, although content captured in the apps must be shorter — up to three minutes for TikTok and just 90 seconds for Reels.

As well as being shared with followers via your Feed, Instagram Reels can be seen by any Instagram user via the Explore tab (provided your account is public).

That means it offers massive potential as a brand awareness tool, allowing you to reach people who don’t follow and may never even have heard of your brand.

Want to find out more about the practicalities of the platform? Check out our Instagram Reels 101.

How to Use Reels for Instagram: 20 Real-World Examples

1. New York University: Showcase Your USPs

Higher education marketing is challenging because it involves targeting three quite different audiences:

  • Prospective students who might want to study at the institution
  • Existing students who currently study there
  • Alumni who are being encouraged to donate

It’s not easy to create a piece of content that resonates with all three of those audiences.

However, New York University’s social media marketing team has found a way around this: highlighting its unique selling points via Instagram Reels.


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A post shared by New York University (@nyuniversity)

The school made a big splash at its 2022 graduation ceremony at New York’s iconic Yankee Stadium, which featured pop music royalty Taylor Swift (hence the soundtrack).

It works so well because it invokes nostalgia in alumni and pride in existing students while showing prospective students how amazing it would be to study at and graduate from NYU.

2. Transport Security Administration: Educate Your Audience (With Humor)

Think government social media has to be deadly serious? Then you’ve never seen the Transport Security Administration’s (TSA’s) Instagram account.

The TSA has grown a 1.3 million-strong following on the platform through a combination of “travel tips and dad joke hits,” as its Instagram bio explains.

Instagram Reels is a great fit for this strategy, allowing the agency to educate its audience while reaching a bunch of new accounts — just like in this example of two people pitching a tent in an airport, which more than two million people have viewed.

To be clear, this isn’t about generating engagement for the sake of it. The TSA provides genuinely useful advice to travelers, helping them make it through airport security faster — thereby reducing customer complaints.

3. AT&T: Use Instagram Reels to Drive Website Traffic

It’s easy for jazzy new tools and products to blind social media marketers that they forget what they’re trying to achieve.

With Instagram Reels, that can translate to chasing views at the expense of more meaningful metrics. It’s understandable when total views are displayed so prominently within the Reels tab:

Sure, views are nice. But they don’t necessarily translate to web traffic and sales.

With that in mind, AT&T uses Instagram Reels to steer audiences toward key landing pages, such as this example that encourages educators to take advantage of its teacher discount:


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A post shared by Sam Salem (@samuelsleeves)

Because, let’s be honest: unless you’re an e-commerce company, it’s challenging to generate leads and sales from within Instagram’s platform. The more people you can direct to your site, the better.

4. American Red Cross: Tap Into Trending Topics

What’s one of the most effective ways to capture attention on Instagram Reels?

Keep an eye on trending topics.

That doesn’t necessarily mean filming your CEO’s attempt to replicate the latest dance challenge. It’s also about staying abreast of current affairs to ensure you create content that speaks to your audience’s biggest pain points at any given moment.

The American Red Cross gives us a fantastic example of this in action.

In February 2021, almost nine million people across Texas were under boil-water advisory notices.

Unsurprisingly, that led to a huge spike in search activity around the topic:

Image source

Realizing this, the Red Cross created an Instagram Reels post advising Americans hit with boil-water advisories on how to treat tap water:

This informational content is an easy win when struggling with new ideas.

5. Intel: Celebrate Company Milestones

As a visual content format, Instagram Reels is fantastic for communicating your brand story. And when people understand your story, they’re more likely to feel a connection to your company.

Intel uses this to its advantage by communicating key brand achievements through Reels:


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A post shared by Intel (@intel)

By celebrating the 44th anniversary of its 8086 microchip, Intel demonstrates its long-term commitment to innovation and progress. That’s a powerful story for a tech company to tell.

6. Everlane: Help Customers Make the Most Of Your Products

Wouldn’t it be great if you could help customers get full value from your products?

That way, they’re more likely to buy in the first place. And they’re also more likely to write you a positive review, recommend you to their friends and family, and buy again down the line.

Okay, great, but what does all that have to do with Instagram Reels?

Well, in this example, Everlane shows us how fashion brands can use Reels to offer style advice to customers:


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A post shared by Everlane (@everlane)

Showcasing multiple ways to wear the same product makes it feel like a more valuable and sustainable purchase.

7. Baylor University: Place Your Brand Front & Center

Baylor University has been recognized as one of the best colleges and universities in the US regarding social media marketing. So, seeing the institution getting things right with Reels on Instagram is no surprise.

In this example, Baylor demonstrates how to place a brand at the forefront of video content, leaving audiences in no doubt where the video comes from:


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A post shared by Baylor University (@bayloruniversity)

That’s an important point because — as you’ll remember — Instagram Reels can be shown to anyone, regardless of whether they follow you.

So, if your branding is hidden away in the background (or doesn’t feature), a potential customer might watch your content without realizing who you are.

8. City of Minneapolis: Leverage Awareness Events

Awareness days (or weeks, or months) are a social media marketer’s dream, giving you an easy way to develop content ideas and tap into a broader conversation.

And the good news is there are basically awareness events for everything, so you’re sure to find something relevant to your brand and audience.

In this example, the City of Minneapolis created a video around Drinking Water Week:


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A post shared by City of Minneapolis (@mplsgov)

It seems to have worked to broaden the account’s reach, with the content generating just under 38,000 views — more than four times the city’s follower count on Instagram.

9. Amtrak: Cross-Post On TikTok & Instagram Reels

Want to know one of the best things about Instagram Reels?

If you’re already using TikTok, you don’t need to create a whole bunch of new, tailor-made Reels content.

That’s because the two platforms use the same aspect ratio of 9:16, with a size of 1,080 pixels by 1,920 pixels.

Amtrak realizes this. As you can see from the conspicuous logo, their team created this video highlighting its generous baggage policy on TikTok before being re-uploaded to Instagram Reels:


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A post shared by Amtrak (@amtrak)

Even if you’re not currently using either platform, that’s still a win because it means you can join both simultaneously without creating extra content.

10. Use Reels to Spark Conversation

Instagram Reels aren’t just a great way to reach new audiences — they’re also extremely useful for driving engagement among existing (and new) followers.

Want to get people talking? One of the most effective tactics is to simply ask people a question, just like does here:


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A post shared by MADE.COM (@madedotcom)

If you want people to respond to your post, prompt them. It’s worth doing because the more engagement you generate, the higher your organic reach will be.

11. Orange County Fire Authority: Show Your Team in Action

One of the best ways to build a connection with your audience and demonstrate the value you provide is to capture content featuring your team in action.

This tactic works especially well if the work you do is eye-catching.

For instance, Orange County Fire Authority regularly shares on-the-ground footage of its first responders tackling dramatic-looking blazes like this one:


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A post shared by OCFA (@ocfireauthority)

As well as generating tens of thousands of views, these types of Instagram Reels often rack up dozens of comments, boosting the account’s engagement rate while educating and connecting with viewers.

Even if your team doesn’t put out fires, defuse bombs, or catch runaway trains, you can still shine a light on their work by sharing behind-the-scenes and day-in-the-life videos via Instagram Reels.

12. NASA: Write Captions That Tell a Story

Your response would likely focus on video and audio if we asked you what makes an effective Instagram Reel. Maybe you’d mention hashtags, too.

But there’s another element that’s easily overlooked: the caption.

Instagram allows you to write captions of up to 2,200 characters for your Reels, and while you don’t have to use every single one of them, this allows you to craft engaging copy.

This is a tactic that NASA uses in many of its Reels, including this video promoting the James Webb Space Telescope:


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A post shared by NASA (@nasa)

We’re not suggesting you write hundreds of words for the sake of it. But captions are the perfect solution if a Reel requires further explanation or allows you to weave an exciting narrative.

Just be aware that the majority of Reels views happen on mobile devices.

That’s important because when you use your phone to watch Reels, you’ll only see the first few words of the caption:

Image source

Reels captions truncate at around 35 – 40 characters on mobile, and users have to tap the caption to view the rest of the text. So you’d better ensure those initial words grab the viewer’s attention.

13. Betty Crocker: Repurpose Your Best Content

There’s no getting away from the fact that creating Instagram Reels takes longer than a simple image-based post.

Getting as much use as possible from any video content you create makes sense.

We’ve already discussed how marketers can repurpose content by posting it on multiple platforms. Another tactic is to reshare video footage in roundup-style Reels, like this example from Betty Crocker:


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A post shared by Betty Crocker (@bettycrocker)

There are lots of ways to round up existing content into new Reels.

Betty Crocker favors the monthly roundup approach, but you could also try combining and resharing Reels themed around different seasons, events, or topics.

14. OREO: Post About Your Products

Ultimately, social media is part of your broader marketing strategy, so you should absolutely use it to talk about your products — and Instagram Reels are no different.

OREO understands this. Take a look at their Reels tab, and you’ll see that OREO products play a starring role in almost every post:


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A post shared by OREO (@oreo)

Sure, OREO’s social media team is lucky enough to be promoting a widely loved product.

Whatever you sell, you should make it a key focus of your social strategy.

15. University of Iowa: Let the Natural Environment Do the Talking

In its 2023 Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report, Rival IQ named “campus glamor shots” as its #1 content trend for schools of all sizes and in all locations.

The University of Iowa, which topped Rival IQ’s latest ranking of Division I schools, clearly understands the power of the natural world. Its Reels frequently showcase some of the most attractive spots around the campus, giving prospective students a glimpse into life at the institution.


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A post shared by The University of Iowa (@uiowa)

Again, this tip isn’t niche-specific.

The outdoor world always plays well on Instagram, so even if you don’t have the luxury of an entire campus to share, try capturing videos of beauty spots in your community (or even your local park).

16. Liquid Death: Collaborate With Influencers

Canned water brand Liquid Death has made Instagram Reels a key element of its influencer marketing strategy.

Specifically, it teams up with influencers like child skateboarder and snowboarder Noah Grayson Carballo:


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A post shared by Liquid Death (@liquiddeath)

Those influencers create Instagram Reels and share them via their accounts, and then Liquid Death reposts them to its followers. This smart approach allows the brand to reach two different audiences through a single influencer post.

17. Washington Department of Natural Resources: Copy Social Media Trends

As a social media marketer, you spend (far) more time online than the average person, which means you’re well-placed to identify — and capitalize on — trends in social content before they get played out.

Washington Department of Natural Resources does this better than most. In this example, they use the ASMR craze to highlight the sturdy, no-nonsense qualities of its field rig vehicles:

At the time of writing, this video has notched up almost 8.5 million views on Instagram Reels — an impressive result for an account with fewer than 80,000 followers.

It works so well because the agency put its unique spin on the content, taking the original video and crafting a funny response that resonated with its audience.

18. Chubbies: Play To Your Audience’s Interests

Okay, so we’ve already discussed how important it is to showcase your product in Instagram Reels.

But that doesn’t mean your content should be all me, me, me.

Chances are your followers have many interests that are only tangentially related to your brand. Creating Reels that speak to those interests might not drive immediate sales, but it can help build your brand and strengthen relationships with your followers.

For instance, clothing brand Chubbies regularly shares Reels that have little or nothing to do with the stuff it sells but instead focus on topics like pickleball and golf:


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A post shared by Jake Hutt, PGA (@jakehuttgolf)

The brand has identified that its audience loves these sports, so it makes sense to post about them.

19. USCPSC: Use Clear CTAs

We have short attention spans — especially when browsing Instagram Reels.

Another video will be along in seconds, so your calls to action (CTAs) must be clear and memorable. That way, viewers are more likely to retain the information.

This approach is especially valuable for government agencies like the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is literally giving its followers life-or-death advice. Take a look at the simple, eye-catching, and easy-to-remember guidance throughout this Reel:

Of course, this tactic doesn’t only apply to public safety videos.

Whether promoting a product, launching a sale, or encouraging people to attend an event, keep your CTAs short and sweet for maximum impact.

20. University of South Carolina: Show Off Your Corporate Mascot

Duolingo is often praised for its presence on TikTok and Instagram Reels.

Its success is partly due to the constant presence of its eye-catching mascot, Duo, a bright green owl.

Lots of other brands have learned this lesson. For instance, the University of South Carolina regularly features its mascot in its Instagram Reels:


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A post shared by University of South Carolina (@uofsc)

For the institution’s audience, the mascot — called Cocky, in case you were wondering — is instantly recognizable. This helps its Reels to stand out and stick in the memory, even if you only see them for a split second.

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