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How Brands Can Win Fans With the New Instagram Ads


After nearly 18 months of testing, Instagram announced it’s finally ready to open paid advertising to any business, as well as allow advertisers to use Facebook targeting to direct ads at Instagram users.

In a statement, the company said it is “focused on three key areas: Expanding ad offerings to include action-oriented formats, enabling more targeting capabilities, and making it easier for businesses large and small to buy ads on Instagram.”

So, what do brands have to look forward to now? We’ve compiled a list of Instagram’s ad options, as well as examples of brands that are already using these formats successfully.

The First Instagram Ads

Up until now, Instagram ads were only available to major brands like Lexus, General Electric and Michael Kors, so this announcement marks a huge change for Instagram.

first Instagram ads

(Image Credits)

With over 300 million active monthly users who spend a whopping average of 21 minutes per day engaging with the app, Brands have been increasingly frustrated by the lack of ability to target and convert consumers, provide direct links inside Instagram posts, or use direct calls-to-action. Brands have been eagerly anticipating this shift and many would say it’s long overdue.

Read: Branding: How it Works in the Social Media Age [Infographic]

Still, you have to admire Instagram’s slow and careful approach to advertising – it’s rumored that the company’s co-founder and CEO personally reviewed each test ad to make sure they looked organic and natural.

And brands should take a lesson from that strategy: Instagram is a platform that was built on a community of fans posting artistic-looking photos, so your average digital ad isn’t going to cut it on here.

Instagram Ads Provide More Recall

As with any digital advertising platform, the more “native” your brand’s ads appear, the better they are going to perform. This appears to be especially true on Instagram.

According to the company: “Across more than 475 campaigns measured globally with Nielsen Brand Effect, ad recall from sponsored posts on Instagram was 2.9x higher than Nielsen’s norms for online advertising.”

instagram ads

But that doesn’t mean Instagram ads are a slam-dunk for every brand. Many of the brands that were part of the initial ad testing faced backlash from users who did not want to see Instagram ads in their newsfeeds.

Not that that was necessarily surprising – there is always negative feedback when social platforms introduce new advertising formats.

Read: Why Your Content Marketing Strategy Needs a DAM Plan

But many of the initial Instagram ads missed their mark – they were too unnatural looking and overly promotional. The key to advertising on Instagram is to show your brand’s personality and what it represents if you want to create a lasting impression on users.

3 Types of Instagram Ads

The full range of Instagram’s ads will roll out slowly to brands throughout the year, so now is the time to start brainstorming your first campaign. For a little artistic inspiration, here are some examples of Instagram’s new ad offerings, as well as some examples of brands who are already #nailingit.

1. Direct Response Ads

Direct response formats include 3rd party links with calls-to-action like “Shop Now,” “Install Now,” “Sign Up,” or “Learn More.” No more “link in the profile” comments!

Examples: Brands like Tieks, Class Pass and Eat Evolve are already using Instagram’s direct response ads to drive customers to purchase, install apps and learn more about their products.

new instagram ads for brands

These Instagram ads are attractive to users because they are natural looking (Tieks’ dog placement doesn’t hurt, either), simple and show good use of balance and color. The images evoke emotion and show intention without being bogged down by text or busy graphics.

Direct response ad tips:

  • Clearly show the product and its key details.
  • Humanize your brand – don’t be afraid to show the people behind the product.
  • Showcase your brand’s personality – don’t make it all about conversions.
  • Provide a call-to-action that matches the ad’s intent. What do you want users to do next? Tell them.

2. Carousel Ads

Instagram’s new carousel ads allow brands to include multiple images in an ad without relying on a collage-style graphic. Brands can include up to four photos that users can swipe through, as well as provide a third-party link to get more information. This provides deeper storytelling than just a single photo.

Example: Carousel ads aren’t limited to retail brands showcasing their latest merchandise. For example, Samsung used Instagram’s carousel ads to promote its new Galaxy S6 with a tutorial on how to use particular features and non-profit group Pencils of Promise used these ads to showcase their organization’s mission.

instagram ads

(image credits)

Brands can use Instagram carousel ads to show product tutorials, highlight individual product features, promote customer testimonials, provide behind-the-scenes snapshots, or even tease the user into discovering a surprise on the last image.

Carousel Ad Tips:

  • The first image should be the strongest and hint that there’s more to the story.
  • The first image should also contain a strong brand presence in case the user does not swipe through – the message will still be conveyed.
  • Focus less on wordy captions and more on visual storytelling.
  • Link any calls-to-action to a landing page that is designed in the same tone and feel as the Instagram campaign.
  • Make sure any landing pages are mobile optimized – most of your Instagram traffic ad will be mobile.

3. Video Ads

Instagram quietly tested video ads with a select few brands in the fall of 2014 and they are finally going to allow every brand to take advantage of 2015’s hottest digital marketing trend. Video ads on Instagram give brands the opportunity to engage with consumers on a deeper level and provide a way to showcase their creativity.

Read: How to Tap Into Your Inner Geek to Build Brand Trust

Example: Disney was one of the first brands to experiment with video ads on Instagram with a promotion for Big Hero 6. The company’s Instagram video ad features characters from the Big Hero 6 movie posting selfies of themselves, which was a perfect fit for this social media platform (just search #selfie on Instagram and you’ll see what we’re talking about).


We’ve talked before about how Disney is winning hearts by geeking out with fans, and this is the perfect example of a brand that tailors its marketing to a specific channel and niche audience.

Video Ad Tips:

  • You only have 15 seconds to make an impression, so skip any opening graphics or stills and get right to the story.
  • Audio does not auto play on Instagram, so create videos that are not dependent on sound.
  • Instagram’s video ads run on a loop, so make sure it will transition well if it gets played more than once.
  • Think beyond basic storytelling and think of creative elements like a mix of still imagery and video (see Stuart Weitzman’s Instagram video ads/animated .gifs for subtle, breathtaking examples).

As Instagram continues to build its ad platform, there will surely be many more brand hits and misses we can all learn from. Here at Brandfolder, we can’t wait to see how it all plays out.


Jenay Sellers runs Digital Marketing at Brandfolder. As a Marketer and wannabe website designer, she understands the importance of digital asset management tools and solutions. When she's not encouraging others to check out Brandfolder, she enjoys cooking Blue Apron meals, playing golf, and curating Spotify's best new music.

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