How To Make Instagram Ads Work (Best Practices & Success Stories)

Holly Winn

Brands really set the stage for Instagram ads’ options to be developed…

Yes, take me to the stage.
Yes, take me to the stage. – image source

If we take a look back in history, brands were already utilizing Instagram in a pay-to-play capacity before advertising on the platform was even introduced.

Introduction of Instagram Advertising

Instagram has had an interesting evolution…
Instagram was founded by Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom on October 6, 2010. It had 1 million users 2 months after launch and won iPhone App of the Year on December 9, 2011, enough recognition to get Facebook’s attention.

Instagram was bought by Facebook on April 9, 2012 for $1 billion. At that time, Instagram was a 2-year-old, 13-person start-up with 30 million users — but had no real revenue coming in. This left a door open for the introduction of advertising to potentially help grow the company, if that was something brands really wanted.
Since the acquisition, Instagram has quickly become the go-to app for 600 million monthly active users to share lifestyle photos–but with 80% of Instagrammers following at least one business on Instagram, offering value to businesses just seemed to make sense.

Look at this Instagram brand account growth…
Look at this Instagram brand account growth… – image source

Before Instagram ad opportunities provided directly by the platform were available, brands and influencers used to work together on sponsored ad deals and flat fees for promotion.
You could say this laid the groundwork for Instagram to move from being a purely organic platform into the pay-to-play space. As the market became more crowded and more free requests came in, some individuals moved away from being influencers — but businesses still sought a solution.
The way an individual engages is different than a brand, so Instagram rolled out different profile options for each type of user and advertising options for selected brands in October 2013. With these options, brands could be more tailored and targeted without relying solely on virality of influencers participation.
Finally, Instagram pushed advertising features to all brands in September 2015.
But is advertising expensive on Instagram?

  • Brand Networks found that the overall cost per thousand impressions (CPM) on Instagram decreased from $7.04 in 2015 to just $4.16 in 2016.
  • Marketing Land found that Instagram ad costs are slightly lower than on Facebook with higher levels of engagement.

In 2015, Instagram was forecasted to bring in $595m im mobile ad revenue, but ended up exceeding that with $2.81 billion from global mobile ad revenue in 2017.
Clearly, brands are seeing Instagram as a valuable platform for advertising efforts.

5 Instagram Success Stories

With over 60% of users logging in daily and around 3.5 billion likes from users daily, Instagram is practically asking for brands to jump on board.
But is there proof that their investments are paying off?

Put your money where your mouth is.
Put your money where your mouth is. – image source

Success Story 1: Maserati USA

Maserati engaged both Facebook and Instagram to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the release of its first SUV, The Levante, seeing to cost-effectively generate qualified leads and drive sales.

Instagram Maserati
Maserati USA Instagram Ad

Utilizing custom and lookalike audiences for both platforms, they saw the following results:

  • 127 Levantes sold among generated leads
  • 21,000 leads generated in total
  • 4 million reached with the ad messaging

“Facebook provided us the ability to scale and reach our our niche audience with our Levante campaign across both Facebook and Instagram.”

— Joseph Barbagallo, Marketing Communications Manager of Maserati North America

Success Story 2: SpearmintLOVE

SpearmintLove sought out to reach more customers, especially those who had show interest in their site, but did not complete a purchase. They implemented a Thanksgiving retargeting campaign using the Facebook pixel and setting up custom audiences with the goal of conversions.

Instagram SpearmintLove
SpearmintLOVE Instagram Ad

They targeted those who had visited their website in a 60-day window with dynamic ads and saw the following results:

  • 33.8x return on ad spend on Instagram alone
  • 47% decrease in cost per purchase

“When it came time to scale the business, Instagram and Facebook became natural places to test our first ads.”

— Shari Lott, Founder and CEO of SpearmintLOVE

Success Story 3: Wondermall

Wondermall wanted to reach potential high-value customers and make a purchase after downloading their mobile e-commerce app. In its 9-week Summer campaign with partner Taptica, they used carousel and photo ads to target based on demographics and interests.

Instagram Wondermall
Wondermall Instagram Ad

At the end of the campaign, Wondermall reviewed analytics that shows the following:

  • Instagram placements drove 36% conversions rates
  • 28% of shoppers filled their carts
  • 8.5% of shoppers completed the path to purchase

“Instagram provided us with a platform to appeal to a fashion-forward audience on mobile devices. Its various targeting options also enabled us to drive conversions, while staying in alignment with our stringent cost-per-impression targets for cost-effective campaigns.”

— Sagy Burshtein, VP of Product at Wondermall

Success Story 4: UFC GYM

UFC GYM was seeking more U.S. membership signups, specifically for underperforming locations, with Instagram link ads in a combination national and local campaign to drive awareness. Along with Instagram Marketing Partner HYFN, they launched ads announcing a new website and utilized lookalike audiences to match those who had signed up before.

Instagram UFC GYM
UFC GYM Instagram Ad

With a reinforced message across the campaign, UFC GYM saw the following:

  • Instagram ads cost ⅓ (67%) the cost of previous advertising campaigns they had run
  • 4.5 million people were reached

“Adding Instagram to our digital mix allowed us to position and reintroduce UFC GYM to different people. We will continue to use Instagram to build trust and drive traffic to our website.”

— Bryan Arp, Chief Digital Officer of UFC GYM

Success Story 5: ADEN Business School

Aden Business School wanted to reduce their cost per lead and shorten the conversion cycle for professionals signing up for their one-year MBA program. They utilized lookalike audiences targeting Millennials, and Instagram carousel ads.

Instagram ADEN
ADEN Business School Instagram Ad

Assessing their May lead generation campaign, they saw the following results:

  • 10% of sales-qualified leads came from Instagram
  • A 35% faster lead-sale conversion cycle
  • 7x return on ad spend

“Instagram now offers one of the cheapest CPLs—cost per lead—of all media, the second shortest conversion cycle, and is the number four medium for acquiring SQLs.”

— Jael Lena, Assistant Director of Marketing at ADEN Business School

So, how can you get your own success story from running Instagram ads…

9 Instagram Advertising Best Practices:

Not everyone is a pro photographer ready to take on this image-heavy platform…

It’s not amateur hour.
It’s not amateur hour. – image source

Luckily, we’re about to arm you with some best practices…

  • Take Viewers Behind the Scenes. Instagram’s COO, Marne Levine suggests brands given a behind-the-scenes look to try to develop a deeper relationship with users. Empathy is a great marketing tactic and when viewers see people behind the brand, it helps create that feeling.
  • Be Aware of Popular Content. There are over 189 million photos under the #food hashtag alone. You want Instagram ads to look native like other posts in the users’ feeds, so you don’t want to push your brand in their face. Look at other content that is circulating before crafting your ads, and see if you can find a tie-in between what gets the most engagement and your product/service.
  • Review How Your Users Engage. Over one-third of have purchased a product online via mobile, so they may be more likely to purchase on Instagram than non-users of this mobile app. The delivery of content should be based on what channels or mediums your audience is coming through and utilizing.
  • Keep a Close Eye on Competitors. 96% of U.S. fashion brands have accounts. Out of Top 100 brands in the world, 90% have accounts — but 48% of all brands are on and it’s predicted to rise to 70.7% in 2017. This is kind of a double-edged sword. If your competition is on the platform, it could be a signal it is a viable platform for them and could also be for you. Conversely, it does mean you have to fight a little harder to capture users’ attentions away from brands with similar offerings.
  • Compare Platform Audience Variants.As noted in the stats previously mentioned, the active audience on Instagram is different than Facebook — but Instagram ads are served based on both Facebook and Instagram interests. In addition to interests, consider the demographic when designing or choosing imagery. Cool color schemes (greens, purples, and blues) are widely preferred over other schemes by both women and men.

Instagram best practices are similar in a lot of ways to those of Facebook, if you are looking for additional best practices to engage.

How to Create Instagram Ads

If you are interested in testing out Instagram ads for your brand, you’ll want to have a good understanding of the setup and targeting options available.

Ad Types & Specs

Instagram ads platform offers four ad types:

Photo Ads:

File uploads include .jpeg or .png.

Recommended text/caption is 125 characters with a max. of 2,200 characters.

Recommended image size is 1080 x 1080 pixels for square ads and 1200 x 628 pixels  for landscape ads.

Min. resolution for both square and landscape ads is 600 x 600 pixels with an image aspect ratio of 1:1.

Instagram Photo Ads
Instagram Photo Ads – Image Source

Video Ads:

Create immersive videos up to 60 secs long in landscape or square format

Recommended image size is 1080 x 1080 pixels for square videos and 1200 x 628 for landscape videos

Min. resolution of 600 x 600 pixels and image aspect ratio is 1:1.

Instagram Video Ads
Instagram Video Ads – Image Source

Carousel Ads:

Swipe to view multiple images, so better chance of an image resonating

File uploads include .jpeg or .png. with max. 30 MB per image

Recommended caption text only is 125 characters and max. is 2,200 characters

Recommended image size is 1080 x 1080 pixels

Min. resolution is 600 x 600 pixels and max. is 1080 x 1080 pixels

Min. number of cards is 2 and max. is 10.

Instagram Carousel Ads
Instagram Carousel Ads – Image Source

Stories Ads:

Feature on Instagram Stories (a close SnapChat clone), which has 150 million plus users viewing daily.

These ads provide a full screen experience with a photo or 15-second video. Images show for 5 sec. By default.

Format is a 9:16 full screen vertical ad

File types are .mp4 and .mov for video and .jpg and .png for a photo with file size max 4GB for video and 30MB for a photo

Recommended resolution is 1080 x 1920 with minimum of 600 x 1067

Supported Codecs are H.264, VP8 for video and AAC, Vorbis for audio

Instagram Stories Ads
Instagram Stories Ads – Image Source

Ad Goals & Objectives

You can select from 3 business objective/goal buckets when running Instagram ads:

  • Awareness: reach, reach & frequency, brand awareness, local awareness
  • Consideration: website clicks, video views, reach and frequency
  • Conversion: website conversions, dynamic ads, mobile app installs and engagement
Options for Instagram Ads Goals Objectives
Option for Instagram Ads’ Goals/Objectives
Screenshot 20170327 143620

Instagram ads have a Sponsored label that appears under the profile name. You can click the menu icon on the right side of the header to hide an ad or learn more about advertising.


If you see “Sponsored” under logo, you can hide ad by clicking on menu.
If you see “Sponsored” under logo, you can hide ad by clicking on menu.

Some Instagram ads have call to action buttons on bottom that highlight when person hovers over the ad for 3 seconds, but they vary based on business objectives.

Ad Setup & Management

Since much of the set up through Facebook Ads Manager or Power Editor is similar to how you set up ads for Facebook, we cover only differences in settings for Instagram ads and running ads on the Instagram app itself.
There are four ways to run, manage and track ads:

  • Within the Instagram app — Promoting posts directly is the easiest way
  • In Facebook Ads Manager — Under Page & Post for Ad, select Instagram account.

Steps to link your Instagram account:

Steps to Link Instagram Account to Facebook
Steps to Link Instagram Account to Facebook
Run Instagram Ads in Facebook Ads Manager
Run Instagram Ads in Facebook Ads Manager – Image Source

When you go to actually set up your ads, you will want to make sure to only select Instagram in Placements.

Select Instagram in Placements within Facebook Manager
Select Instagram in Placements within Facebook Manager
  • In Facebook Power Editor — Under Ads Destination, choose Instagram account
Add Instagram Placement When Create Ad in Facebook Power Editor
Add Instagram Placement When Create Ad in Facebook Power Editor
Confirm you want to run an ad on Instagram in Facebook Power  Editor
Confirm you want to run an ad on Instagram in Facebook Power Editor

We suggest you use this route if you are running a bulk of campaigns and want more precise monitoring. Get more instruction on setup here.

  • Utilize Instagram Partners — Have someone else buy ads, source and deliver creative
Don’t kid yourself...Facebook is #1.
Don’t kid yourself…Facebook is #1. – image source

You need to have a Facebook ad account and page to run ads on Instagram — but perhaps surprisingly, you do not need an Instagram account. If you do not have an Instagram account, your Facebook page name and image will be used on the Instagram ad.
The downside is that you won’t be able to respond to comments on your ad and the Instagram handle will be a non-clickable Facebook page name.

Ad Preview for Instagram Ads
Ad Preview for Instagram Ads – image source

TIP: The Ad Preview will let you know if you’re even eligible to run ads on Instagram.
Ad review for Instagram advertising follows the same policies and quality guidelines as Facebook whether on or off platform.

Ad Targeting & Segmentation

It is good to know if your target audience is on Instagram, or if there are new audiences you might be able to tap into, before setting up ads.
Here are some user base stats to help you figure that out:

But how does one drill down even further?

You can segment by 7 main buckets that offer more Detailed Targeting criteria:

  • Location
  • Demographics
  • Interests
  • Behaviors
  • Connections
  • Custom and Lookalike Audiences
  • Automated Targeting
Instagram Targeting and Segmentation Layers
Instagram Targeting & Segmentation Layers

If you want to learn more about Instagram targeting best practices, read our blog post on Facebook targeting and segmentation.
Make sure to look at audience insights across Instagram, and refine your targeting based on continuous A/B testing and performance.

The Wrap Up on Instagram Ads

With Instagram’s close connection to Facebook, we can almost bet it isn’t going to go anywhere soon. In fact, Instagram is only behind Facebook in overall network engagement, but engagement with brands is 10x higher than Facebook, 54x higher than Pinterest and 84x higher than Twitter.
Utilizing both Facebook and Instagram could be quite the lethal combination if competitors aren’t already considering utilizing data from both to maximize ROI across both platforms.

The Facebook and Instagram combo is lethal.
The Facebook and Instagram combo is lethal. – image source

If you want to give Instagram advertising “a go,” we recommend looking into some tools that can be utilized for creating Instagram ads such as Layout, Boomerang, VSCO Cam, Bannersnack, Ripl. If you would be interested in a follow up post on how to utilize these Instagram ads tools and a thorough review of each, please leave a comment below.

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