The Essential Guide to Instagram Ads

With a user base of 700 million, Instagram is no longer just a photo sharing app - it’s an influential social network with an audience that’s growing at a rapid pace.

Last year, we covered Instagram as an advertising platform, with a how-to guide to creating and managing your first Instagram ad campaign.

Since we published our last guide, Instagram has expanded its advertising platform with new ad formats, ranging from standard ads displayed as part of the Instagram feed to Instagram Stories ads, which run in between stories from the accounts your target customers follow.

Below, we’ve highlighted all six of Instagram’s ad formats, with helpful examples of campaigns from mid-sized businesses and well-known brands, ideas for getting the most from each format and tips to help you get the most from your Instagram campaign.

Photo Adverts

Photo ads are Instagram’s oldest and simplest ad format. As you might expect, photo ads are built around a single photo, with extras fields such as a headline, descriptive text and a link to your website.

Instagram photo ads appear in the feed, in between updates from the people your audience follows. Aside from the “Sponsored” message and a call to action button, they look just like a typical Instagram photo update:

Instagram photo ads appear in the feed, in between updates from the people your audience follows.

Because photo ads are built around a single image, they’re easy to create and equally easy to test. This makes them a great option if you want to launch and test a variety of ad creatives at the beginning of a campaign without spending a lot of time on creative design.

If you have a product that stands out visually - for example, an eye-catching watch, handbag or other fashion item - photo ads can be a great tool for attracting attention.

Like all Instagram ads, photo ads are created using the Facebook Ads Manager. Since you can upload six different images at once, creating and testing a variety of different photo ads is a quick and simple process.

Carousel Adverts

Carousel ads are photo ads with more than one image. Instead of only displaying a single static image, a carousel ad displays two or more images, with the option for users to scroll through the different images by swiping left or right.

This HTC carousel ad, courtesy of AdEspresso’s excellent list of Instagram ad examples, uses several images to show off a new smartphone’s feel and functionality.

An Instagram carousel ad displays two or more images, with the option for users to scroll through the different images by swiping left or right.

One of the biggest advantages of carousel ads is that they let you showcase your product from more than one perspective.

For example, if you sell a multifunctional product, you can use carousel ads to display each of its functions in a single ad unit, letting you increase the relevance level of your ad and attract a wider audience.

Since you can add a different headline to each card of your carousel ad, you can also touch on a wider variety of selling points and benefits than with a simpler photo ad.

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Slideshow Adverts

Slideshow ads combine up to 10 images into an animated sequence, letting you display several images in sequence to tell a story and market your product. You can also add background music to your slideshow ad to turn your static images into an engaging video.

Compared to video ads, slideshow ads are highly lightweight. Since they contain a maximum of 10 frames, there are no loading issues. They’re also far cheaper and easier to create than video content.

This recruitment ad from Buffer uses several images in a slideshow format to show what people can expect from the company:

Compared to video ads, Instagram slideshow ads are highly lightweight. Since they contain a maximum of 10 frames, there are no loading issues.

If you’ve identified your top-performing images and want to build on them without creating a full video campaign, expanding them into a slideshow with supporting images is a quick, cheap and simple way to enhance your Instagram Ads campaign.

Video Adverts

Video ads are, as you’d expect, Instagram ads built around a single video. Introduced in 2015 as one of Instagram’s first ad formats, video ads are now more popular than regular photo ads on Instagram, with six out of every 10 ads on the social network featuring video.

Six out of every 10 Instagram ads now feature video.

Video ads can be created using real video footage, such as the Weight Watchers ad above, or from an animated GIF. Instagram allows for video of up to 60 seconds, giving you plenty of time to show your product in action or deliver a sales pitch.

Compared to photo and carousel ads, video ads are great for showcasing how your product or service can be used or offering detail beyond what’s possible in a photograph.

In the Weight Watchers ad above, viewers get to see a real example of the type of the type of food they can prepare on a Weight Watchers meal plan.

In the H&M video ad below, viewers get to see some of H&M’s summer men’s collection worn in a real life setting, without flash studio lighting or the limitations of a static image:

H&M’s summer men’s collection used animated gifs on Instagram to highlight the new collection.

Video ads are best for products that benefit from detail. Instead of being limited to an image, you can expand the scope of your ad to show your product in different settings or used in a variety of ways.

Because video ads are harder to create than photo ads, they’re best used later in the life of your campaign. If you’re a first-time Instagram advertiser, try starting your campaign with a variety of different photo ads, then developing the winners into short videos or animated GIFs.

Video Carousel Adverts

Although it technically isn’t an ad format, Instagram allows you to add video to carousel ads to create video carousel ads. Video carousel ads can be made up of several videos or a blend of videos and static photos, giving you a variety of creative ad options to choose from.

Video carousel ads let you display more immersive and engaging content than a traditional photo ad.

Like video ads, video carousel ads let you display more immersive and engaging content than a traditional photo ad. The carousel format also gives you the opportunity to show several aspects of your product in a single ad, helping you achieve a higher response rate.

Instagram Stories Ads

Unlike feed ads, Instagram Stories ads appear alongside Instagram Stories. Stories ads let you display your message in an immersive, full-screen format without the distraction of other content that can affect engagement.

Like feed ads, Stories ads can be created in several formats:

Single Image Ads

Single image ads, as their name suggests, are single images that appear in a user’s Instagram Stories feed. Like photo ads that appear in the Instagram feed, these ads are cheap and easy to create, making them a great gateway to Instagram Stories advertising.

Single image ads have both benefits and limitations. Because they appear in between Stories, you gain the user’s full attention, without the distractions or ability to scroll down past your ad that’s possible in the standard news feed.

The biggest downside of single image Instagram Stories ads is the lack of customization. With no headlines, body text or call to action buttons, you’re limited to your image, making it vital to choose the right creative for your campaign.

Since Instagram allows you to add text to your Stories creative, you can get around this lack of customization options by adding your copy directly to your image, such as in this example from Pacific Northwest Wonderland:

Adding your copy directly to your image in Instagram Stories, such as in this example from Pacific Northwest Wonderland.

Single Video Adverts

Single video ads allow you to display a video or animated GIF of 15 seconds or less, giving you a great chance to speak directly to your audience or show off your product without distractions.

Unlike regular Instagram video ads, Instagram Stories single video ads play automatically. Since they take up the entire screen and run in between other video content in the Stories feed, these ads are a great way to reach your audience with a more engaging ad format

Like single image ads, there isn’t much room for customization. However, you can add overlay text and icons to your video, just like you can for non-advertising Instagram Stories content.

Since Instagram Stories take up the entire screen and have limited customization options, they work well for more traditional video content, like this ad from Canadian wireless carrier Fido

Single video adverts in Instagram allow you to display a video or animated GIF of 15 seconds or less.

Since most people use Instagram Stories to keep up with their friends and online network, you can also create Snapchat-style video ad content with a more realistic, everyday feel to blend in and reach your audience with advertising that doesn’t feel like traditional advertising.

Is your business using Instagram ads?

Instagram is one of the world’s fastest growing social networks, adding an incredible 100 million users to its total audience between December 2016 and April 2017 alone.

Since you can create Instagram ads directly from the Facebook Ads Manager, getting started on Instagram and reaching this rapidly growing audience is easier than ever.

Is your business using Instagram ads? From conventional image, video and carousel ads to the latest options for marketing your brand using Instagram Stories, Instagram’s diverse range of ad formats and powerful targeting options make it one of the top ad platforms to consider in 2017. 

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