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5 Best Practices for Creating Ads on Instagram

January 14, 2014

It’s been an exciting six months for Instagram. On the heels of the launch of its video feature, Instagram announced it would be rolling out ads to further grow the prospering business, now home to more than 150 million users.

To launch its ad platform, Instagram collaborated with ten partners, including 360i client Ben & Jerry’s, to ensure that sponsored content would align with the way people and companies already use the platform – sharing photos and videos that capture an experience, not just a picture, and inspire the consumer.

As we expect Instagram advertisements to become available to more brands in the near future, we’ve outlined some key best practices that will help brands establish connections with new audiences on this mobile dominant, image-driven platform.

Here are five best practices for brands looking to create ads on the platform:

Think Community First

As a platform, Instagram has always put the community first, ensuring transparency with everything they do, from Privacy Policies  to their plan to launch Sponsored Content— which they shared months before formally debuting the ad product.

Not unlike these examples, Instagram strategically partnered with ten brands that were already thriving community members to make sure the first ads were inspiring, engaging and natural to the platform. And while the Instagram community has grown exponentially, its core values remain the same: Instagrammers love to capture and engage with beautiful moments and experiences in “real-time.”

Start With What’s Already Working

In leveraging sponsored content to reach potential new fans, a good place for brands to start is in utilizing the kinds of images or themes with which their community already engages heavily.  Marketers should remain consistent with their brand’s established look and feel, as well as tone of voice.

Look at Reach, Not Engagement

Instagram is testing out a model for what success looks like for marketers that is different from other social platform’s models. Brands will have to reposition how they think about metrics to focus on reach, ad recall and awareness on this platform as opposed to likes and comments. Instagram’s focus on reach and awareness metrics confirms the fact that it views itself as a platform that doesn’t depend on direct fulfillment (or sales) to be successful, but one which hopes to generate demand for a product. While this is different from other social platforms, it’s not unlike the way traditional media (like magazines and TV) measures effectiveness. Instagram anticipates these values to reflect the success of the ads far more than comments, likes and followers do.  But of course, Instagram will have to continue testing to confirm the effectiveness.

Focus on the Imagery

As a platform, Instagram’s mission has always been clear: to capture and share the world’s most inspiring moments. When Instagram video was introduced to the public, Founder Kevin Systrom cited “speed, simplicity and beauty” as the key ingredients in the platform’s success. These three essentials hold true for ads as well. While the narrative is important, marketers should focus on imagery and creativity first, ensuring that the message is simple and clear. Ben & Jerry’s succeeded in creating content that was visually appealing and fun.

Maintain Authenticity

Marketers should steer clear from manufactured, over-produced content. While some OOH or print ads can transfer to digital and vice-versa, the Instagram platform is not built for overtly “commercial” content. As such, sponsored content should appear as if a person took the photo, not a brand.

For example, when Levi’s launched its ad campaign, the brand made sure to align the creative with their brand heritage and story, all while developing creative that was wondrous and inspiring. This strong creative, when coupled with the ad product, resulted in a 24-pt lift in ad recall.


Instagram ads represent a new kind of brand advertising opportunity on mobile, with a focus on highly creative, premium content. As is the case with other forms of paid social media, marketers looking to leverage this opportunity in the future will want to ensure their content adds value, and follows the best practices of the platform.

Cover photo via MobileMarketingWatch