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Instagram Advertising Strategies for Brands

Hélène Heath
June 3, 2017
Last Updated On
October 27, 2022
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Not sure how to go about advertising on Instagram or building Instagram advertising strategies that work? Read on.

The Instagram advertising game is still relatively new, and while it may seem like it's widespread when you're scrolling through your feed and seeing a ton of random ads, that isn't really the case. Brands are still experimenting, trying to find their footing while attempting to determine what's effective.

In fact, it appears as though there are more questions than there are answers at this point in the game. If you're feeling paralyzed about Instagram ads best practices, don't feel bad; the smartest marketers from the world's top brands are all posing similar queries as it relates to how promoted posts should be approached.

Advertising has been around for a long, long time. But the Don Draper rules that made agencies churn out some of the best ads in the world for years hardly apply to the direction things have taken since the digital revolution. Not to mention the social media uprising. That new leaf had marketers and brands scrambling to keep up with a wheel that was barreling at a much higher speed than anyone had ever seen.

It's been an adjustment, let's just put it that way.

And now that everyone's favorite intangible brand marketing vehicle has finally implemented the ability for all businesses to run ads on Instagram, we've come face to face with an unforeseen complication — no one really appears to know what they're doing, and there's no real historical data that would support specific tactics. Actually, if there's something we've learned throughout our foray into the depths of Instagram is that there are very few applicable common denominators.

The fact that sponsored posts remain the new kids on the Instagram block isn't exactly conducive to coming to any sort of conclusion on effectiveness. Until now, folks, until now.

How Do Instagram Ads Work?

There are a few main types of Instagram ads: In-feed ads, explore ads, Reels ads and Stories ads. The way these ads work is that they will appear on your feed, your explore page, or within your stories and reels just as a regular post would, but with a Sponsored label. These ads can be still images, carousels, and videos that are either net-new content or existing posts from your brand's feed. The most important part of your ads is that there is a story and purpose behind them. A perfected Instagram advertising strategy. 

We've polled the best of the best to learn what's actually working for brands that are currently running ads on the app. We're talking frequency, budget, targeting, content type, clicks, growth, and tactics... You name it, we've got it. 

This is what we learned.

Instagram Advertising Strategy: Selecting the Creative

To promote your Instagram account with a sponsored post, identifying the right creative will be instrumental in its success or failure. At Dash Hudson, we pride ourselves in being able to assist you with that in a multitude of ways, whether it's with our Boards Content Segmentation tool or through our easy UGC-mining functionality.

That said, here are some observations on what kind of ad creative has been effective for brands so far:

  • Most businesses are highlighting their top-performing content to use in their ads. Strong engagement usually transpires with lifestyle imagery versus straight up product stock photos. While it might be tempting to use those in a sponsored post capacity to differentiate your branded content and ads from your organic one, this is a bad idea for 2 reasons.

First, it might reflect poorly on your brand because people will get annoyed to see very clear advertising in the feed they've been carefully curating for months/years — you will stick out in a bad way. And second, Instagram is about discovery: showing your followers and potential audience members how your product can fit within their existence, not bombarding them with items devoid of context.

  • Think about who your audience is. What resonates with them? Think about what your brand image is and why that image appeals to followers? When you're promoting posts on Instagram, you shouldn't suddenly change your content branding strategy to try and scoop up other types of people in an effort to grow. If your new followers aren't keen on the same things as the audience you've spent years cultivating, it'll result in people ditching you, which is a lose-lose. Go deep, not wide.

Instagram Advertising Strategy: Technical Components

Once the creative you want to use has been decided on, it's time to tend to the logistics, like budget and frequency. How much are you willing to spend? How often are you able to afford to run paid ads? Testing various options will be a requirement to determine what actually works for your brand, but here are a few approaches we've witnessed being positively impactful for some top brands.

  • The sweet spot for many businesses is running a new ad on a weekly basis. Depending on your targeting, spending $100 will garner an approximate reach of 10k, give or take.
  • Most of the brands we spoke with are running new ads every week, and those with over 100K followers are spending above $2,000 per month. That means a new creative every week that runs for 7 days. That same category also garners well over 1,000 clicks per ad.
  • Accounts that are spending in the hundreds per month are not seeing results that come close to those spending in the thousands, both in reach and in clicks.
  • We learned from multiple sources that spending more on a single ad yields better results than allocating smaller dollar amounts to multiple posts. That's how to get the most out of your spend.
  • The success benchmarks on paid posts vary from engagement on the ad and driving awareness of the brand, to the actual return it generates. What we've observed is that companies that spend a high dollar amount per ad are more focused on ROI and sales, and the ones with smaller allotted budgets are more concerned with brand equity.

The great majority of brands we spoke with did not experience significant audience growth with ads, and that is non-size and non-budget discriminatory. Those that did were niche businesses that were able to target their potential market share very specifically. If account growth is your goal with ads, targeting is paramount to reaching it.

It's also important to remember that users behave differently on Instagram than, say, on Facebook or Snapchat. Insta is widely used as a discovery tool and it can take multiple exposures before getting a user to bite. If no action is taken on the first attempt, it's not to say there won't be any on the second, third, or even fourth time you're in front of a user.

Carefully selecting the content you'll be backing up with ad spend has also proven to be a vital insight into what qualifies as successful. Placing promos with creatives that have been assessed as high performers appears to be a winning tactic across the board. While some businesses have been experimenting with more traditional product imagery than organic lifestyle visuals for their ads, what seems yet again to be the most effective in driving conversions are UGC-spirited photos.

To get the highest return on ad spend, your areas of focus need to be:

  1. Determining what your goals are. What is it you're looking to achieve with running ads? More brand awareness, higher engagement, growing your Instagram audience, driving traffic, broader reach, direct sales? There are so many objectives brands can play and experiment with, and they are not mutually exclusive. But remember to stay realistic! Paying for exposure doesn't automatically translate to miracle results.
  2. Carefully select your creatives and format (single photo, video, carousel post, etc.).
  3. Determining frequency and budget, aka how many ads per month to run for how many days, and how much per ad total.
  4. Targeting: the more specific you get, the greater the conversion rate you'll have. This is where knowing your audience and your customer demographic becomes absolutely crucial: as an expert on your own brand, this is something you should know!

Finally, we feel it's important to once again stress the lack of a one-size-fits-all rulebook here. The nature of every business, of every ad, and of every target audience differs greatly, and the best you can do is to put different strategies on trial to concretely establish what works for you.

We hope we've provided a good place for you to start benchmarking your strategies. Just remember: slow and steady wins the race.


What is the best way to advertise on Instagram?

One of the best and easiest ways to advertise on Instagram is through a pre-existing post that is performing well. All you’ll need is a business or creator account on Instagram, that is connected to Facebook Business Manager.

If you fit the criteria, you will be given the option to Promote your post. Follow the steps accordingly. 

Do Instagram ads actually work?

In short, yes. 70% of Instagram users report not minding and or even liking when they say see ads on their feed. With the right Instagram advertising strategy, and targeted ad group, brands are guaranteed to see success with ads on Instagram.

How do Instagram ads grow your business?

Instagram ads grow your business by putting your posts and products in front of the right people. Once the right consumers are exposed to your content, they will not only be more intrigued to follow your account, they will also be more likely to purchase your products or services.

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