Instagram Advertising: What’s Working?

Are you looking to start advertising on Instagram? Columnist Andrew Waber discusses some key stats and has some tips to get you on the right path.

My work involves looking into larger trends we (at Nanigans) observe across our base of hundreds of large advertisers, primarily within the Facebook ecosystem. What’s particularly interesting about Instagram as a newer platform is that the architecture of the ad environment is similar to Facebook’s, and we’ve observed remarkably comparable performance across the two channels.

Yet, as creative best practices continue to emerge for Instagram ads, some differences do present themselves.

As a quick refresher, this past summer, roughly three years after its 2012 acquisition of the service, Facebook opened up Instagram’s ad API. Since then, advertisers have adopted the channel at a rapid pace.

As of October, only two months following the API launch, 31 percent of all advertisers using our company’s ad automation software were spending on Instagram. This trend has largely continued through more recent months.


After some earlier tests with a limited set of brand-focused advertisers, the opening of the API coincided with the broader launch of direct-response-focused ad units. These are designed to function as an extension of what these advertisers are doing on Facebook. In most cases, you can use the same copy, custom audiences, creative and in-unit call-to-action.

These parallels have made it an easy jump for advertisers looking to expand into Instagram. The look of an Instagram mobile app install (MAI) ad, for example, obviously varies from its Facebook counterpart.

But the ability to apply targeting you already know works and to easily port over the same creative eliminates a lot of uncertainty that typically accompanies a new channel.

The comparative performance among advertisers running MAI campaigns across both platforms bears this out, with costs and engagement rates tracking similarly:


This isn’t to say that advertisers shouldn’t look to build customized creative with Instagram in mind. Like anything, in conjunction with a test structure, segmentation can pay dividends, and we’ve observed companies doing this already with some positive results.

What the results above do imply is that you shouldn’t necessarily hold off advertising on Instagram because you don’t currently have the resources to create carefully curated photo ads for the platform. You can begin by using mobile-optimized Facebook assets with the expectation that performance can largely be replicated.

Advertisers who have been on Instagram for a longer period of time do offer some good examples of what to shoot for when you decide to invest more heavily.

1. Lighting And Detail


The image above is bold, high-contrast, and fits in well with organic fashion-focused images already being posted on Instagram. It’s a high-quality image that will stand out, but it fits the context of an Instagram feed.

Along these lines, make sure your Instagram images are high-quality so they fit in naturally with other photos on the platform. Avoid grainy or blurry images.

When producing creative for your ads, choose natural lighting over harsh artificial lighting. The more authentic your image, the better.

2. Delicate Branding


Photo ads on Instagram tend to perform best when they resemble organic content. While it can be tempting to feature your logo heavily, don’t let your brand overshadow your content.

If you’re going to include your logo in your ad creative, do so subtly. Otherwise, try focusing on an iconic brand element or signature color for memorable, but not overpowering, branding.

3. Minimal Text


Facebook has a fairly long-standing “20 percent rule” regarding text within ad images. Ads that have text taking up more than 20 percent of the accompanying photo regularly get rejected.

While Instagram doesn’t share this hard restriction, it remains a good rule of thumb for advertisers to maximize their ad’s effectiveness. Imagery — not text — should be the main focus of your ad creative.

If you use text overlay in your photos, look to stick to the 20 percent rule. Alternatively, try sharing the accompanying text in the ad caption instead of on the image itself.


For advertisers still looking to get started on Instagram, these tips and stats should at the very least give you an idea of what to expect and how to best structure your initial strategy on this increasingly promising channel.

In future columns, we’ll examine a wider range of Instagram performance metrics. But in the meantime, this full benchmark report (registration required) provides some additional high-level trends as you scope out your efforts.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from


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