Instagram is blowing up right now.
In early 2013, Instagram had about 100 million active users.
In April 2017, Instagram had over 600 million active users.
And in the summer of 2018, Instagram hit over 1 billion active users.
Now, marketers have caught on to the hype.
Currently, there are around 25 million business profiles on Instagram, which means businesses are invested in using Instagram to market themselves. That’s because Instagram is perfect for inexpensive marketing, as long as you grasp the basics of it.
The Fundamental Principles of Instagram
Instagram is a fairly unique platform when compared to other social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like.
- Instagram is an extremely visually focused platform. On Instagram, 90% of your content’s effectiveness comes from choosing a good image in the first place.
- Instagram is a platform designed for mobile. This affects how much copy you want to use and how “complex” you want your content to be.
- Instagram doesn’t let you post direct links in posts unless you are paying for advertising.
These “traits” of Instagram lead to some fundamental principles that you need to know in order to use the platform well.
Principle #1: The Picture Is Worth More Than A Thousand Words
People don’t go on Instagram to read. People don’t go on Instagram to be advertised to.
People go on Instagram to see pretty pictures.
If you don’t understand this fundamental reality of Instagram, your advertising efforts are doomed to fail.
You need to make sure that your pictures embody the “artsy” vibe of Instagram, which means that your pictures look:
- Visually appealing
- Natural – not overly promotional or salesy
- Artistic – your pictures emotionally communicate the message behind your brand
With your ads, don’t hit your customers over the head with your offer – just make a strong offer with an emotional appeal behind it.
As Gary V says in his book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook”:
“People love Instagram because of the quality of the content that has up until now been made available there. No one is going to Instagram to see advertisements and stock photos. Native Instagram content is artistic, not commercial. Use your content to express yourself authentically, not commercially.”
Principle #2: It’s All About Your Audience
As you’ll see below, the best Instagram ads are directly targeted at a very specific audience.
If you know your audience very well, you can create Instagram ads that create emotional reactions that lead to action.
In other words, effective ads.
When we say “know your audience,” we’re talking way beyond demographics (age, income, sex, etc). We’re talking about lifestyle choices, belief systems–psychographics.
Things get even more powerful when you can make an appeal to someone’s identity with an ad.
Take a look at this ad from @turkeyhilldairy
They know Instagram is dominated by millennials, who are well-known for being more conscious of and deterred by synthetic ingredients than past generations. That’s why the copy, “All real. Nothing fake.” works to target those who believe in natural ingredients and make lifestyle choices, like selecting the right kind of ice cream to eat, based on those beliefs.
Examples of Effective Instagram Ads
We’re going to go through 10 Instagram ads and rate them on the following criteria:
- Image selection
- The offer or “Call to Action”
Of these factors, the image is by FAR the most important.
Even if your image is directly targeted at your audience, the text is great, and your offer is strong – if the image itself looks crappy, most people won’t even bother to stop scrolling.
You have about 0.5 to 2 seconds max to capture someone’s attention on Instagram if they’re simply scrolling through their feed.
The image is just like the headline of a blog post–if the headline isn’t amazing, nothing else really matters, because people won’t read the content.
However, the image on an Instagram ad is even more important than a headline is for a blog post, because on Instagram, the image both captures attention and shares emotional and informational value with the reader.
In other words, the image on an Instagram ad is both the headline AND most of the content.
Ad #1: Busted Tees’ Direct Call To Action
Image: This image rocks for a couple of different reasons. There is a large degree of contrast between the T-Shirt, the Busted Tees logo, the “shop now” text in the corner, and the design of the T-Shirt itself.
The end result is a picture that stands out visually and enables people to quickly and clearly see what’s going on.
The T-Shirt design is perfect for the target audience of Busted Tees: nerdy people with a sense of humor who enjoy playing video games.
Finally, putting a very direct “shop now” text and arrow in the corner was a brilliant move on Busted Tees part–it comes off as direct, but not too salesy.
Text / Call To Action: We love this copy. “I guess this is what happens when no one finds the castle you’re in” is a reference to both Peach from the Mario video game world and the popular movie “The Ring.”
The call to action gets points for being very straightforward. You see an example of the product, and you’re invited to buy this shirt or other similar ones.
Ad #2: Gilt Shows Off The Goods
Image: Wow, those shoes really stand out.
And with good reason – they look classy and elegant, perfect words to describe how the customers of Gilt for Men want to feel. The different diagonal lines in this picture created by the layout of the merchandise add a visually pleasing element as well.
Text / Call To Action: This is a straightforward “right hook” offer – if you download the app, you can get a huge discount on the clothes presented in the ad. They give you a CTA to install the app right now.
When you make offers hyper specific, relevant to the ad and audience, and easy to take action on, good things happen.
Ad #3: Getting Gangster With Constantly Varied Gear
Image: The pink color of the tank top immediately grabs your eye, and the black skull design provides contrast to the pink while adding to the emotional atmosphere of the ad.
Once users are looking at the ad, they can read the text on the tank top: “Drink coffee, put on some gangster rap and handle it.”
This kind of statement will probably appeal to the type of people who would wear a skull bra and leggings, so it’s a perfect fit.
Text / Call To Action: We understand why the call to action is “learn more,” but the text and offer have a disconnect from the image.
The text suggests an emotional appeal to the audience based on the story of the brand. However, the image is completely focused on the product and the kind of person who would wear that product – NOT the company itself.
Therefore, a better text would be something like: “And people say that pink can’t be serious – prove them wrong and get a 30% discount by clicking shop now” and having the CTA be a “shop now” link.
Ad #4: Dog Lovers Unite!
Image: The image itself isn’t super artsy or visually appealing. However, the image DOES look very natural, and the text on the T-Shirt creates a strong emotional appeal for dog lovers.
Text / Call To Action: This text and call to action is SO close to being perfect. Highlighting that every purchase feeds 7 shelter dogs is an incredibly powerful move, and the “shop now” link fits.
However, one rule of an effective ad is to only give your customers ONE action to perform.
Asking the user to “double tap” the picture to like it will cause some people to “like” the picture when they might have clicked “shop now” instead.
Instead of saying “double tap if you dig this Tee!” a better piece of copy would read: “Hit shop now if you dig this Tee!” which leads perfectly into the emotional reason WHY a dog lover would buy from Laughing Bone.
Ad #5: Big Brands Can Act Differently (But You Shouldn’t)
Image: This image isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good.
By putting the product alongside other “rugged” equipment pieces like a hat and gloves, DayQuil effectively says to their audience: “look, we know that you’re tough and not about to let a little cold stop you. Our product is another part of your toolkit for getting things done!”
Text / Call To Action: There’s no call to action here – perhaps this ad was done before Instagram introduced calls to action within ads.
However, since DayQuil is such a big brand that can be bought from virtually any pharmacy, grocery store, or gas station, they don’t really need a “buy now” button in this ad.
When you’re a mega brand like Coke or DayQuil, you can get away with this style of advertising.
If you’re a small business, don’t follow their example.
Ad #6: Illy Creates Emotions Around Their Brand
Image: This image is SO Instagram – a cute coffee pic is practically the most common Instagram photo, aside from food and beach pics.
The snowman is very relevant to the holidays, and the brand logo is displayed in a central but subtle way on the coffee cup.
Additionally, the contrast created by the dark coffee and white snowman, along with the red Illy brand logo and the white cup, captures users’ eyeballs effectively.
Text / Call To Action: Similar to DayQuil, Illy is a pretty large brand, so their strategies are a bit different than yours might be.
The text copy itself is perfect – playful, using a popular hashtag to get more organic views, and giving a call to action in the form of “learning more”.
We’re not sure what happens after you click “learn more” on this ad, so it’s hard to say how effective this ad is at generating revenue.
However, given how popular Illy coffee is, this ad could be focused on creating an emotional attachment to the Illy brand within the viewers of this ad rather than creating revenue directly.
Ad #7: Chambord Inspires Action With Elegance
Image: This image is absolutely gorgeous.
It inspires feelings of luxury, glamour, and beauty with the flowers and gold present on this Chambord liqueur bottle.
The brand name is at center stage, but not in a salesy or overly promotional way.
Text / Call To Action: Again, Chambord knocks this ad out of the park.
The phrase “limited edition” inspires urgency through loss aversion and the copy, “transform your loved one’s Valentine’s Day” makes an emotional appeal to people’s desire to please their loved ones and be loved and accepted by them.
That’s powerful stuff.
Ad #8: Livday Nails The Instagram Vibe
Image: This image absolutely nails the Instagram aesthetic. It looks natural – like a friend took this picture on a hike. It creates an experience in the mind of the viewer, and the text on the image creates urgency to take action in a subtle way.
Text / Call To Action: What can we say? Livday gets it. Their offer is directly relevant both to the image of the ad and the target audience of the ad – people who live in San Francisco who want to know what other cool nature lovers are doing for fun.
Ad #9: Live Nation Uses Celeb Cred
Image: This image rocks, not necessarily because it’s artsy or aesthetically super pleasing, but because it features two people who will be immediately recognizable by Live Nation’s target audience for this ad: rapper/producer DJ Khaled and pop star Pharrell.
Text / Call To Action: The phrase “let’s do this” is pretty generic, and could have been a bit more playful and emotionally appealing.
However, the rest of the offer is very straightforward and targeted, which is a good thing – if you live near Pier 70, and you are interested in hip hop / pop music, this offer to “book now” will appeal to you.
Ad #10: Blinkist’s OK Image Saved By Great Copy
Image: Overall, this ad is good, but the image itself could use a little work.
The dark filter kind of obscures the woman’s face, and pulls the ad in two different directions – are they trying to focus on the book itself, or the experience of the person reading the book?
Blinkist muddles the waters by trying to do both and so they don’t really accomplish either goal all that well. A solid image, but certainly the weakest image of the ones we’ve looked at in this post.
Text / Call To Action: It’s a good thing the text and call to action are on point, or this ad wouldn’t be effective at all.
The phrase “no time to read?” directly targets a pain point of Blinkist’s target audience, and the next sentence “read or listen to the key insights from the best nonfiction books in a matter of minutes” offers an appealing solution to that pain point.
Finishing the copy with “download now” is fine, and the “install app” call to action is perfect.
Hopefully, this case study of effective Instagram ads has either inspired you to either:
- Start doing your own ad campaigns on Instagram
- Realize just how hard it is to create a good Instagram ad and start outsourcing your Instagram advertising
What do you think of these ads?
Know of any that are better?
We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this article in the comments!