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Instagram ads have been around for a while, but I’d never actually seen one in my news feed until yesterday (“lucky you” I hear many of you say). In this post I show what an Instagram ads looks like, discuss some of the risks of using them and provide three tips to help avoid negative sentiment.

So for anyone who’s not seen an Instagram ad, here’s the experience:

What it looks like

The ad looks like a regular Instagram post, with three exceptions:

  • the word Sponsored is displayed
  • three carousel dots appear under the image
  • the text overlay “Swipe to see more” (this disappears after a few seconds)


What happens when you swipe

As soon as I swiped to the next photo, a “Learn More” button appeared, and stayed there (even when I swiped back to the first photo).


When you click the call to action button

Clicking on Learn More took me to the MaxMara website, but within the Instagram frame (so just like Twitter). It’s clear and easy to click back to Instagram, using the arrow at the top left.


However, the reaction of audiences to ads on Instagram (certainly in this case) can be… well let’s say “indifferent at best”. On this MaxMara ad I found that 24% of comments were negatively discussing the fact it was an ad, with two clear themes:

  • “I’d never buy something from this brand, so why is it being shown to me?”
  • “I’ve seen this ad a bunch of times, please stop spamming me.”

Just to be clear: this post isn’t intended to specifically criticise MaxMara’s campaign, it just happened to be the first example I came across which illustrates the point I wanted to make.

I think we can break this down into three challenges…

Firstly people don’t like change. Change something that people love and there will be criticism – simple as.

Secondly, Instagram currently offers just two targeting options: age and gender, making it pretty tricky to be super-relevant. We all know the importance of good targeting in an increasingly noisy online world.

And finally, users expect spectacular content on Instagram. I think the quality and originality “bar” so to speak is pretty high. Admittedly I’m not a Gigi Hagid or MaxMara fan, and yes “behind the scenes” is a classic Instagram style, but I think this creative could work harder for them.

Now, put all three of these elements together – perceived intrusion, irrelevance and lack of excitement – and I think there’s the real challenge.

So, what should brands do?

Instagram ads obviously provide brands the ability to reach beyond their organic following, and done well I think that’s a positive thing. However, with the cost-to-run still fairly substantial, what can brands do to maximise their investment?

Here are three ideas…

1. Address the targeting basics

In the example above I’d question why it was served to me. As far as I can see it’s a luxury fashion brand for women… yes, I might want to treat Mrs. Preece, but I think sticking to a female audience would have made sense.

2. Build the campaign around what you can target

Until Instagram extend their ad-targeting options, brands should keep the limitations front-of-mind when planning. Don’t get too niche, think about the segment you know you can reach and plan for something that appeals.

3. Give it the wow factor

We’ve established there are limitations to the targeting which means the role of the creative is even more important. So ask the question – what’s going to make an impact on as many people as possible? How can it wow people who currently have no interest in the brand, by being so aesthetically pleasing it balances (at the very least) other negative thoughts about “intrusive ads”.

Which brands do you follow on Instagram, even though you’re probably never going to buy from them directly? General Electric and Mersk Line would be a couple of mine – just because I enjoy the creative execution.

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