Tuesday, October 6th, 2015 | 10 min read
With the recent launch of Carousel Ads, a call-to-action button, and the Instagram Ads API, there’s no doubt Instagram has carved out its position as a major social media advertising channel for big brands.
Brands advertising on Instagram have already seen impressive results:
But while there are a lot of guides on how to succeed on Instagram with organic content, there isn’t much information about Instagram advertising best practices, and there’s even less about how to design effective Instagram ad creative.
So we teamed up with Instagram to bring you a comprehensive overview of creative best practices for advertising on Instagram. A strong concept, image balance, a clear focal point, and inspirational imagery are a few things brands need to pay attention to when developing Instagram ad creative. Let’s take a look at how these work, plus a few more.
A strong, compelling concept is essential to driving metrics in paid advertising – to say something about your brand, and resonate with your audience, your campaign needs an underlying message with which people instantly connect.
An idea can come to life through a storyline, a specific visual treatment, or a theme that carries through your brand’s content.
AirBnB excels at publishing concept-driven content on Instagram. The photo below seems to say: the world is waiting for you. Jump in.
In this ad from Taco Bell – part of their “Live Más” campaign, which translates to “live more” or “live life to the fullest” – the brand captures what it’s like to be at the beach with friends, laughing and snacking. It’s the golden hour, just before the sun sets, and it feels a little like one of those drawn-out last days of summer, before people rush back to school.
“We let the concept drive creative production, and paired that with what we knew about how people engage on Instagram.” said Chris Brandt, CMO Taco Bell, of their Instagram advertising campaign.
How can your brand use Instagram advertising campaigns to show customers something they won’t find elsewhere – a side of your brand they haven’t seen before? Focusing on aspects of your brand or product that are unique, or imbuing imagery with a backstage feel, makes your Instagram ad creative more compelling.
GE uses its Instagram account to take its audience behind the scenes, display the beauty in new prototypes, and showcase its technology at work. Its images are grand and inspiring, showing all the hard work, attention to detail, science, and creativity that goes into making GE products – something people otherwise probably wouldn’t know much about.
RedBull features breathtaking photos of their most adventurous customers doing remarkable things, like riding a huge wave on a dirt bike or kayaking over a waterfall. The images are entertaining and inspiring, with the underlying message being that drinking RedBull can help you achieve the unimaginable. They also show their audience something they can’t see anywhere else.
Pleasant composition – achieved through straightening, balancing elements, the rule of thirds, and symmetry – can make a big difference in the overall aesthetic of an image.
If the subject is off-center, with nothing to balance the empty space in the rest of the image, the final product can feel tense, leaving a subconscious negative association with the brand. We recommend using compositional grid lines to ensure your creative is framed correctly.
This ad from Chobani uses careful placement to make what could have been a cluttered image feel balanced and symmetrical.
What’s the first thing you notice when you look at the image below? Your eye is immediately drawn to the branded shoes, and that’s intentional. It’s what the photographer wanted you to see – the shoes are the focal point of the image.
Brands can use focal points in their Instagram advertising campaigns to direct attention to specific elements, enhancing brand recall and inspiring action.
Your audience’s attention will be held for only a few seconds. So, decide what you want the viewer to remember about the image, arrange the composition in order to focus their attention there, and avoid using imagery that is busy or overly complex.
For example, by centering the pint of ice cream and framing it with colors that fade into the background, this Ben & Jerry’s ad pulls the viewer’s eyes straight to the product.
The great Maya Angelou said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” By creating images that inspire emotion, like happiness, nostalgia, or curiosity, your content becomes memorable. This also inspires positive brand associations.
charity: water consistently shares images and video that evoke a wide range of emotion, from empathy, hope, and wonder to sadness. The ad below could make the viewer feel a whole suite of things – happy that the subject is enjoying the clean water, grateful that you have access to clean water, or motivated to help others.
It’s important to be consistent across your paid and organic content – the aesthetic and messaging you use for sponsored content should align with your brand’s overall Instagram strategy. This way, users will be more likely to understand the message you’re trying to convey and identify with your brand.
MVMT Watches does a nice job with this. Aside from the “Sponsored” label and the call-to-action, it’s nearly impossible to tell their ads and their organic content apart.
When designing Instagram ad creative, it’s important to strike a balance between branded elements and a native feel; you want to brand just enough to enhance ad recall, but not so much that viewers experience your content as spammy.
The following image doesn’t feel overly promotional for the brand that created it – Michael Kors – but their logo is visible enough to send a clear message about the brand: women who carry a Michael Kors bags are stylish, elegant, and on-the-go.
Brands can also ensure their ad creative looks native by limiting post-production. Development of high-quality, well-composed creative is important, yet there’s a fine line between a professional and an over-produced image. Imagery should appear as if it were captured with the snap of a camera to complement the Instagram aesthetic.
When retouching does occur, it should be to highlight the natural, believable details that already exist in your image, rather than synthesizing additional elements. Natural, even lighting (like in Levi’s’ content below) and high resolution photos will lessen the need for post production edits.
Powerful, well-executed ad creative can mean the difference between someone scrolling past your content or clicking your CTA.
Most importantly, your main goal should be to provide your audience with delightful, seamless experiences across organic and promoted content. The creative best practices outlined above – like subtle branding, visual consistency, and smart framing – will help you do that. You want to make sure that, even when advertising, your content improves a person’s Instagram feed by giving them the visual experience they’re looking for.
About the Author: Shauntle Barley is a Blog Content Intern at Sprinklr, based in New York, NY. She recently graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies and a minor in German.