Imported Layers Created with Sketch. AdHawk Blog
Instagram Ads

3 Creative Instagram Ad Strategies Every Marketer Can Learn From

Instagram’s aggressive algorithm changes in the last year may be angering content creators, but there’s no time for digital marketers to sulk about the decrease in organic views.

Paying to acquire new customers was bound to happen, and the good news is the cost can be justified if you create high-performing ads. Paid distribution in conjunction with great organic content will help you scale at an abnormally fast pace.

It’s like a life hack that actually works.

Why You Should Spice Things Up With Instagram Ads

Instagram’s monstrous growth numbers are no joke, touting over 700 million active users (double Twitter’s user base). They’re also projected to make over $6.8 billion in revenue by 2018, thanks to their efficient ad platform.

With numbers like these, it makes sense that over 500,000 brands have advertised on Instagram already.

This is an opportunity that every marketer should be ready to pounce on, so today, so we’re going to break down three great Instagram campaigns that will inspire your advertising efforts in no time.

Side note: this article is for the advertiser with an existing Instagram presence looking to improve ad performance. If you’re just getting started, check out this account setup guide and our tips for launching your first ever ad campaign.

1. Be Non-intrusive Like Charity Water

Advertising a charity is already an insane task and Charity Water shows how to do it in style. They strayed far away from the all too familiar “us versus them” imagery, and crafted a personal message that anyone can get behind. Here’s how they did it.


Pictured is a mother from Malawi, barefoot, and holding an empty plastic dipper. She’s standing in a river that she visits seven times a day just to collect clean drinking water for her husband and children. Amidst her situation, she champions an infectious smile. Charity Water shows, in excellent fashion, the power of visual storytelling.

The link in their post leads to an incredibly heart-warming journey presented beautifully through photos, that ultimately compelled me to donate to this life-changing cause.

The point is: people don’t go on Instagram to read, but to see and experience your unique story – so show it well.

Charity Water’s Ad Strategy

Charity Water promotes their best performing content directly from their organic feed, creating a genuine experience for the folks seeing their ads.

Their promoted content takes advantage of Instagram intensely visual platform, effortlessly blending into the user’s feed and becoming part of their social experience. Any promoted post that looks too much like a traditional ad has a good chance of being skipped over quickly by users and might fail to make the impact it should.

It’s worth noting that Charity Water’s call to action is for you to read more about a story and nothing else. They invest time and effort into creating an audience that finds value in seeing these images of good being done in the world—a stark change from typical Instagram feeds that steer the opposite way and think only short-term.

This top-of-the-funnel ad brings in a more engaged follower base, creating a future opportunity to ask without intrusively spamming people’s feeds.

What You Can Learn from Charity Water to Improve Your Ads:

  • Conduct qualitative research and find ways to dig deeper to find an emotional connection with your audience.
  • Audit your best performing organic content and see how you can replicate their success.
  • Boost your content that is already performing well.
  • Create a beautiful post, not a beautiful ad.
  • Use your Instagram feed as a trust-builder. Don’t spam your feed with offers, but rather invest time and energy into creating a feed people would actually be proud of following.

2. Be On-Brand Like E.l.f.

Boosting a post is just one of many paid Instagram strategies.

Influencer marketing is also effective when done leveraged properly, especially if you’re targeting a niche audience. According to Hubspot, 71% of consumers are more likely to purchase based on social media referrals, which is why advertisers spend nearly $500 million annually on influencer campaigns.

Way too many brands throw money at influencers to post blatant ads on their Instagram feed without putting much thought into the messaging of the post itself.

This can lead to posts failing to resonate with an influencer’s audience, and ultimately be detrimental to both the influencer’s and the advertiser’s brands. Influencer marketing has to be a three-way street (do those even exist?)—the influencer wins by promoting a product or service they know will resonate with their audience, the audience wins by being exposed to a product or service endorsed by someone they trust, and the advertiser wins by tapping into a relevant audience of potential customers.

Here’s how to approach influencer marketing the right way.

E.l.f. cosmetics is a brand that does an excellent job working with influencers, because they encourage influencers to come up with their own creative, creating a genuine connection with their audience.

How E.l.f Works with Micro-Influencers to Increase Audience Engagement

Instead of partnering up with celebrity influencers that have millions of followers, E.l.f. works with over 50 micro-influencers to create unique ad campaigns for their respective hyper-engaged audiences.

Micro-influencers is the term used to describe social media influencers with under 100,000 followers. Amy Cotteleer, founder of the experiential marketing agency A2G, explains why micro-influencers can be important for brands to seek out.

“If you have a thousand or less followers on Instagram, your engagement rate is 8%. That drops to 1.7% on average when you grow your base to a million followers.”

In other words, influencers with millions of followers see a lower engagement rate than influencers with thousands of followers.

With that in mind, micro-influencers have an uncanny ability to connect with their audiences and nurture an enthusiastic fan base. They can directly engage with them, which in contrast is unmanageable at scale for an influencer with over a million followers.

The key to E.lf.’s strategy is allowing their micro-influencers to create their own content, with minimal restrictions on what can or cannot be posted. This gives micro-influencers the freedom to better engage and build trust with their audience thereby maximizing opportunities for conversion.

What You Can Learn from E.l.f to Improve Your Ads:

  • Find micro-influencers in your space by googling, researching hashtags on Instagram, or using tools like FollowerWonk and BuzzSumo.
  • When finding influencers, don’t look merely at follower count, but their engagement and relationship with their audience.
  • Locate influencers who are congruent with your brand.
  • When working with influencers, provide minimal guidelines and allow them to speak to their audience in a natural and open way. Invite them to lead the creative process.

3. Be Experience-Driven Like IKEA

A post shared by @ikea_ps_2014 on

I know I know – this campaign came out in 2014, but it’s still gold. If you haven’t seen this campaign before, it was brought to life by the Russian ad agency Instinct, and serves as the perfect example of creating native experiences.

IKEA’s Strategy:

IKEA found out a way to create a website directly on their Instagram feed by creating a separate account for each product featured in their photos. They then tagged each product on the feed so that users can go and explore each item, creating an entire shopping experience natively on Instagram.

This is a fun, experience-driven campaign that ultimately made the most out of what was then Instagram’s brand-spankin’ new tagging feature.

What You Can Learn from IKEA (and others) to Improve Your Ads:

Instagram is continuously updating their product with new features, which provides creative opportunities like one used by IKEA. The first thing you can do is to experiment with different Instagram post types, such as 60 second videos, the photo carousel, Instagram stories, and more.

Lululemon’s creative implementation of Instagram’s new video format is another great example of experimenting with new features to increase engagement:

Every mat has a story to tell. #justmymat

A post shared by lululemon (@lululemon) on

Because the video looks like it was shot on a phone, it matches our earlier tip of blending into the audience’s feed. The guy stealing the ice cream at the end gives it a nice personal touch.

Another great example of Instagram experimentation is this fun ad by Subway that makes full use of the new carousel feature.

Posting multiple photos can help with everything from crafting a visually stunning story to showing off a mouth-watering sandwich, so take these opportunities to create a memorable experience for your fans.

AdHawk Pro Tip: It’s also integral for a brand to be responsive and open to speaking with whoever took the time out to drop a comment or tag a friend. Be ready to engage!

Too Long; Didn’t Read?

Major props to you if you’ve read through this entire post, but for those of you who just skimmed the headlines, here are a few key takeaways to help you out:

  • Be non-intrusive
  • Make sure your post blends into the feed
  • Be positive and find a deeper emotional connection with your audience
  • Replicate and boost your best performing content
  • Be on-brand
  • Use tools like FollowerWonk or BuzzSumo to find micro-influencers on top of Googling and researching relevant hashtags
  • Work with micro-influencers with high engagement
  • Allow influencers to have creative freedom and create content that is genuinely relevant to their core audience
  • Be experience-driven
  • Experiment with different post types like the carousel feature and 60 second videos
  • Follow up and engage with your audience

What’s Your Favorite Strategy?

If you want to learn more, we recommend you check out these 6 expert tips on Instagram Ad Strategy from our friends over at YotPo.

Let me know what’s worked for you by dropping me a DM or tweeting @JonJMPark. Comments and shares are always appreciated, too! Like always, thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About the Author

Journeyman of the wild wild west of Digital Advertising. Also doubling as an unofficial Taco Bell ambassador. Tweet at me @JonJmPark