In the summer of 2015 – three years after it acquired the image-focused platform – Facebook opened up Instagram’s ad API, causing advertisers to adopt to the channel at a rapid pace.

In fact, the folks at Nanigans (an advertising automation software company) have seen more than half of clients who use their software spend dollars on Instagram since the API launch:

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And these advertisers aren’t just spending on IG at an increased rate; they’re spending more and more dollars on this one platform.

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What can you take away from all this? In short, much like its big brother Facebook, Instagram is proving itself as a high-performing platform for brands and marketers. And it’s getting even better.

Take, for example, one of the most recent changes at IG: Users now have to click twice on an image or video to be taken offsite (vs. once). Sure, this means that aggregate CTRs have gone down, but the important stat: Return on Ad Spend, has gone exponentially up. In other words, the dollars you spend on Instagram are likely to deliver more than their cost.

Have we convinced you yet that it’s time to advertise on IG?

Good! But before you grab your smartphone and start snapping your next ad, let’s take a moment to see what type of photo ads you should focus on to get the most bang for your buck. Here are four tips to help you make the most of your Instagram ads.

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1. If you’re going to advertise, know who you’re advertising to

 

With the recent updates to Instagram’s interface, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate between it and Facebook. Image, video, image carousel, video carousel, and dynamic ad types are available across both platforms; and while Instagram is essentially 100% mobile, Facebook is getting there too (roughly 80% of all Facebook ad spend currently goes to mobile inventory).

 

The main difference between these two platforms is with individual audiences. As strange and painful as it is to say it, Facebook is far more popular among the older crowd. And while folks of all ages use Instagram, younger audiences are far more prevalent.

 

Knowing this – and the dynamics of your specific audience – will help you dictate what type of content to promote on Instagram.   

 

2. Don’t be afraid to be bold

 

Your Instagram ad is going up against a ton of organic posts that feature day-in-the-life shots and, of course, the seemingly unavoidable food porn pic.

 

Your instinct might be to craft an ad image that blends in nicely with these posts; but that instinct isn’t 100% correct.

 

While these types of images are effective, you should also A/B test more prominent, bold-colored posts. Check out what Talkspace did here. Not only did they use the carousel feature, but they maximized their bold coloring within each ad:

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Not to mention they also told a story in three simple posts. Most users are compelled to swipe left at least once. Now that’s an effective ad campaign.

3. Create a focal point

 

I love what Burt’s Bees did here …

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They showed off their product (in all of its variations) but still, somehow, brought the focal point to the messaging in the middle.

 

Pure brilliance. Combining your product, and messaging, into a cohesive ad is a surefire way to increase the effectiveness of your campaigns.

 

In this instance, I’d have suggested more contract between the background and the products (say, for example, a white backdrop rather than the wood grain), but in terms of use of perspective and focal point, Burt’s hit a homerun.

4. Give the audience something of worth

 

Here’s something I’ve noticed a lot with brands and their ad habits on social media: they forget to employ the benefits-first approach.

 

Way too often ads on Facebook and Instagram funnel readers to an offer or sale. “BUY NOW.” “DOWNLOAD TODAY.”

 

Even the “LEARN MORE” button we see often just leads a user to a landing page that’s a glorified pitch for a service or product.

 

Stop the madness!

 

illy (makers of coffee and espresso machines) had the user in mind when they created this ad:

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That LEARN MORE button you see there? It goes to a landing page where users can, and will, actually learn how to build that latte art snowman.

 

Imagine that! An ad that’s not blatantly about pushing a product. I don’t even own an espresso machine and I want to learn how they did that.

 

That’s what social is about: it’s about finding ways to engage audiences with useful content. In fact, if you’re looking for some IG inspiration for your brand, I strongly urge you to scope out @illy_coffee. They’ve mastered the platform like few other brands.

Now, onto you …

 

What ways can you use Instagram advertising to your advantage? Remember what the platform is famous for: simple, bold images that get users to pause in their tracks while they scroll.

 

Forget about word-heavy content. Do away with blatant promotions. Find ways to tell your story and offer something of worth, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art and science of Instagram advertising.

 

Now I’m off to build a latte art snowman.