How to Use Instagram Ads — A Guide for Marketers

An image of Instagram ads over a blue and green background
An image of Instagram ads over a blue and green background

For most marketers, posting on Instagram, engaging influencers, and using Instagram Stories for their business has become almost as commonplace as scrolling and posting on their own social media feed. However, Instagram promotion, an equally crucial component of Instagram marketing, is often underutilised by both B2C and B2B companies.

With a potential advertising reach of almost 849 million users, Instagram seems like the perfect advertiser — so why aren’t more marketers choosing to advertise on Instagram? In their desire to market their products through organic discovery, creativity, and pure spunk, brands have overlooked the fact that users are more interested in brands and products than they think. 

Why Instagram Ads?

As great as regular feed content is, engagement on your posts doesn’t always lead to clicks through to your site or product page. This is Instagram’s one fatal flaw when it comes to regular content marketing — brands can’t add clickable links to their captions. 

This isn’t to say that Instagram isn’t useful for directing traffic at all. After all, brands have managed just fine with just a simple link in their Instagram bio (and the help of tools like linktree and linkin.bio) thus far. 

However, when brands want to target specific audiences for a particular product or serve their products to users who are already looking for similar items, ads on Instagram are particularly useful. Marketers familiar with Facebook ads will be happy to know that they can make use of just as many tailored objectives and audiences in Instagram ads.

In this guide, we highlight the different ad formats marketers can make use of and how they can create Instagram ads.

Key Features of Instagram Ads

  • Can (and should) have the same look and feel as regular posts, but may include a “Sponsored” tag and often have a call-to-action (CTA).
  • Each format supports various CTAs based on your advertising objectives. 
  • All ad formats lead to an in-app browser or app store.

The supported ad objectives for Instagram Ads are as follows:

A table showing different ad objectives for Instagram Ads

The possible CTAs for ads include but are not limited to:

  • Apply Now
  • Book Now
  • Call Now
  • Contact us
  • Donate
  • Download
  • Install Now
  • Listen Now
  • Order Now
  • Play Game
  • See Menu
  • Send Message
  • Shop Now
  • Sign Up
  • Subscribe
  • Use App
  • Watch More
  • Learn More

Note: For ad sets that run across both Instagram and Facebook, if no button is selected, your ad will display with no CTA on Facebook but still display with “Learn More” by default on Instagram. CTA buttons are required on Instagram in order to signal to Instagram users your ad is clickable.

In 2016, Instagram released enhanced CTA features that respond based on how users interact with the ad. Instagram's algorithm detects if the user has shown interest in and around the ad and serves different versions of the same ad accordingly.

The CTA button is highlighted with a blue background when people hover on the advert for at least four seconds or tap on the profile name. 

L: a regular feed ad shown to a user interacting with it for the first time, R: an ad with the CTA highlighted in blue, indicating that the user has shown interest in the ad or brand

The difference between ads shown to regular users versus interested users — L: the ad that hasn’t been engaged with shows a blue CTA on a white background, R: the ad that has been engaged with shows a white CTA on a blue background

In addition, Instagram users can also engage with a brand directly from the comments with an integrated CTA in the comments section.

Screenshot Comments section on Instagram with CTA

Users can click on the brand’s CTA from the comments section of the ad

Video ads have also become more intuitive. Users are taken to a destination URL when the ad has been unmuted. On the redirected page, the video continues to play on-screen while users navigate the site. They can also enter fullscreen or dismiss the video player if desired.

Types of Instagram Ads

Instagram advertising comes in many forms, from your usual feed posts and Instagram Stories to promotional posts specifically tailored for ad placement and e-commerce. 

In the following sections, we introduce the various ad types and specifications that marketers should be aware of:

Feed Posts

The most basic form of Instagram promotion, feed ads emulate the regular photos, videos, and carousels that you may find on your own feed. These are Instagram sponsored ads, and appear with a "Sponsored" label while looking like a regular feed post. 

L to R: Instagram image ad for The Peach Truck, video ad for Volvo cars, carousel ad for Fizzy Globlet shoes

L to R: Image ad for The Peach Truck, video ad for Volvo cars, carousel ad for Fizzy Goblet shoes

Specs for Single Image Ads

Images (Square | Landscape | Vertical)

  • Image format: .JPG or .PNG
  • Minimum Resolution: 600 x 600 | 600 x 315 | 400 x 500 pixels
  • Recommended Resolution: 1080 x 1080 | 1200 x 628 | 1080 x 1350 pixels (landscape)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1:1 | 1.91:1 | 4:5
  • Maximum Image Size: 30MB
  • Maximum Caption Length: 2,200 characters (Recommended: 125 characters, no links)
  • Caption: 2 rows of text will display

Carousel Images (Square)

  • Image Format: .JPG or .PNG
  • Minimum Cards: 2
  • Maximum Cards: 10
  • Image Duration: 50 seconds per card (for slideshow)
  • Minimum Resolution: 600 x 600 pixels
  • Maximum Resolution: 1080 x 1080 pixels
  • Aspect Ratio: 1:1
  • Maximum Image Size: 30MB
  • Maximum Caption Length: 2,200 characters (Recommended: 125 characters, no links)
  • Caption: 2 rows of text will display
  • Landing Page URL Required 

Note: Instagram carousel ads work the same way as a post in the regular carousel format, in which each image is sized or resized so that all images follow the same ratio. The best practice for this is to design your images in the same dimensions or aspect ratio (e.g. all square).

Specs for Video Ads

Videos (Square | Landscape | Vertical)

  • Video format: .MP4 or .MOV recommended, others accepted
  • Maximum Video Length: 120 seconds
  • Recommended Resolution: Upload the highest resolution video available that meets file size and ratio limits.
  • Minimum Width: 500 pixels
  • Recommended Aspect Ratio: 1:1 | 1.91:1 | 4:5
  • Maximum Video Size: 4GB
  • Maximum Caption Length: 2,200 characters (Recommended: 125 characters, no links)
  • Caption: 2 rows of text will display

Carousel Videos (Square)

  • Video Format: .MP4 or .MOV recommended, others accepted
  • Maximum Video Length: 60 seconds
  • Minimum Cards: 2
  • Maximum Cards: 10
  • Recommended Resolution: at least 1080 x 1080 pixels
  • Aspect Ratio: 1:1
  • Maximum Video Size: 4GB
  • Maximum Caption Length: 2,200 characters (Recommended: 125 characters, no links)
  • Caption: 2 rows of text will display
  • Landing Page URL Required 

Explore ads

Brands can also host feed ads within a user’s Explore feed. These ads do not show up in the Explore grid but will show up when users browse related grid posts in the Explore feed and Explore videos. 

A photo from Instagram explaining Explore ads: they do not show up in the Explore grid but are displayed when a user browses a related grid post or video

A photo from Instagram explaining Explore ads: these ads do not show up in the Explore grid but will show up when users browse related grid posts in the Explore feed and Explore videos. 

Instagram Stories ads

Just like feed ads, Instagram Stories also offers image, video, and carousel ad options. Instagram Story ads appear as vertical full-screen images or videos in between a user’s Stories feed posts. As Instagram Story ads are paid offerings, brands can add a CTA within their ad (swipe up) without having a verified account or more than 10,000 followers

L to R (Instagram Stories): Image ad for Yoga International with a poll sticker, video ad for Louis Vuitton bags, carousel image ad for Jasper's Market produce

L to R (Instagram Stories): Image ad for Yoga International with poll sticker, video ad for Louis Vuitton bags, carousel image ad for Jasper’s Market produce

Specs for Instagram Stories Ads — Images

Images (Vertical)

  • Image format: .JPG or .PNG
  • Minimum Width: 500 pixels
  • Recommended Resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels (portrait)
  • Aspect Ratio: 9:16
  • Maximum Image Size: 30MB
  • Poll sticker available for use
  • Recommended to leave 250 pixels in the top and bottom of the image free from logos, text or key creative elements — for example, if your image is 1080 x 1920 pixels, ensure that key elements appear within a 1080x1420 title-safe area.

Specs for Instagram Stories Ads — Video

 Videos (Vertical)

  • Video format: .MP4 or .MOV recommended, others accepted
  • Maximum Video Length: 120 seconds
  • Minimum Width: 500 pixels
  • Recommended Resolution: Upload the highest resolution video available that meets file size and ratio limits, minimum 720p
  • Aspect Ratio: 9:16, 16:9 to 4:5
  • Maximum Video Size: 30MB
  • Poll sticker available for use
  • Recommended to leave 250 pixels in the top and bottom of the ad free from logos, text or key creative elements — for example, if your video is 1080 x 1920 pixels, ensure that key elements appear within a 1080x1420 title-safe area.

Note: Instagram Stories video ads that are 15 seconds or less will automatically play for the full duration. For ads longer than 15 seconds in length, see below for Carousel Ads

Carousel Images (Vertical)

  • Image format: .JPG or .PNG
  • Recommended Resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels (portrait)
  • Minimum Cards: 2
  • Maximum Cards: 10
  • Aspect Ratio: 9:16, 16:9 to 4:5
  • Recommended to leave 250 pixels in the top and bottom of the ad free from logos, text or key creative elements — for example, if your image is 1080 x 1920 pixels, ensure that key elements appear within a 1080x1420 title-safe area.

Note: Instagram will automatically display one, two, or three cards (tailored to each user) but give viewers the option to expand the story to view up to max 10 cards. To display a fixed number of cards before story expansion, marketers must select IG Stories as their exclusive placement in the Ads Manager. 

Carousel Videos (Vertical)

  • Video format: .MP4 or .MOV recommended, others accepted
  • Maximum Video Length: 15 seconds per card, 120 total seconds
  • Minimum Cards: 2
  • Maximum Cards: 10
  • Recommended Resolution: Upload the highest resolution video available that meets file size and ratio limits, minimum 720p
  • Aspect Ratio: 9:16, 16:9 to 4:5
  • Recommended to leave 250 pixels in the top and bottom of the ad free from logos, text or key creative elements — for example, if your video is 1080 x 1920 pixels, ensure that key elements appear within a 1080x1420 title-safe area.

Note: ads longer than 15 seconds in length will also be displayed as a carousel.  The same principle applies — Instagram will automatically display one, two or three cards for the ad. Then, a "Keep Watching" option will appear on the last card, which can be tapped on to view the remainder of the video. By default, the number of cards automatically displayed before prompting viewers to tap "Keep Watching" is tailored to each viewer. 

Ecommerce-specific ad types

Instagram also supports various other ad types devoted to selling on Instagram and product promotion. These include Collection and Shopping ads. Unlike Instagram feed or Stories ads, these posts are overtly shoppable and can link directly to Instagram’s “Instant Storefront” or Checkout functions.

L to R: Instagram Collection feed ad for furniture, shoppable tags on a feed post for Jasper's Boutique, and a shoppable tag on an Instagram Story for the same boutique

L to R: Instagram Collection feed ad, shoppable tags in an Instagram feed post, shoppable tags in Instagram Stories

Collection ads

Collection ads are overtly devoted to selling on Instagram. showcase a hero image or video alongside a grid of multiple products. Upon clicking on the ad, users are directed to a product catalog that links directly to the brand’s product pages or app. This allows brands to sell their products directly through the ad. Currently, collection ads are available only when brands create a new post or campaign, and can’t be created from existing posts.

An Instagram Collection ad for furniture — clicking on a tile leads to the brand's product catalogue

An Instagram Collection ad for furniture 

Collection ad specs

  • Aspect ratio (hero image or video): 1:1, 16:9, and slideshow. IG will not support ratios higher than 1:1
  • Minimum Width: 500 pixels
  • Minimum Height: 500 pixels

Shoppable tags

Instagram Shopping is available to users in several markets worldwide. These also support selling on Instagram.

Shoppable posts allow users to discover products through organic posts and Stories. Brands can add product tags to both new and existing posts. For users outside the United States, shoppable tags lead to a product page or app. Users and brands in the United States, however, can make use of Instagram’s Checkout function, which allows users to purchase items directly from Instagram without leaving the app. These ad specifications are the same as regular feed posts and Stories ads above.

L to R: Shoppable tags are added in the form of product tags on image posts and stickers on IG Stories

L to R: Shoppable tags are added in the form of product tags (posts) and stickers on IG Stories

How to Create Instagram Ads

There are three main avenues for marketers looking to buy ads on Instagram. These are:

  • Within the Instagram app itself (promote existing posts)
  • Facebook Ads Manager
  • Instagram Partners (outsourcing to third-party professionals)

Note: In order to run ads, users must have a Facebook Page and create a free Business profile on Instagram.

In this section, we will elaborate on the first two options. 

Promoting posts within the Instagram app

Instagram prompts you to create an ad by promoting an existing post. Simply click on the blue 'Promote' button to do so

Here are the steps that you should take to promote a post:

  • Pick an Instagram post that best resonates with your audience (TIP: choose something that aligns with your brand and style!)
  • Choose your business goal: Get visits to your profile, Get visits to your website or Get messages from users
  • Choose your audience: Automatic audience (allows you to target an audience that is similar to your followers) or Manual audience (allows you to create your own audience based on demographics, interests or location)
  • Set a budget and the duration that your ad will run for
  • Test your results: Track your insights for your Instagram ad campaign. Use the parameters above to test how your post performs and tweak them for your next campaign.

Posting an ad through Facebook’s Ads Manager

Marketing professionals should be familiar with Facebook’s Ads Manager. Placing ads on Instagram through this function works very much in the same manner. Users can create new campaigns and ads within Ads Manager if they do not wish to promote an existing post. In fact, users can run ads on both Facebook and Instagram concurrently, although how the post appears may vary on both platforms (Facebook, for example, displays in-caption links, while Instagram does not).

Note: You do not need to have an Instagram account to run Instagram ads through Facebook. If you have an Instagram account, add that account to your Business Manager, or connect your account to your Facebook page. Running ads without an Instagram account associates the ad with your Facebook page, while running ads with an affiliated Instagram account associates the ad with your Instagram handle. 

Instagram users can use Facebooks's Ads Manager to create ads

Here are the steps you can take to create an Instagram ad on Ads Manager:

  • Go to Ads Manager and click ‘Create’
  • Choose an objective from the drop-down (note: only these objectives will allow the ad to appear on Instagram): Locations, Age, Languages, Gender, Detailed Targeting (remove or include individuals based on demographic or interest data), Connections (remove or include individuals that are connected to your business or brand) and Custom Audiences.
  • Add or select a campaign name
  • Select your audience
  • Set your budget and the duration that the ad will run for
  • Optional: optimize your ad (e.g. click-throughs or pays per impression) or add a manual bid amount (e.g. cost-per-click) for the budget above
  • Select the type of creative you want to include
  • Select a Facebook Page to represent your business, and choose your affiliated Instagram account if you have one
  • Fill in your ad headline, text, and CTA.
  • Select your ad placement (Instagram-only, or others)
  • Publish your ad
  • View your results through the Ads Manager

Regardless of which method you choose, both platforms encompass the basic features of post selection, campaign objective selection, audience targeting, budgeting, and insights. Marketers should note that Instagram ads cost the most when targeting a primarily millennial age group, which is Instagram's primary target audience.

Best practices for Instagram Ads 

Marketers should take note of the following tips to ensure that their ad performs to their desired effect:

Know your target audience

It is imperative that marketers understand who they are targeting beyond what they designate as their desired audience. For example, if your skincare brand primarily markets to older women, featuring a young 20-something influencer may not cut it. In a similar vein, targeting an audience from a wide age group of both genders is unnecessary. Make sure that your post and copy don’t stray too far from what you usually create, and that your ad echoes the needs and wants of your target audience.

Meltwater’s audience insights tool provides you with rich insights into your audience. This includes understanding which influencers and brands have the greatest impact on their motivations and interests. An understanding of what makes your followers tick can help you to improve your campaign targeting and performance. 

Beyond understanding ad specs and creating posts in your usual fashion, incorporating on-trend or on-brand features in your ads, such as influencer marketing or native Instagram stickers and features, can help take your posts to the next level. Video content, in particular, attracts more eyeballs. Some content ideas that go beyond just featuring your product include how-to tutorials, behind-the-scenes features, user-generated content, and even animations.

Apart from switching up your images, try using different hashtags, body copy, or colors in your ads. Make sure to continually test and refresh your ad content for the best results. 

Text limitations

Facebook in particular is notorious for its limitations on copy on images — while its “20% rule” for text on images has been abolished, marketers should still abide by these recommendations to avoid experiencing reduced delivery on their ads. Use Facebook’s native text overlay checker in your ads to determine if your post passes the test. 

Customer engagement

Just because your post is an ad doesn’t mean that you can’t interact with your audience. In fact, users who leave comments on your ad or actively engage with them are much more likely to be directly interested in purchasing them. Check your ads for comments and questions and answer them proactively to avoid losing potential clients.

Check out the competition

Find inspiration from other brands and competitors that are pushing out ads and posts on Instagram. Keeping great content on your radar is essential to bettering your own content. Just because your brand may not be conventionally interesting doesn’t mean your Instagram page won't be! A creative social strategy and feed can help more audiences discover your brand and products.

Next Steps

Now that you’re ready to promote your next post or create a new campaign on Instagram, we want to help you take your brand strategy to the next level. Check out our Marketer’s Guide to Instagram for more top tips!