Instagram Ads for Brands: Proceed Carefully

Lately I’ve been noticing an influx of sponsored Instagram Ads in my feed. Even though I work in social media marketing and have closely followed these new ad units – I’ve felt the knee jerk reaction a few times of, “why is this brand in my feed?”, or “why does Instagram think this is relevant to me?”

After monitoring the first few brands executing these ads and monitoring the community reaction to them, I wanted to issue a couple reminders for brands wanting to jump into these new ad units.

Remember, Instagram’s Feed Still Feels More Pure to Users than Facebook

Most of us are accustomed to Facebook controlling the newsfeed and showing what they think is most important to us. As a result, we’ve become used to Facebook serving up content we may not have initially elected to see – for instance if a friend happened to share or engage with a brand that we didn’t follow. We’ve also seen brands highly involved on the platform – and we’ve all become used to their involvement – it’s become accepted.

With Instagram, the main feed still feels pure. Since I started engaging on Instagram after years on Facebook, I was a bit more selective on the brands and friends I choose to follow– meaning my feed is generally less noisy. Given this, a sponsored post on Instagram from a brand I don’t follow naturally sticks out. It’s going to require adjustment. It’s going to catch users a bit off guard in the beginning, and it will capture more negative scrutiny from those users who felt Instagram was a safe haven from advertising.

Current Instagram Targeting and Creative Execution Can Increase User Skepticism & Negativity

The first brands that I noticed in my Instagram feed were from Insurance companies, Entertainment/Movies, and Car Companies.

I can say in all of these ads, my reaction was fairly negative because the ads seemed to be too broadly targeted and didn’t feel tailored to me in targeting or creative execution:

  • The insurance ad felt like it was directly targeting the age demographic of millennials, and pairing this with a creative campaign called #ActYourAge, encouraging millennials to get off their parents insurance. As a millennial that has been off my parent’s insurance for more than a decade, this ad offended me and most of the millennials it was targeted to. Remember: age isn’t everything.


  • I was targeted an ad for Michelob Ultra.  The timing of the ad was around Labor Day, and the visual execution was fitting for the channel.  While the copy was referencing a corporate contribution for hiking trails, all of the sentiment was mostly negative.  Turns out, people were mad about the beer and mad about the ads.



  • I was targeted an ad for the movie Straight Outta Compton that must have been also been broadly targeted. This ad should of had interest targeting applied because it really doesn’t match any of my previous movie tastes.

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  • I was targeted several different auto-ads for a sporty, 4 door sedan. I proudly drive a mini-van and since I’m pregnant and have a 2 year old, I’m certainly not envisioning myself driving in a sedan in my near future. While the creative execution was highly visual and fit the platform, I still felt like this content was irrelevant advertising to me.

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Overall Learnings for Brands Approaching Instagram Ads

Based on my initial observations, the following are a few learnings to consider when approaching Instagram Ads.

  • If your brand naturally captures negative reactions (think Insurance carriers o
    r mobile phone carriers), the early negative sentiment from these ads may be more detrimental than the awareness the ads bring.  Be extra cautious, and perhaps wait until users are more accustomed to these ads.
  • If your brand is entertainment or lifestyle focused, you can hit a gold mine.  Even those these ads in these categories that felt fairly broadly targeted, mostly had positive sentiment coming from users.
  • Creative execution and targeting need to go hand-in-hand.  If you can, select the targeting options before briefing in or developing creative.  Since new targeting options will be coming to Instagram, don’t simply rely on age also interest targeting to ensure maximum effectiveness and relevancy.
  • Don’t treat your ads as ads.  The screenshot below is straightforward, it may even stand out in the feed – but it’s not fitting with the channel, and it certainly feels more like advertising than content that is engaging.Everalbum

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