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Advertising on Instagram 101

Instagram ads offer a unique opportunity to reach your audience, showcase products, and build relationships in a creative, visual way.

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If you operate a small business or sell stuff online, you know that digital marketing and social network advertising can play a critical role in your growth and success. It’s a great way to boost brand awareness, acquire new customers, announce new products, and, most importantly, generate revenue. But with so many options available, it can be tough for small businesses to decide where to advertise and how to connect with an audience that will be interested in your product.

That’s where Mailchimp can help. Our powerful marketing tools make it easy and affordable to connect with your customers—and people like them—across platforms like Instagram, whether with images or videos, to effectively budget and schedule, so you can be confident that you’re spending your ad budget wisely and reaching the right people in the right place at the right time.

Let's go through the different advertising campaign features and opportunities that Instagram gives to businesses and that you can access and manage with Mailchimp, with this guide to Instagram ads.

Advantages and drawbacks of advertising on Instagram

Instagram is a mobile photo-sharing app that offers a unique opportunity to reach an audience, showcase products, and build relationships in a creative, visual way. It’s ideal for brand awareness campaigns, and the perfect complement to direct-response, conversion-based campaigns on channels like Facebook or email.

Boasting 700 million users worldwide (50% of which follow a business), Instagram has higher per-post engagement rates than other social platforms, and a higher average order value than Facebook. Instagram is often the go-to platform for marketers looking for a new way to enhance their brand or product image.

Instagram offers the same powerful targeting tools that are available in Facebook, which means you can take advantage of Facebook’s demographic and behavioral data and targeting options to expand your reach and connect with a custom audience, targeting people based on interests, keywords, or their similarity to your existing core audience. And unlike organic Instagram posts, ads allow for clickable URLs so people can easily click through to visit your mailing list signup form, website, or online store. Let's take a look at the few benefits and drawbacks of Instagram advertising.

Benefits of Instagram ads

Instagram ads come with many benefits, including the use of various Instagram ad formats like carousel ads, video ads, story ads, and more. With Instagram, you can even boost existing Instagram posts to help your content reach more people. The benefits of Instagram advertising include the following:

Low costs

Instagram ads cost varies depending on the industry, audience, and other various factors. However, compared to other types of advertising, Instagram ad campaigns are much more cost-effective, allowing you to earn more website visitors and sales for less.

Ease of use

You can run ads from the Instagram app or use Facebook ads manager, depending on your preferences. Both methods are easy and allow you to design and tailor your Instagram ad campaign to reach your target audience.

With the Instagram app, you don't even have to use a desktop to design and implement effective carousel ads, video ads, or Instagram stories ads; instead, you can create your entire Instagram ads campaign from your smartphone.

Drive traffic

Instagram ads help drive traffic to your website by allowing you to use clickable links in promoted posts. Adding a call to action (CTA) to your ads can help bring more customers to your website, where they can learn about your products and services or complete a conversion action like checking out or filling out a form.

Boost brand awareness

Instagram ads can help you increase your brand awareness by helping you reach more of your target audience faster than organic posts alone.

Instagram advertising allows you to compete with big box retailers and other popular brands by creating compelling ads that can make it into your audience's Instagram feed without the need for them to follow you.

Instead, you can reach your target audience by developing a campaign in ads manager that allows you to target individuals based on various factors, including gender, age, location, and interests.


With Instagram advertising, you have options. There are several types of methods you can use for creating ads, including using an ads manager to create content or uploading your content when you're done designing it in another program. You can also use existing Instagram posts to create ads by boosting them to earn more impressions.

In addition, there are several types of ad formats, including video ads, image ads like single-image or carousel ads in various formats, Instagram stories ads, Reels, and Instagram Shop ads.

Drawbacks of Instagram advertising

Like any type of advertising, Instagram ads come with a few drawbacks, but as long as you learn the platform, these drawbacks shouldn't affect your Instagram advertising campaign. Here are a few cons of Instagram ads:

Limited audience

Before you invest in Instagram advertising, you must understand your audience. Even though Instagram has many users you can reach with ads, their user base is primarily individuals between the ages of 18 and 43.

If you're trying to reach young people, Instagram advertising might be the right solution for you based on this information. However, if you're trying to reach the older generations, Instagram ads may be more costly with fewer conversions.

Instead, businesses with an older target audience may opt for other social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn, depending on the nature of the business.


Instagram is an image-based app. If you use the Instagram app, you'll notice it features grids that consist primarily of photos and videos.

Therefore, there's not a ton of space for text, so if your image or graphic doesn't speak for itself, you may not have enough space to explain your offer or the purpose of your ads. Since copy can be important in helping convince users to click the ad, Instagram advertising may not be right for you if you need more text to explain the product or service details.

Less advanced features

Instagram ads offer less advanced features than other advertising platforms. This can be beneficial for small business owners who want to avoid a steep learning curve. However, it also means fewer capabilities than Facebook ads.

For example, Facebook ads offer more detailed targeting to help you effectively target your audience. Of course, you can use Facebook ads manager to create and run Instagram ads, but your options are more limited.

Why create Instagram ads through Mailchimp?

Instagram ad campaigns in Mailchimp—just like their Facebook counterparts—are an easy way to promote your business, grow your audience, and sell your products. We’ll automatically pull product images from your store into your account, so you can create beautiful Instagram ads that target current customers, help you reconnect with former subscribers or lapsed customers, and introduce new people to your brand.

After running your ad, Mailchimp closes the loop by providing easy-to-read reports that help you analyze your Instagram insights and ads performance, view engagement, and monitor spending over time. And, if you’ve connected your store, our clear ROI reports will track your ad’s revenue, products sold, and customers acquired, too. Since you never have to leave Mailchimp to create an ad or track its performance, you can develop integrated, multi-channel marketing campaigns and learn how each channel is contributing to your success.

Instagram ad campaigns are available to all Mailchimp users without any additional markup or fees. So, no matter what type of Mailchimp plan you have, you can start advertising your products or services across Instagram with as little as $5 a day.

Instagram ad best practices everyone should follow

Define your goals

Before you get started, it’s important to give careful consideration to the goals of your Instagram marketing and ad campaign efforts. Maybe you’d like to grow your audience or raise brand awareness. Perhaps you want to drive traffic to your site or online store. Or, maybe you’d like to promote specific products, increase sales, or encourage mobile app downloads. Determining the purpose of your ad—no matter the preferred outcome—will help you decide on your message, audience, and call to action.

Instagram is primarily a mobile medium, so be sure to keep that in mind as you’re developing your campaign, too. The goals of your Instagram ad should reflect the best possible experience for your audience and customers. For example, if your website or online store isn’t optimized for mobile users, your Instagram ad should focus on brand awareness or list growth rather than encouraging web traffic or increasing conversions.

When defining your goals, always ensure you can effectively measure your Instagram ad performance. The platform's ad manager makes it easy to measure everything from impressions to clicks on an ad, including your cost per click.

Depending on your ad spend, you may have different goals for different campaigns. If you've never done Instagram advertising before, creating your first Instagram ads can serve as a baseline to help you measure the performance of the rest of your campaigns moving forward.

Determine your audience

Choosing the right audience—and keeping your content relevant to that audience—is the key to running a successful Instagram ad. Instagram offers some targeting options to help you reach the right people at the right time. You can target users based on location, demographics, interests, behavior, and more based on the data you've collected through both Instagram and Facebook.

For example, if you're a retailer that specializes in men's winter clothing, for example, don't target an audience that consists of both men and women between the ages of 18-65 and who live in the United States. Selecting such a broad audience often leads to lower Instagram engagement and clickthrough rates, which can even result in your ad being canceled.

Instead, use your contact list to build an audience of Instagram users who are similar to your existing customers and subscribers. Mailchimp gives you the power to find value in all sections of your contact list, even people who have unsubscribed. Now, you can leverage your subscriber activity and e-commerce data to create powerful segments that help you show relevant ads to the right people.

People on your list

Targeting your existing Mailchimp subscribers on Instagram is a great way to reconnect with customers who are already engaged with your business. Our segmentation tools allow you to leverage what you already know about your contacts to create relevant ads that focus on conversions and retention. With Mailchimp, you can target your Instagram ads based on the following:

Targeting ideas

  • Potential customers. Create a segment of subscribers who haven’t made a purchase just yet. Drive traffic to your store by showcasing your newest items, highlighting your best sellers, or advertising a special offer for new customers.
  • Recent customers. Create a segment of customers who have recently purchased an item from your store, then target them with ads promoting similar products they might also enjoy.
  • Repeat customers. Create a segment of customers who have placed multiple orders from your store, then show your appreciation by giving them early access to new products or exclusive sales.
  • Lapsed customers. Create a segment of customers who haven’t made a purchase from your store or opened/clicked your email lately, and create an ad to re-engage them.
  • Former customers and non-subscribers. Create a segment of people who have unsubscribed from your list or haven’t subscribed yet. Target them with an ad that builds awareness around your business, delivers your message, or offers incentives.

People with similar interests

Since Instagram accounts are tied to Facebook profiles, Instagram has a lot of data about its users that can help marketers find the right audience. And, when you create an ad targeting people on Instagram who are similar to the contacts on your Mailchimp list - with lookalike audiences-, you can put that data to work for you. Instagram analyzes the Facebook profiles of your Mailchimp contacts, then creates an audience of similar people based on shared interests, behaviors, and demographics. You can even narrow down the audience by location, gender, age range, or interest keywords. This can be an effective option for introducing your brand or products to new people and growing your list. With lookalike audiences, you can create lists of:

  • People similar to your best customers. Once you’ve connected your store, you can create a segment based on the purchase history of your customers. For example, you might choose to use a segment of customers whose total amount spent is more than $100, or a segment of customers whose total number of orders is greater than 2.
  • People similar to your most engaged subscribers. Create a segment based on subscribers who have a high contact rating. In this instance, you’d use a segment of subscribers with a contact rating greater than 4 stars.

People with interests you define

There are other cases, however, where you might want to harness the power of Instagram and Facebook’s data by creating an ad that targets people based on unique criteria you define. You can narrow down your audience by location, gender, age range, or interest keywords.

This option provides businesses of all sizes with the tools they need to build brand awareness and grow their audiences. If you’re a new marketer or a business with a small contact list, this tool can help you find potential customers.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Where else does your ideal customer shop? You can use those other brands as interest keywords to help define your target audience.
  • Do you typically sell more stuff to women? Or, do you find that men are more likely to purchase your products? Target based on gender to increase the relevance of your ad.
  • How old is your target audience? Are most of your customers twentysomethings, or are they more likely to be grandparents? Plug in an age range to make sure you’re reaching the right people.

Choose the right image

When you create an Instagram ad campaign in MailChimp, you’ll have the option to create a carousel or single-image ad, just as you would with Facebook. Carousel ads work well when you want to tell a story or showcase a collection of products, but if you’d rather call attention to or drive sales of a specific product, a single-image ad is a better option.

Instagram is a visual platform, so there are several things to keep in mind as you’re selecting your images, besides the image size.

  • Focus on your products. If your Instagram ad is intended to showcase or sell your products, don’t be afraid to use eye-catching images that put the focus on those products. This differs from Facebook ads, which instead thrive on slice-of-life imagery that shows the benefits of your business or products, even if that means putting less emphasis on the products themselves.
  • Keep text to a minimum. Remember that Instagram users are there to see images. As you’re planning your ad, try to think of new and interesting ways to tell the story of your brand and products without using words.
  • Use high-resolution images. A beautiful, high-quality image will help grab the attention of your audience as they scroll through their Instagram feeds. And since most smartphones are equipped with powerful cameras, you won’t need any special equipment to get started—just set up the shot, make sure the lighting and composition are compelling, and snap a quick picture.

Measure and test results

Instagram ads make it easy for you to measure the results of your campaign and test them in real time. Unlike traditional advertising, you don't have to wait to learn about how your ads are performing. Instead, you can sign into ads manager to review their performance and decide which elements to test to help you discover what drives the most website traffic and conversions.

Of course, you should never start an Instagram ads campaign without first knowing your goals and objectives. Once you have your SMART goals for your campaign, you can begin measuring everything from impressions to clicks, and Instagram ads cost per click to help you understand how your ads are performing and find new ways to reduce your ad spend without sacrificing conversions.

Try different formats

As we've mentioned, there are several Instagram ad formats you can try to see what gets the best results. The following are the most popular formats:

  • Photo ads
  • Video ads
  • Carousel ads
  • Instagram shopping ads
  • Story ads

Instagram has even more options for you to choose from, but what's crucial is finding which format resonates best with your audience. Therefore you should always measure each campaign and compare different campaigns to help you decide where to put more or less ad spend.

Real-world Instagram advertising examples

The ads pictured below have a lot in common. They each promote the same products—autumn clothing—but there are several key differences in the composition and presentation of the content. Let’s take a closer look.

Not great

This ad promotes a hat being sold by an online retailer, but right away you’ll notice that the image isn’t the proper size and the product description doesn’t provide a clear explanation, use-case, or call to action. And, while the person in the image is wearing the hat in question, there is nothing about the image itself that draws your attention to the product.

In addition, there's no offer. While an offer isn't essential to every successful advertising campaign, it can help attract more customers. The above ad doesn't promote their products very well in either case; it neither educates nor convinces the audience. Why should someone click to browse this company's selection of hats? They give us no clear reason.


This ad is designed to promote an autumn clothing collection. The image is full-sized, vibrant, and beautifully curated to put a clear focus on the products. The product description helps further the story being told in the images through language that explains why customers need the products and where they can buy them. There’s a high likelihood that this ad will perform well on Instagram.

They also strategically use hashtags to help attract more customers and increase brand awareness on the platform. Remember, Instagram has limited space for text, so this brand is doing everything it can to support the selected image with copy that helps the user understand what they sell.

Instagram vs Facebook

Instagram and Facebook can each be valuable advertising platforms for your business, and given their complementary audiences, sometimes it can make sense to run the same across both. At other times, it may be more effective to create separate ad campaigns with creative elements that are tailored to a specific platform and audience.

The ads pictured below each promote the same products, but there are some key differences when it comes to content, audience, and platform. Let’s take a closer look.

The first example, a Facebook ad, promotes the store’s autumn collection with slice-of-life imagery highlighting the people and environment that represent the brand, rather than putting all of the focus directly on the products themselves. The Facebook ad also includes 2 incentives—free shipping and a discount—to help drive conversions.

The second example, an Instagram ad, promotes the same autumn collection with a creative, curated image that focuses solely on the products. It uses the same “shop now” call to action as its Facebook counterpart, but doesn’t use incentives to encourage a direct response from the customer. This ad will help raise brand awareness, while complementing the conversion-based campaign the store is running on Facebook.

Each of these ads should perform well on their respective platforms. Both have the same goals and CTA. However, Facebook ads offer a little more in terms of text you can add to an advertisement.

Facebook ads have a section for a headline, description, post text, and call to action button. Meanwhile, the Instagram ad only has a section for a description. Some Instagram feed ads allow you to add headlines and CTAs, but there's not much room for a description or post text, so it can be difficult to determine which copy can help you sell.

With Instagram, you only have a caption, and if your caption is too long, it can be distracting from the image. Therefore, Instagram requires you to be a bit more thoughtful with your text, putting more value on the display ad itself.

It's also important to note that Instagram and Facebook ads may be better at helping you achieve different goals. Depending on your business, your audience may prefer one network over the other. For example, younger generations between the ages of 18 and 43 prefer Instagram.

In addition, Facebook is typically the better platform for driving website traffic, but Instagram is better for making sales.

For example, you can use Instagram Shopping ads after setting up your Shop to allow users to purchase your products directly from Instagram rather than sending them to another site. Using both advertising platforms together can be beneficial, helping you to reach your audience where they spend their time.

How to avoid Instagram ad rejections

Instagram ads go through the same approval process as Facebook ads, which means that you’ll need to adhere to the same compliance standards and content guidelines that you would when submitting an ad for Facebook. During the review process, Instagram will check your ad’s images, text, targeting, positioning, and even the content on the landing page your ad links to.

If your ad is rejected, Mailchimp can’t override the decision. You will, however, have the opportunity to make adjustments (to the audience, content, or links, for example) and resubmit the ad.

Analyze your results

When you connect your store to Mailchimp, we’ll provide you with the Instagram analytics of your ads, thorough engagement and ROI reports so you can monitor engagement, track sales data, and learn what resonates with your audience.

Mailchimp’s ROI reports allow you to measure the performance of your Instagram ad in terms of revenue, products sold, and new customers, so you can quickly identify what types of images your audience likes and use that information to help optimize growth across your other channels.

Remember, your ad’s ROI isn’t just about generating sales—it’s also about the long-term value of customer acquisition and retention.

Learn from your reports

Your Instagram ad campaign reports generates data that can be used to inform and improve your future campaigns. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • If your ad doesn’t generate the levels of engagement you expected, don’t be afraid to test a different approach. Consider using different images, ad formats (single image vs carousel), calls to action, or targeting to see how your audience responds.
  • The performance of your ad can help you learn more about the buying behavior of customers, too. If a certain type of item or image performs particularly well in ads on Instagram, consider using product content blocks to promote similar items in your emails.

Follow up with your new contacts

Advertising on Instagram is a great way to grow your mailing list or attract first-time customers to your store, but that’s only the first step. Once you’ve started building up an audience, you’ll probably want to shift your focus to engagement and retention, and Mailchimp’s marketing automation tools can help you build lasting relationships.

Consider sending a welcome series to introduce contacts to your business or educate them about your products. Or, offer incentives—like a limited time discount or free shipping—to new contacts to boost loyalty and encourage future sales.

Then, as your audience—and your business—grows, you can use our email and ad campaign tools to nurture your relationship with your new audience.

More resources

Mailchimp has an extensive Knowledge Base full of articles that can help as you’re getting started with Instagram ad campaigns.

Or, browse Instagram’s resource materials for additional tips, guidelines and insight into advertising on the platform.

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