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Rachel Palmateer

By Rachel Palmateer

Apr 17, 2020


Social Media Marketing Instagram Marketing Paid Media
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Social Media Marketing  |   Instagram Marketing  |   Paid Media

Instagram story ads: Why your ads aren’t getting results

Rachel Palmateer

By Rachel Palmateer

Apr 17, 2020

Instagram story ads: Why your ads aren’t getting results

From push-up challenges and re-posted TikTok videos, to motivational quotes and small victories like not wearing sweatpants all day, Instagram Stories are on fire lately. 

With extra time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, people are turning to social channels for distractions and glimmers of good news. This, in turn, has driven marketers to work quickly to get in front of all those people with some top-notch Instagram Stories ads. 

Now is a good time to make the most of your demographic’s increased screen time and deliver tone-sensitive content to help drive awareness and demand for your products or services.

But what if you’re not seeing the results you’re after?

In this post, we’ll cover the top four reasons your Instagram Stories ads might not be performing as expected. But first, a little background. 

What is an Instagram Stories ad and why do we have them?

Instagram Stories ads allow businesses to play full screen, vertical format ads in between an end-user’s Instagram Stories

Though they do appear with a small “sponsored” indicator on the ad, this ad type is largely meant to blend in and match the interest profiles of Instagram users. In other words, they don’t feel like or stick out as ads. 

Instagram Stories ads allow brands to target a variety of conversion metrics including reach, brand awareness, traffic, conversions, view views, and app installs. Marketers are also able to use Ads Manager to review data as ads run.

There are three types of Instagram Stories ads: single image ads, single video ads, and carousel ads.

All of these allow you to use standard user features like polls, stickers, etc. but with a few additional conversion features.

Single image Instagram Stories ads are a single photo ad that displays in the user’s Stories for five seconds. 

Single video Instagram Stories ads are a single video ad that run for 15 seconds by default, like the example ad below from ZitSticka.

You see in the example above, there is only one bar across the top of the screen that shows progress as the video plays. This is the key identifier that this ad is a single video ad. 

Carousel Instagram Stories ads are just like the carousel ads you see and use on Facebook: a series of up to three different frames (pictures or videos), each with their own linking capability. 

Modeling the other two ad types, images used in carousel ads will display for five seconds and videos will display for 15 seconds. 

The following ad example from Kitchen Aid is a great example of using creativity in an image carousel ad to pique interest in the viewer.

In this ad, you can see three separate progress bars across the top of the ad, indicating that there are multiple images in the ad. Just like progressing through a friend's Stories, the user can tap to advance through the frames of the ad carousel. 

A few things to keep in mind when developing your strategy for Instagram Stories ads

Instagram users expect to be entertained on the platform, but they also know that ads and brand messaging are going to be part of their experience. 

The Stories your brand posts on  your business profile are visible only to those who like, follow, or go out of their way to find you.

This results, however, in relatively low visibility and minimal organic traffic opportunity. 

Putting some money behind your posts via Instagram Stories Ads, however, can help you reach people you wouldn’t otherwise get in front of. 

This is because ad targeting allows any brand’s ad to appear in an end-user’s feed, regardless of whether the user is following the brand or not. 

So why aren’t your ads performing like this for your brand? Let’s dig in.

Top 4 reasons your Instagram Stories ads aren’t getting results

  1. You lack a specific goal
  2. Your ads are coming off too ad-ish
  3. Your ad design and/or layout needs optimizing
  4. You’re not reaching the right people with your audience targeting

Of course, the elephant in the algorithm today is coronavirus (or COVID-19). 

With people watching their personal finances to conserve cash for the unknown, some brands are finding that their products and services aren’t making the list of priority items. 

Before chalking poor ad performance up to the pandemic, let’s troubleshoot the top four reasons we see Instagram Stories ads fail.

1. You lack a specific goal

Like any marketing initiative, you need to go into Instagram Stories ads with a specific goal in mind.

If you don’t, not only could it lead to a poorly designed campaign with no specific action to take or mixed messaging, but it makes impossible to truly know what success actually looks like.

Before creating your Instagram Story ad, make sure you know exactly what you want to achieve with it and what you will consider a good outcome.  

Some common goals when running Instagram Stories ads are: 

  • Raise brand awareness
  • Drive traffic to your website or a specific landing page
  • Increase number of product purchases or service inquiries
  • Grow your newsletter subscribers list

With these in mind, you’d want to know how many impressions you want to walk away with, how many visits to the landing page, how many inquiries, etc. 

Instagram Stories ads help with goal-setting by requiring you to choose an Objective for each campaign. There are seven objectives to choose from and each one allows you to use the call-to-action (CTA) button in your ad. 

The seven objectives are:

  • Brand Awareness: Increase awareness for your brand by finding people more likely to be interested in it. 
  • Reach: Show your ad to the maximum number of people. 
  • Video Views: Get more people to view your video content. 
  • Conversions: Drive valuable actions on your website or app.
  • App Installs: Get more people to install your app. 
  • Lead Generation: Drive sales leads like email addresses and phone numbers. 
  • Traffic: Send more people to your website.

Match your Instagram Stories ad campaign objective to the goal for your campaign and you’re golden. 

Goal setting doesn’t have to be scary, but it is necessary for any and all campaigns you run.

And remember, it’s okay if you miss a few goals - the point of a goal is to anchor your intention for your campaign and push to get as close as possible. 

2. Your ads are coming off too ad-ish

People go to Instagram to be entertained and to see a mix of familiar faces and brands. They do not go to the platform to be advertised to.

When users encounter ads that are blatantly salesy and make no effort to blend into the Stories feed, they are more likely to be skipped over than engaged with. 

While you’re not going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes and trick someone into not realizing that they are viewing an ad, having one that blends into your target user’s experience on Instagram will go a lot further than a very blatant promotion. 

Through Instagram Stories ads, you have the opportunity to slip your brand into the mix, but you don’t want to disrupt the user’s experience. You’ll risk frustrating your target and killing your conversion opportunity. 

Check out the examples below, snagged by Bold Commerce.

Sub-optimal IG Stories Ads

You can see that the images used are landscape, when the Instagram Stories format has a portrait orientation. 

Not only is it just bad practice to not adapt your content  to the medium you’re advertising on, these ads will visually stick out like a sore thumb in the targeted users’ feeds. They don’t look like the images their favorite friends and brands are posting to their stories.

They’re also not engaging. The small images make it difficult to see the details in each picture and the text treatment is very blase and uninteresting. 

Your ads need to engage the viewer, especially if they are multi-frame ads. 

RivalHQ found that brands can lose roughly 20% of their audience by the second frame of their Stories, so if your call-to-action is on the third frame of your ad and it’s not converting, you might want to move it earlier and or brainstorm how to make sure users are engaged enough to make it to the third frame.

These ads aren’t called Stories ads for no reason —- tell your brand, product, or service story. 

Consider making ads that help answer your target customers’ questions:

  • What’s new with the brand? 
  • How is your product made? 
  • Why is it the best?
  • How and/or when should I wear or use the product?
  • Do other people like it?

Also, don’t be afraid to call in some help. According to a study by Havas, only 22% of brands are trusted. You can get around that, however, using user-generated content (UGC) . 

User-generated content is videos, pictures, blog posts, and testimonials, created by customers on social media, rather than assets made by the brand itself. 

Roughly 85% of consumers are more influenced by UGC than by brand-generated assets. So, using it in your ads can make them feel more natural, human, and trustworthy. 

Another way to help ads feel more natural is to work with influencers

Like UGC, this brings in a third-party that your audience trusts to vouch for you, rather than having you do it yourself. 

3. Your ad design and/or layout needs optimizing 

If your ad is blending into your target user’s feed just fine, but you’re still not seeing the results you want, take a moment to critically review the ad creative.

Clean, concise copy

If your ad has copy on it, ensure that everything is spelled perfectly and your grammar is sound. Nothing turns me away from trusting a brand faster than a typo

Sure, mistakes can add a human element or a “real feel” in an otherwise automated social media experience, but if there are typos in the ads that are trying to attract people to a brand — supposedly their best attempt to win you over — what does that say about the quality of the product or service? 

That said, don’t shy away from using copy because you’re afraid of potential mistakes. 

Copy is a key component in successful ads, especially if you’re targeting a demographic that might be checking out Instagram while at work - and therefore will see your Stories ads with no sound on.

Keep your ad copy clean, concise, and action-focused. It should always have one goal, one mission to accomplish when it’s in front of a user. 

Don’t forget that copy can include emojis! 

Remember back in 2015 when Oxford Dictionaries named crying-from-laughter emoji as their word of the year

Those emotive little icons have swiftly become widely accepted forms of expression in today’s digital ads and can make your ads more relatable. If you need some guidance or help getting started, check out HubSpot’s “The Ultimate Guide to using Emojis for Marketing.”

Design smart & know your dimensions

Over-produced ads are more likely to stick out and disrupt the user’s experience on Instagram. The goal is to keep a sense of normalcy, not pull people away. 

So, while it may be tempting to let your designer run wild with fonts, photoshop, and dramatic effects, try holding back. 

Use elements (i.e. fonts, stickers, GIFs) in your Stories ads that are native to the app and accessible to every user. This will help the ad appear more like something your audience’s friends would post. 

Also, explore using Boomerang and Hyperlapse. These are effects that are very popular and your  target demographic is likely already familiar with them. 

Check out this ad from Hopper that uses elements that any user could add to their Stories.

Ad using native IG tools

This ad is simple, to the point, and uses common elements that are often used in Instagram Stories by all users. 

The text overlay with an emoji uses a default font - nothing too fancy or branded. The wiggly arrow gif is another native element that’s easy for users to find and apply to their own stories. 

This ad would blend into a user’s Stories feed nicely. 

If you need to let your creative side run free and you’re not sure where to start, check out eight of our favorite apps for creating Facebook and Instagram Stories for some guidance.

A few pro tips to remember:

  • If you’re really going for ad camouflage, use a white background to hide your brand name and the “sponsored” call out next to your logo in the top left corner of your Stories ad.
  • When building ads that aren’t static images, remember to adjust perspective. Close ups, wide angles, top-down shots can all be fun to play around with and fun for the user to view. 
  • Make sure the background in your photos doesn’t distract from the main message of your ads. Clutter or uncurated items can pull a viewer’s eyes and they may miss out of your brand messaging. 
  • While you don’t want to go too professional with your ad creative, you also want to make sure you don’t use low-quality assets in your ads. Low quality assets can come off as unprofessional or sloppy. Strike a careful balance. 
  • Make sure you follow Facebook’s ad specs to ensure that your Stories ad comes across professional and 100% legible for viewers.
  • Don’t be afraid to use video! If you need help diving into video marketing, let us know so we can put you on the right path.

Ultimately, take a look at your underperforming ad and make sure it’s on the proper creative level for the people you’re targeting. 

4.  You’re not reaching the right people with your audience targeting

Your ad campaign has a goal, the creative is on point, and everything is approved and live. So why are the ads still not getting results?

Well, you can lead a horse to water, but if he prefers orange juice, you probably wasted your time.

Getting your ads in front of an interested audience is key for ad performance. 

I’m sure you see some ads roll through your Instagram Stories that are a complete miss. These brands took a guess on certain demographic parameters and your inaction helps educate the algorithm and tighten up who gets served the campaign. 

So how do you make sure your Instagram Stories ad campaigns hit the mark? Here’s a few things to think about while reviewing your underperformers. 

Consider what you offer

Sometimes we get too close to our product or service and forget that people seeing our ads may be seeing them for the first time. 

In fact, that’s the intention with top-of-funnel campaigns! So put on your “customer” hat and look at what you’re offering to people through a different lens. 

Ask yourself the following, and try writing down your answers:

  • What need does your product fulfill? 
  • What problem does your service solve?
  • Are there pain points that your ads could address?
  • Who would get the most out of what you’re selling?

Once you’ve revisited what you offer, review your failing ad and see if the ad is telling the same story as the answers you just wrote down. This can be a very revealing practice for finding discrepancies between what your ad is saying and how you most effectively market your product. 

Understand your demographic

As marketers, we make educated guesses about the  demographics that want our products and dial our targeting in as the data rolls in. 

If you haven’t run ads long enough to have really telling data and your educated guess around targeting isn’t panning out, it might be time to go back to the strategic drawing board for just a minute to refine your target.

  • What age group uses your product or service?
  • What age group buys your product or service? Note: these are not always the same thing! This is what makes children’s books difficult to write - you write to entertain children, but mom and dad make the purchase decision.
  • Does your demographic identify male, female, or other? 
  • Do they have a college education?
  • Are they experts in a certain trade or industry?
  • How much money are they making?
  • Do they have children or pets?
  • Are there interests and hobbies that you could leverage to better reach your demographic?
  • What inspires and motivates them? Can your ads nod to those things?

Once you’ve taken a deeper dive into your target demographic, go back to your ad and look at it through their lens. 

If your target has pets, are you using imagery with animals to help your viewer relate to your ad?

If your demographic is older folks but your product is a popular item for adult children to gift to their parents, are you targeting the right age group with effective imagery?

Dig in and see if you can make some quick tweaks - even just to your copy - to give your underperforming ad a better chance at converting.

Know your competition

Understanding the competitive landscape around your product or service is key to success. 

For some products, let’s say skincare, the competition is pretty visible and easy to find, but perhaps your service is more unique or niche. You’re not off the hook! 

Your unique snowflake of a business is using Instagram Stories ads to spread the word, just like every other snowflake out there. All consumers see when watching their Instagram Stories is the collective advertiser snow. 

Unless every person who has a paycheck is buying your service, you’re still competing (and losing) to other brands. Maybe just not in your industry. 

Things to think about:


  • Who are your direct competitors and what tactics are they using in their ads that seem to be working or not working? 
  • How can you make your ads stand out in the mix?
  • What out-of-industry companies are also competing for your target’s dollar? They might  not offer a competing product or service, but your demographic may have to choose which brand to spend their paycheck with. 
  • What brands do you consider competitors but they don’t consider you to be competition? 

When you dig into the details a bit, you might find some illuminating things to try testing out in your ads. 

Practice social listening

If your ads are not performing, maybe you’re not saying what your target demographic wants to hear. 

Social listening can help you determine just what your customers and prospects are looking for. 

Some tips when social listening:

  • Routinely check out comments on your social media posts to stay connected with how your customers are feeling about the brand.
  • Check out comments on your ads as well. We find gold in our clients’ ads comments all the time!
  • Dive into reviews to find great testimonials you can put in your ads as social proof. 

Remember to be patient. 

Dialing in an audience for your Instagram Stories ads can take a lot of testing and tweaking over time. Keep an open mind and document what you learn as you go along. 

Test, validate, scale

Getting an ad campaign up and out these days is no easy task! Consumers are finicky, Instagram is constantly iterating on tools, rules, and other hard-to-keep-up-with facets of their ad platform, and the economy is having a wild time.

This is why it’s important to stay patient and test as frequently as you can. Once you’ve tested creative, copy, targeting, etc. you’ll have more confidence rolling out new campaigns because you’ll have more data to work off of. 

Review your test data, validate that the findings weren’t just one-offs or flukes, and then scale your campaigns accordingly. This will also help to train the algorithms to favorably deliver ads for you. 

Due to coronavirus, users are even more actively engaged with Instagram. They are looking for more information and entertainment there. 

According to WITHIN, “American consumers have moved from digital-often consumers to primarily digital.” Your ads can help offer them value if done right. 

If you sell little tabletop menu stands and your ads aren’t performing, it’s probably safe to say that the pandemic is disrupting your demand. 

But if your business is in a less impacted industry and ads aren’t performing, troubleshoot with the above and let us know how it goes. And if you’re new to Instagram advertising, check out Buffer’s great guide to help you get started.

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