by Cydney Hatch October 22, 2019

12 Reasons Why Your Instagram Ads Aren’t Working: A No “Bull” Guide

Raise your hand if you have ever felt personally victimized by Instagram, or should I clarify…the contemptible Instagram Algorithm…

Well, between the changes with the algorithm and increased business traffic on the platform, it might seem as though nothing is working and you are just a sitting duck hoping customers convert.

Since this is a common feeling, many people will ask, “what is wrong with me?” I show up consistently and target my audience well … I create pretty content… I write engaging ad copy… and I engage with my audience… so what gives?

The good news is that you might just need to change how you are using Instagram and tweaking your ad strategy! If you are wondering why the hell your ads are not working despite your efforts, this is the article for you.

This is my no bullshiiiii guide to successful Instagram advertising.

Buckle up because we are going to deep dive in 12 reasons your Instagram ads might not be working from the good, the bad, and the downright fugly—and how to fix it!

A No BullShit Guide To Instagram Ads

This ain’t gonna be wishy-washy! Below are some reasons why your Instagram ads might not be performing and how to fix them:

1. You Are Starting Off Rough

Now, before we get into the more complicated stuff, we need to make sure your logistics are right and are not making your Instagram ads suck!

If you’re having trouble promoting posts and stories from your Facebook/ Instagram profile it may be because you do not have your profile set to a business account. In order to promote and create ads from Instagram, you’ll need to make sure you are in this format. If not, no no advertising!

If you are still struggling to get your Instagram ads to launch, it might be because you are not a page admin that is connected to your business pages…but you also might not have formatted your content correctly! (Yes, design matters!)

There are two different ad placements on Instagram: stories and feed. To ensure you’re creating high-quality ads on Instagram, keep the following design requirements in mind:

Image Size

The recommended image size for Instagram ads depends on which format you use:


  • Minimum Resolution (600 x 600 pixels)
  • Maximum Resolution (1936 x 1936 pixels)


  • Minimum Resolution (600 x 315 pixels)
  • Maximum Resolution (1936 x 1936 pixels)


  • Minimum Resolution (600 x 750 pixels)
  • Maximum Resolution (1936 x 1936 pixels)

Video Size

  • Your video’s file size can be up to 4 GB max.
  • Your video ads in feed can be up to 120 seconds.

Caption Length

  • The caption you use for your Instagram ad will appear below the image and may include up to 2,200 characters.

Aspect Ratio

  • The aspect ratio for Instagram ads depends on the format.
    • Square – 1:1
    • Landscape – 1.91:1
    • Vertical – 4:5

*As a best practice, we recommend you avoid using URLs in your Instagram ad’s text. URLs will not be clickable from your ad’s text field.

If you have all of those logistics in place, you should be starting from a good place!

2. You Are Being a Marketing Ass

Okay, you are not personally an ass, but the way you are treating your marketing platforms might be an ass move…

Sure, Instagram is a branch off of Facebook but that does not mean you should treat it that way! Believe it or not, marketing works best when you curate all content to the platform in which it is being used, so just because it works on Facebook does not mean it will work for Instagram.

(You know what they say when you ASS-U-ME…)

Running successful ads on Instagram involves a lot more than just clicking a button and having your content mirror from one platform to the next. Instagram ads need to be made for the Instagram experience so to best do this you need to focus on:

  • Your Target Audience
  • The Ad Visuals
  • The Ad Copy

Just because an audience is performing well for your Facebook ad sets, it does not mean it will perform well for your Instagram ad sets. The same goes for ad copy and visuals!

To help you best see what is working and what is not, split testing will be a necessity as you begin to flesh out your Instagram ads. On top of that, spend time surfing your Instagram niche and see what is typically being done in your industry.

After you have a feel for the network, you need to split test multiple images. Create at least three different images that you feel are high quality and fit the aesthetic of Instagram to test.

Don’t make assumptions without data, hoping to “make it rain!” Instagram will require you to dive into what will work for you and treat it differently than the rest of your marketing platforms!

3. You Might Be Lost

In simplicity, Instagram Ads mean nothing without meaningful business goals. Without a well-thought-out, goal-driven advertising strategy you will struggle to run successful Instagram ad campaigns.


So ask yourself,  what do you want your ads to achieve? A big rule of thumb is this: Always consider content and context when formulating your goals.

Once you do that, you can concentrate on other areas of the ad campaign—putting together the right ad copy, creating great visual content, and targeting the exact audience you’re looking for.

Some of the best questions to start your Instagram ad campaigns are:

  • What do you wants your Instagram ads to accomplish?
  • Are you wanting to reach new or hopefully returning customers?
  • Where are you wanting to drive traffic? Is that place measurable with data?
  • What is your time span for an Instagram ad campaign? Have you given enough time for engagement?
  • What is my call to action? What ad elements do I need to include that correlate well with my ask?
  • Am I providing value to my customers through my ads?

Like the questions above, are you aiming aimlessly or do you have a solid plan in place? No one should be lost when it comes to why they are advertising…make a road map for your marketing efforts and you will succeed, not to mention save marketing budget!

4. You Are All About the Dollar Bills, And Nothing Else

As a business, it’s easy to be fixated on money. You need to know where every single dollar is coming from and where every single dollar is going—but don’t let that be a blinder to you.

Often times, Instagram ads struggle because businesses are too stuck on the sales and conversion. Well, hate to break it to you– this does not fly!

We live in a digital marketing world now where people are intolerant of anything that looks like it’s being forced down their throat. So, how do you make sure your Instagram is converting? Flirt between promotional content and brand content.

People want creative experiences, not for sale signs, when they scroll on Instagram. So, with that in mind, let’s look at this example: which Instagram ad made you stop and pay attention?

The beautiful neon lights image or the promo heavy (and poorly done) ad that is shoving buying IV drips in your face?

If your ads look anything like this drip therapy one, in reality, you could be the monster destroying the possibilities for ad success because you are too obsessed with conversions.

Promotions are fine in the right places, but Instagram is not the place for flashy banner ads and salesy copy! While some won’t mind the marketing attempts, you should still aim to create the most organic experience as best you can.

When you’re getting ready to launch a new Instagram ad, start creating organic, valuable posts with the same theme as your ad. After your ad goes live, make a few similar organic posts so it looks like a natural branded experience.

Creating a type of theme for your promotion will lead to a smoother transition that blurs the line between ad and not ad!

5. You are Not Creating Something Pretty

Piggybacking off the last section, the real business winners on Instagram are those who create high quality pictures (and video) that bring out extraordinary aesthetics.

Here are just some examples of those businesses:


All of these have a few things in common:

  • They are eyecatching and creative
  • They are minimalistic as to not distract
  • They are informative
  • They are paired with great ad copy

Instagram ads should never be a platform for distracting branding and logo touting. Tell a story, share awesome visuals and if you must share a logo, don’t make it a thing! While we’re on the subject of ad content, it’s essential not to overlook the importance of captions in helping your message hit home.

To craft awesome Instagram captions, ask yourself these four questions:

  • Are you bored with your caption? If that is the case, your target audience will most likely be snoring too! If you find yourself feeling “blah” think inside the mind of your audience: What would be interesting to them?
  • Are you being helpful? Many people on social media are trying to find tips, tricks and inspirations. Are you informing your audience on your business, industry or service? Are you teaching them and helping them be more informed in those ways?
  • Does your caption messaging back up your ad’s imagery?
  • Are you integrating hashtags that relate to a promo or are heavily branded?

To show how this works in practice, let’s look at a paid ad on Instagram from the Islander Restuarant RUMBI:

There are a few things that they missed the mark on when it comes to creating beautiful Instagram ads. The first is the image is not something that would make most people stop their scroll.

Since this image looks like a wall of pixart text, they missed an opportunity highlighting the yummy food they are promoting in their ad copy. The ad copy is promoting a fantastic offer promoting their food…but no food is to be found! Rumbi really should have had a carosel ad of their food photography to really inspire people to come eat with them.

Instead, they picked a wall that really created a disconnect!

Like them, you want to ensure that you are making a Instagram experience for your customer to feel inspired, engaged and in Rumbi’s case—hungry!

6. You are Playing Short Game 

Although creating ads with content that people will like is great, it’s just a start.

Instagram isn’t the end game. To be profitable you need to know that Instagram isn’t and shouldn’t be the end game for cultivating people towards your business goals. As many businesses  find out, in a world driven by instant gratification, brand building, and audience engagement should be ongoing strategies.

In reality, you are not going to be an overnight sensation with Instagram ads just because you have all the working pieces together! Achieving business growth on Instagram requires a forward-thinking mindset with a holistic approach that views consistently advertising as an investment in the ongoing viability of your brand.

So, when you look at your Instagram account and posts, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can I inspire followers and create trust?
  • How can I connect my business with their personal lives?
  • Where do I want to take them after they engage with my account?
  • How can I help and serve them?
  • How can I encourage action with my content?
  • How can I educate them towards a business purchase?

The key to long term success with Instagram Ads is focusing on ads that start conversations and building relationships. By having that mindset you will see a growth in sales, new customers and long term brand growth because you were looking for lasting success!

Don’t get sucked into instant gratification on your Instagram ads!

7. You are Not Getting Hotline-Bling to Work For You

Instagram is truly a unique marketing platform for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest is that unlike other marketing platforms, Instagram only promotes ads inside a mobile app and does not not show ads on a web platform.

So, what does that mean to you as a marketer? You must make mobile work for you!

If your Instagram ads are not performing well, is your funnel a good one for mobile traffic conversions? If not, you might need to create new and distinct audiences for mobile ads and new places to send em!

There are typically two common friction experiences when shoppers are on Instagram:

  • Perceived friction is the mental block that occurs when a customer goes from your social ad into a mobile landing page that does not connect the messaging and branding of what they originally clicked on.
  • Actual friction occurs when people struggle to fill in too many fields with their thumbs, or they can’t click the call to action button. Or maybe your page is not responsive, and they have to scroll or pinch and zoom to get to CTA.

If you are not addressing some of the friction your ad and the asks are making, you can really kill conversions. Some of the best ways to do this are to:

Have Responsive Design

The landing page to which you are sending your Instagram traffic needs to respond to every size. With a responsive design, it means your ad will adapt to the device accessing the web page and displaying the information in the way best suited to that device.

Use Simplier Opt-Ins and Ask for Less

Build your form into your landing page as opt-in popups can be difficult on some screens, especially with mobile users. On top of the form itself, the less a user has to enter with their thumbs, the higher your mobile conversion rates.

Yes, you want more information to better segment leads, but it can be killing your conversions!

If you have not looked at your Instagram ad experience from a user standpoint, you are probably hurting the sucess of your ads. Mobile is a must!

8. You Aren’t Using Your People as a Resource

Are you using UGC?  If not, you could be falling behind on modern advertising!

What used to be that marketers were the ones speaking and in the driver’s seat, is now people wanting users to take center stage. Believe it or not, people want to see real people, not advertisers selling products! So, whether it is micro-influencers or genuine customers people want to feel like they can trust ads, that is where UGC (user-generated content) comes into play.

When people see how others are experiencing your product in real life, they can easily imagine themselves using this product. So, although lifestlye images are great, having more genuine and “less professional” approaches might be even better!

9. You Aren’t Reaching Out to the Movers and Shakers

If you are struggling to see your Instagram ads take fire to the internet, know you can get some help from trusty ol’ influencers! By finding a small group of branded influencers to push out Instagram ads on your behald you can get them to boost your advertising efforts, increase brand visibility and boost awareness in more ways than you could on your own.

For example, Herdez Mexican food partnered with influencer Ginger Parrish to promote their green salsa:

Like them, you need to have a broader view of your business Instagram and ad strategy! Instagram advertising can be really diversified through influencers with content marketing with influencer partnerships as well as user-generated content.

If you want to learn more about how you can have influencers boost your Instagram ads click my article here. 

10. You Were Naughty and Bought Followers

This is the one “dirty” thing people never talk about when it comes to Instagram following and advertising, but people buy followers! Although this is one of the quickest ways to grow a following, it can really hurt your ad performance as you don’t have any legit followers to really organically engage with your content!

While it may seem thrilling to buy followers, sadly they are all fake and will bring down your engagement rate. Sure, you can target people using Instagram targeting but if you have built the foundation of your Instagram account on lies—you might get stung!

The best way to avoid issues like this is to purge yourself of “past sins” and start clean! Get rid of your followers from India, Nigeria and China and get authentic followers. The slow build will truly help everything perform better!

11. You Don’t Have a Solid Crew

Speaking of targeting, although you might be familiar or currently using it, you might not be getting your best “crew” of customers!

One of the many Instagram challenges that businesses find is that they struggle connecting their ads with the right people! You may have created killer ads, but if they aren’t reaching your target audience then they are worthless. #WOMP

Therefore, it is important to take the time to become familiar with all that Instagram has to offer when it comes to Instagram targeting! At the most basic level, you can target people based on location, demographics, interests, and behaviors.

As these are great options there are ways you can tighten your targeting strategy:

Custom and Lookalike Audiences

The lookalike audience feature allows you to create a custom audience for your ad that replicates your existing followers. This can help you bring in new people who have similar interests, demographics, behaviors, etc to your current audience.


Facebook has a pixel you can place on your website and track visitor behavior. You can then create a custom Instagram ad audience consisting only of people who have visited your website and maybe didn’t follow through with a purchase. Since the average cart abandonment rate is over 68%, remarketing through Instagram can be a great way to win back those lost customers.

12. Try Some New Stuff

You know, in your personal life, when you continue to push yourself and try new things, life tends to be better.

Well, the same goes for Instagram, The more you utilize new feature like highlights, polls and IGTV, the more you are on Instagram’s good side. Why stick to just feed stuff when there are so many other things to really dabble with and try!

Just like organic social, each time you use a new feature, Instagram sees your interest in the app and rewards you by showing more followers your content! So, if you are feeling stagnant with your Instagram ad content, look to test and shake off the dust of old and put in some new!

It just might pay off!

Instagram Ads: New, Improved and 100% Awesome

That’s it! I hope this no bullshit approach to Instagram has really opened your eyes to some of the problems you might be having and how to better fix them! If you are struggling with Instagram the good news is, it might not be that Instagram is bad for your business… it just might be that your Instagram ad strategy is bad!

There is time for change and better days!

If you want additional and more customized help for your Instagram advertising, my team at Disruptive is fantastic at paid social advertising! We love telling the stories of clients on social and if you want some help with strategy, we got you!

Reach out to us here, we would love to help you!

But, if you are not there yet, that is totally fine! Armed with this Instagra information, you’re now ready to run a successful advertising campaign on Instagram! If you want additional Intagram help click on my articles here, here and here! 

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Cydney Hatch

Cydney Hatch

Cydney is a polka dot wearing business owner, photographer, cupcake enthusiast and writer, who through her work, shares her personal passions about visual marketing, branding and business strategy.

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