Working from home, being a military family, and living overseas, it can be hard to keep up with people I know and brands I love. This is one of the reasons I love social media, especially Instagram. Those beautiful little squares show me how big friends’ kids are getting, what the sunset looked like this morning on Hatteras Island, and the newest products my favorite small businesses have developed.

Instagram post of goatmilk soap displayed for sale at a pop up farm stand.

Nowadays social media marketing is so common we don’t always realize we’re even seeing it. To be completely honest, I actually had to look through my Instagram feed before writing this blog post to get examples. Advertising has become so ingrained in social media, we often even don’t realize what we’re seeing is an ad. In the 3 minutes I was on scrolling through Instagram this morning I saw ads for everything from parenting advice to office chairs and even an ad for fun socks (admittedly the otter socks were adorable).

Sponsored Ads

Sponsored ads are targeted based on an algorithm and shown to viewers most likely to click on them. Often referred to as “paid ads”, brands can set up a sponsored ad to drive traffic to their websites or Instagram account page. Some sponsored ads feature an image while others use videos or multiple images (call a carousel) and captions to entice viewers to click through the link to the desired destination. Additionally, sponsored ads include a call to action (CTA) which tells the viewer what the ad wants them to do next.

Of the ads we see on Instagram, sponsored ads are the easiest to pick out. These ads typically showcase a product or service and direct you to either purchase or find out more by clicking a button under the image. In the image below we can see the sponsored label under the account name, and the CTA is shown on the button below the picture labeled as “Visit Instagram Profile”.

Screenshot of a sponsored ad on Instagram featuring a styles patio and back yard overlooking a wooded area.

Influencer Ads

When we think of Instagram and marketing, we usually think of influencer marketing. These more covert ads are made by people we follow and tell us why they love certain products and services. From food delivery services to art, influencer marketing can be used to create awareness, trust, and interest in a brand or product. Also called “affiliate ads”, these promotions are made by Instagram users with large followings who are either paid outright or given a portion of sales made from a personalized ad link.

Actress MIndy Kaling sits next to a painting she purchased in an Instagram post promoting an artist.

While we tend to think of celebrities and big-name professional influencers, micro-influencers have become just as powerful, if not more, in the social marketing scene. Micro-influencers are Instagram users with followers in the thousands who are leaders in their niche (Tait, 2019). While their numbers may be smaller, their follows tend to be more engaged and more likely to follow their advice. From beauty products to digital courses, micro-influencers are used to create feelings of trust and interest in a product from someone we look at as being just like me.

In-Post Ads

Organic or in-post ads are some of the hardest to spot, yet the most prevalent on Instagram. Sometimes called shoppable ads, these posts are made by brands and showcase products/services available for purchase. Shoppable ads include a small shopping bag icon in the lower left-hand corner that, when pressed, provides details and a link directly to the product(s) pictured. Often, the caption will describe either the product(s) or the benefits of using the product(s) in the image or video.

Woman sits on doorstep surrounding by products available for purchase in an Instagram post.

Stories Ads

If you’ve watched Instagram Stories in the last year or so, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen a fair amount of Stories ads. Usually placed between the stories of people you follow, stories ads, like sponsored ads, are paid for to be aimed at those most likely to click on them. Images and videos are shown for 15 seconds at a time detailing everything from new apps to houseplant subscriptions. A swipe feature or button at the bottom of the ad takes viewers to the offer page, either a website or the brand’s Instagram account, in attempt to make a sale. Stories ads tend to be a bit flashier than sponsored ads and can be interactive with polls, questions and other Stories features.

Screenshot of an ad in Instagram Stories depicting a decision maker app that will help users pick the best tasks to do.

I’ve seen—and clicked—on all of these ads at different times and it’s pretty likely you have too. Instagram has done such a great job of integrating ads into the platform’s algorithm that it can be hard to tell what we’re clicking on. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, while other times our curiosity gets the best of us and we don’t even realize we clicked on an ad until we’ve been looking at cheeky t-shirts for 10 minutes.

How many of these ads have you noticed on Instagram? Are there any you haven’t thought of or recognized before? Let me know in the comments below.

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Tait, J. (2019, April 28). What The Hell Is A Micro Influencer? TRIBE.

Posted by:Amy Clark

Hey, sunshine! I’m a proud entrepreneurial mama with three kids and a hunky husband. I worship chocolate like a deity, drink homemade lattes like my life depends on it and think jeggings are one of the greatest inventions of the 21st Century. A photographer, educator + military spouse, my happiest days are spent helping creative-based small business owners reach their business goals. Have questions about photography, business or life with 3 littles?- feel free to email me!

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