9 Instagram Ad Formats: How to Pick + Best Tools to Maximize Ad Performance

Alexandra Kazakova

By Alexandra Kazakova
15 min READ | Jan 25 2024

Table of contents

We run an influencer marketing platform and’ve seen our fair share of Instagram ads.

We can safely say that picking the wrong Instagram ad formats can considerably set your campaign back.

However, you’re on the right page to avoid this issue.

We’ll discuss:

  • Strategic uses for 9 Instagram ad formats
  • Format details like image sizes or image duration so everything runs smoothly
  • Free yet powerful tools you can use to perfect and scale up your Instagram ad campaign

Let’s dive in.


Ad Formats Based on Content Style:

  1. Photo/Image Ads: Ideal for strong visual impact; highlights specific products or messages.
  2. Carousel Ads: Suitable for storytelling, showcasing products, or step-by-step guides.
  3. Collection Ads: Effective for presenting a portfolio or product range in a cohesive layout.
  4. Video Ads: Great for engaging content; good for demonstrating products or storytelling.
  5. Shopping Ads: Best for e-commerce; integrates with Instagram's shopping features.

Ad Formats Based on Instagram Sections:

  1. Story Ads: Full-screen, immersive; good for storytelling and brand awareness.
  2. Explore Ads: Appear in the Explore section; useful for reaching users seeking new content.
  3. Reels Ads: For engaging with dynamic, trendy content; appears between individual Reels.
  4. Feed Ads: Integrated into users' home feeds; versatile and familiar format.

Choosing the Best Ad Format:

  • Test Different Formats: Use A/B testing to see what resonates with your audience.
  • Analyze Audience Data: Tailor ads to what your audience engages with most.
  • Competitor Analysis: Observe and adapt strategies used by similar brands.

Scaling Up Campaigns:

  • Focus on replicating successful content to reduce costs.
  • Use tools like CPM, CPA, CTR, and ROAS calculators for efficiency.
  • Consider incorporating influencer marketing for better results.

What Are Instagram Ad Formats?

Instagram Ad Formats are diverse ways brands can showcase their ads on the platform to engage with their audience.

These formats are broadly categorized into two types.

The first type is based on the specific content presentation style, such as videos, images, or carousels, focusing on the media format.

The second type depends on the specific sections of Instagram where the ads appear, like Stories, Feeds, or the Explore page, leveraging the unique characteristics of each section for targeted reach.

That’s what we’ll explore below.

Instagram Ad Formats Based On Content Style

The first thing you want to think of is how you’ll package your content – that’s the content style presentation.

We have five types of ad formats here.

1. Photo/Image Ads: Best for Impact

Photo Ads on Instagram are a cost-effective and highly visual way to reach your audience.

These ads showcase a single image and are ideal for creating a strong visual impact.

The simplicity of this format lies in its focus on a high-quality single photo, so they can convey your message or showcase your product directly.

Strategic use: Use Photo Ads to highlight a specific product, service, or brand message with clarity and impact.

This format is especially effective when you have a striking visual or a powerful image that can speak for itself.

It’s suitable for campaigns where the visual content is the primary focus and can make an impression.

One of our sister company’s clients, Hurom, is doing a great job on Instagram:


Format details:

  • Primary Text: Limit your text to 125 characters to ensure clarity and conciseness.
  • Image Type: Use high-quality JPG or PNG images.
  • Resolution: Aim for at least 1080 x 1080 pixels to ensure your image looks clear and engaging.
  • Ratio: A 9:16 aspect ratio is recommended for the best display across devices.
  • Maximum File Size: Keep your image file size under 30MB.
  • Minimum Width: Ensure your image is at least 500 pixels wide.
  • Aspect Ratio Tolerance: Maintain a 1% tolerance in aspect ratio to ensure your image displays correctly.

Instagram Carousel Ads allow you to feature multiple images or videos in a single ad, each with its link.

This format is great for telling a story, showcasing different aspects of a product, or explaining a process step-by-step.

Viewers can swipe through the carousel cards, making this an interactive and engaging ad format.

Strategic uses:

  • Showcasing a range of products or different features of a single product
  • Telling a story or creating a narrative about your brand
  • Providing a step-by-step guide or a how-to series
  • Creating a more engaging and interactive experience that encourages users to swipe and explore more

Some companies even use Instagram Carousells for hiring ads:


Format Details:

  • Primary Text: Keep it concise with up to 125 characters.
  • Hashtags: You can include up to 30 hashtags, but use them judiciously for relevance and impact.
  • Landing Page URL: A URL is required, linking each card to its designated webpage.
  • Image Type: Use high-quality JPG or PNG images.
  • Video File Types: MP4, MOV, or GIF formats for videos.
  • Resolution: Minimum resolution of 1080 x 1080 pixels for clear and engaging visuals.
  • Ratio: A 1:1 aspect ratio is recommended for a consistent and seamless viewing experience.
  • Number of Carousel Cards: You can have 2 to 10 cards in a carousel.
  • Image Maximum File Size: 30MB per image.
  • Video Maximum File Size: 4GB per video.
  • Video Duration: Each video can be from 1 second to 2 minutes long.

3. Collection Ads: Best for Showcasing a Portfolio or Product Range

Collection Ads on Instagram uniquely display multiple images or videos in a unified, single-view layout.

Unlike Carousel Ads, where users swipe through images, Collection Ads simultaneously present a cohesive collection of photos or videos.

This format effectively showcases a group of related products, services, or features, allowing viewers to see a variety of offerings in a single glance.

Strategic use: Collection Ads are ideal in scenarios where you want to present multiple items together to give a comprehensive overview, such as:

  • Real estate agents showcasing various property listings
  • Retailers displaying a new collection or a range of products
  • Brands highlighting different aspects or variants of a product

Format Details:

  • Primary Text: Up to 125 characters to convey your message.
  • Headline: A concise headline of up to 40 characters.
  • Landing Page URL: A URL is required, linking the ad to a relevant webpage.
  • Image Type: High-quality JPG or PNG images are recommended.
  • Video File Types: MP4, MOV, or GIF formats for videos.
  • Resolution: Aim for a minimum resolution of 1080 x 1080 pixels.
  • Ratio: The aspect ratio can range from 1.91:1 to 1:1, allowing flexibility in design.
  • Instant Experience: This feature is required for Collection Ads, enhancing the interactive experience.
  • Image Maximum File Size: 30MB per image.
  • Video Maximum File Size: 4GB per video.
  • Minimum Image/Video Width and Height: Each should be at least 500 pixels.

4. Video Format: Best for Engaging and Dynamic Content

Video Ads on Instagram offer a dynamic and engaging way to connect with your audience.

Basically, you’ll use video content to convey your message, showcase your product or service, or tell a story more effectively and captivatingly.

Creating videos up to 60 seconds offers ample time to deliver a compelling pitch or narrative.

Strategic uses:

  • You want to capture the audience’s attention quickly and maintain engagement.
  • Your message or product benefits from a visual demonstration or storytelling.
  • You’re aiming to create an emotional connection or a strong brand impression.
  • Your message is better expressed through motion and sound rather than static images.

Here are two awesome video examples:


Our sister agency, inBeat, helped Nielsen IQ partner with influencers worldwide to generate these content assets.

As a result, they skyrocketed their paid media customer acquisition strategy in 15 countries.

Format Details:

  • Primary Text: Limit your text to 125 characters for conciseness.
  • Hashtags: You can use up to 30 hashtags for wider reach and engagement.
  • Video File Types: Acceptable formats include MP4, MOV, or GIF.
  • Ratio: A 4:5 aspect ratio is recommended for optimal viewing on mobile devices.
  • Resolution: Aim for a minimum resolution of 1080 x 1080 pixels for clear and sharp video quality.
  • Video Captions: While optional, captions are recommended to enhance accessibility and engagement.
  • Video Sound: Also recommended but optional, sound can significantly enhance the impact of your video.
  • Video Duration: Your video ad can range from 1 second to 60 minutes, offering flexibility in content length.
  • Video Size: Keep your video file under 250MB.
  • Minimum Width: Ensure a minimum width of 500 pixels for your video.
  • Aspect Ratio Tolerance: Maintain a 1% tolerance to ensure your video displays correctly across different devices.

5. Shopping Ads: Best for E-commerce and Direct Sales

Instagram Shopping Ads integrate seamlessly with the platform’s shopping features, allowing businesses to promote and directly sell products or services.

These ads use product tags in images or videos, which link directly to your product page on your website.

Integrating the shopping functionality within the ad provides a streamlined and convenient shopping experience for users.

Strategic uses:

  • E-commerce businesses looking to drive sales directly from Instagram
  • Brands aiming to shorten the customer journey from discovery to purchase
  • Retailers seeking to showcase their products interactively
  • Any company wanting to leverage Instagram’s vast user base to increase their products’ visibility and sales

Format Details:

  • These ads can be set up once your product catalog is integrated with Instagram.
  • The format combines the features of Image or Video Ads with the added functionality of shoppable tags.
  • Users can directly interact with your products and proceed to purchase from within the Instagram app, making it a highly effective tool for boosting e-commerce activity.

Instagram Ad Formats Based on Section

Next, you’ll have to think about where you’ll publish your ads on Instagram. You now have four more formats to consider.

6. Story Ads: Best for Full-Screen, Immersive Engagement

Instagram Story Ads are full-screen vertical ads between users’ Instagram stories. They offer a highly immersive and engaging format, taking advantage of the full screen to capture the audience’s attention.

As such, they’re highly effective for storytelling, brand awareness, and driving specific actions like website visits or conversions.

These ads can include images or videos and are designed to blend seamlessly with organic Story content, making them a natural part of the user’s browsing experience.

Strategic use:

  • Creating an immersive and attention-grabbing experience for your audience
  • Delivering short, impactful messages or visual content that benefits from the full-screen format
  • Reaching users in a more personal, casual browsing environment
  • Leveraging creative elements like polls, swipe-up links, and more to increase engagement

Format Details:

  • The ads should be designed for a vertical format, making the most of the full-screen real estate.
  • Both image and video content can be used, with video offering a more dynamic experience.
  • Interactive elements can be added to increase user engagement and interaction.
  • Videos in Stories Ads should be concise, as the format is designed for quick, engaging content.
  • The ads should be optimized for mobile viewing, considering most Instagram users access the platform via mobile devices.

7. Explore Ads: Best for Reaching Users in Discovery Mode

Instagram Explore Ads appear within the Explore section, a space where users go to discover new content aligned with their interests.

These ads blend into the organic content, allowing brands to reach users actively looking to expand their horizons and engage with new content, accounts, and products.

As such, this ad format is best for awareness, visibility, and product discovery.

Emirates Group does a great job of advertising the amazing-looking life of a cabin crew member with posh Instagram Explore Ads like the one below:


Strategic uses:

  • Brands seeking to increase their reach and visibility among users who are exploring new content
  • Targeting users who are in a discovery mindset, making them more receptive to new products and brands
  • Leveraging the user’s curiosity and openness to engagement in the Explore section
  • Introducing your brand or products to potential new followers and customers

Format Details:

  • The ads should be visually appealing and stand out in a grid of varied content.
  • Content should be relevant and interesting to pique users’ curiosity in discovery mode.
  • The ads will appear among other posts in the Explore grid or within the user’s browsing experience once they’ve clicked on a photo or video from Explore.
  • It’s important to optimize the content for engagement, as users in this section are typically more open to interacting with new content.

8. Reels Ads: Best for Engaging with Trendy, Dynamic Content

Instagram Reels Ads are an exciting format that appears between individual Reels, which are short, entertaining videos.

This format leverages the popularity and engaging nature of Instagram Reels to deliver your message in a dynamic, full-screen environment.

Reel ads are well-suited for brands aiming to connect with audiences through creative, trendy, and highly engaging video content.

The best content strategy is to offer value to your readers so you can build more trust.

That’s what Ancestral Supplements does in its Reels.


Strategic uses:

  • Targeting a younger audience that engages with quick, creative video content
  • Showcasing products or services in an entertaining, visually appealing way
  • Leveraging trending audio, effects, and topics to create content that resonates with the Reels audience
  • Aiming for high engagement through fun, easy to watch, and shareable content

Format Details:

  • Create short, captivating videos that grab attention within the first few seconds.
  • Utilize trending music, effects, and editing styles to align with the typical Reels content.
  • Focus on visual storytelling that can be understood with or without sound for clear and interactive sound, try using paid or free text to speech that can help you convert your script into good-quality audio without much effort.
  • Reels Ads should be optimized for mobile viewing, considering the vertical, full-screen format.
  • The length and style should align with organic Reels content, ensuring a natural and seamless viewing experience for the audience.

9. Feed Ads: Best for Integrating into Daily Browsing

Feed Ads on Instagram are integrated into the user’s regular scrolling experience in their home feed.

These ads blend in with organic posts but are marked as sponsored content.

They can be in image ads, videos, or carousels and offer a straightforward way for brands to reach their audience in a familiar and frequently visited environment.

Strategic uses:

  • Reaching users in their natural, daily Instagram browsing routine
  • Delivering your message in a context where users are already engaged with content
  • Offering a mix of content types – single images, videos, or multiple images in carousel format
  • Brands looking for a versatile ad format that can accommodate a wide range of creative strategies

Format Details:

  • The ad content should be visually appealing and consistent with the brand’s image and message.
  • It should be designed to capture attention in a busy feed with clear, engaging visuals and messaging.
  • Using a call-to-action is recommended to prompt user engagement.
  • Ensure that the ad content is optimized for both mobile and desktop viewing.
  • The ad format can vary, from simple image ads to more complex video or carousel ads, offering flexibility in how you present your message.

How to Pick The Best Ad Formats for Your Instagram Campaign

Selecting the right Instagram ad format is crucial for the success of your marketing campaign.

Below are three of the most lucrative strategies our sister company, influencer marketing agency inBeat, uses.

It’s what helped them produce over 200 high-performing content assets for brands like Native:


So, go ahead and steal a page of its playbook – we won’t tell.

1. Testing Different Formats

Start by experimenting with various ad formats.

Each format offers unique benefits and may work differently depending on your product, service, and target audience.

Implement A/B testing to compare the performance of different formats.

This will help you understand which format resonates best with your audience and achieves your campaign goals.

Insider tip: inBeat’s Ad Generator is a free resource to help you create various ad formats.

Our clients use it, our sibling agency inBeat uses it, and so do we.

This tool can assist in visualizing different ad styles and formats, making it easier to decide which one might be the most effective for your campaign.

Here’s how simple it is to use it:


Choose the ad type, such as portrait, Story, or square format. Then, upload your profile picture, image, and call to action.

You can easily create multiple such ads and download them as PNGs.

2. Analyze Your Audience Data

Dive into your Instagram Insights or analytics tool to understand your audience’s preferences.

Look at which types of posts (images, videos, carousels, etc.) receive the most engagement.

Use this data to tailor your ad format choice to what your potential customers respond to most positively.

Pro tip: Keep learning. Instagram continuously evolves, introducing new features and trends. Stay updated with these changes and consider how new ad formats or features might benefit your campaign.

3. Keep an Eye on the Competition

Observe what types of ad formats your competitors or similar brands are using.

Note what seems to be working for them and consider how to apply similar strategies or improve them.

Pro tip: Don’t just copy their strategies; ensure they align with your advertising goals.

Remember that different ad formats serve different purposes.

For instance, Stories Ads might be better for brand awareness due to their full-screen, immersive nature, while Shopping Ads could be more effective for direct sales.

Scale Up Your Instagram Ad Campaign

You may think your goal is to create a successful Instagram ad campaign.

That’s wrong.

Your job isn’t over after your campaign starts bringing results – your job is just beginning.

You have to zero in on the best-performing content assets and replicate them to reduce CPAs even more.

At least, that’s what inBeat Agency is doing.

So, regularly tracking key metrics like Cost Per Mille (CPM), Click-Through Rate (CTR), and overall budget is vital for them.

However, they leverage our free toolkit – like most of our clients.

Our free CPM, CPA, CTR, and ROAS calculators can simplify the entire process, ensuring you get the most out of your investment.

Here’s how easy it is to use the ROAS calculator – and the others work as seamlessly:


Insider tip: Incorporating influencer marketing is a powerful way to enhance your advertising campaign.

It can significantly reduce Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) and combat ad fatigue.

We’re not bragging, but we have a comprehensive database of influencers, so you can find the right match for your brand more easily.

Regardless of your creative strategy, go ahead and test our toolkit – all the tools we’ve shown you above are free, fast, and flexible.

And they’re all in one place.

inBeat, for free

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