8 Tips For Creating Thumb-Stopping Instagram Ads


Social media has become part of our lives, and none more so than Instagram. The photo-sharing behemoth has gone from what seemed like a crazy expensive purchase by Facebook to one of the most used social media platforms.

Today, Instagram has over a billion users and took over $26 billion in ad revenue in 2021.

Read our post about Facebook and Instagram traffic statistics

If you’re looking to reach a broad audience, social media ads remain an important element. But how can you create high-performing ad campaigns for Instagram that will give you an edge over the competition?

The art of thumb-stopping

Capturing people’s attention to stop scrolling on Instagram, or thumb-stopping, is a fine art and one that not every brand can master. To explain it in simple terms, thumb-stopping is the act of stopping someone from scrolling and enticing them to either click on the content to find out more or to engage with a like, comment, or other direct interaction.

Creating thumb-stopping content is basically what Instagram is all about. And, these days, we even have competition from sites like TikTok and Snapchat too – and, to a degree, Facebook and Twitter.

It does depend on your product or service, as Instagram is very much a B2C platform. Don’t expect to win too many clients looking for complex financial information…

But those running e-commerce sites, or ‘fun’ and ‘lifestyle’ services, will find Instagram a rich hunting ground.

You’ll find plenty of tips on the internet about making thumb-stopping ads for Instagram. But we’ve gone one step further and shared some of our tips and experience. In this post, Silvia Yaniv, User Acquisition Manager at Cheq and CHEQ, shares some of her suggestions for creating Instagram ads.

1.  Keep it visual

Obviously, right? After all, Instagram is a photo and video-sharing platform, so it makes sense that we want to stop those thumbs with some bold imagery.

Typical approaches to getting people’s attention are using attractive colors, contrast, and maybe big, bold text.

Sylvia Yaniv says, “You have to think of how your image is going to jump out of the user’s feed. Especially as there is less targeting, thanks to the Apple OS update, you want your ads to speak for themselves. And on Instagram, this means strong visuals.”

Imagery that has been shown to work well for engagement on Instagram includes videos, especially short-form and fast-paced videos. In fact, video is one of the best forms of thumb-stopping media – whether that’s in-feed or in Instagram Stories.

But static images can perform well, too. Try to go for images that spark one of the following emotions:

  • Curiosity – What’s happening here? Clickbait still works…
  • Inspiration – Could people improve their lives? Or help save the planet? Or achieve their long-held goals?
  • Lust – Not just in terms of sex (although that works too) but can also relate to the ‘I want that’ response
  • Greed – Similar to the lust principle but appealing more to getting something for free or at a big discount

Imagery for products can still perform well. So you don’t need to use the stunning landscape of the African savannah to sell your sunglasses brand.

But when it comes to showcasing products, we like to see them either on people or as a well-laid-out product shot. Think of simple compositions and colors that highlight the product.

2. Faces are good

People like to see other people’s faces, especially in ads. In fact, one study found that ads containing human faces, as opposed to animated faces, attracted 58% more clicks.

Perhaps the obvious reason for this is that we are all social animals, and we trust another human more than we trust an animated image. It’s one of those ‘social proof’ factors.

And when you consider that people are looking through social media sites like Instagram to be, well… Social… It figures that faces will work well.

Whether you’re using video or static images, consider how a friendly human face can help to stop those thumbs from scrolling.

As a slight caveat to the point about the study above – they also mention that it is worth a/b testing your ads to see for yourself. Like all things marketing, it will depend on your audience, your product, and your goals.

Faces on Instagram posts can be a good way to stop scrolling

3. Fun, not functional

As Silvia points out, “People don’t come to Instagram to learn, they just want to switch off their brains and enjoy… They’re looking for fun”.

And that remains a key point when creating thumb-stopping ads for Instagram.

Whatever your product, make it fun. Make it sexy.

Even if you’re selling accounting services or something like fraud protection  – which isn’t particularly sexy, there are ways to present a more fun and funky angle.

A crazy fact or stat can be a good way to bridge the gap between fun and functional.

Or repurposing a meme or trending topic to carry your own message. Think outside the box to make your advertising more fun and more likely to stop people scrolling.

Check out this brilliant Instagram post from the Irish budget airline @Ryanair… Tapping into multiple trending topics, including a popular Netflix series (The Tinder Swindler), cryptocurrencies, and the recent (May 2022) Luna/Terra crypto crash.

Ryanair have a ge

Although not a paid post, this is a great example of creating thumb-stopping content on Instagram (which could be used as paid another time).

Ryanair’s feed is also a great example of meme marketing and even using a bit of self-deprecating humor to win over brand haters.

Another great example of fun content is from the popular marketing tool @SEMRush. Their feed actually has some good examples of keeping business content fun for social media, not just functional.

4. Promote your best organic content

Did one of your recent organic posts go crazy? Why not run it as a paid ad?

You can think of your organic social media posts as a testing ground for your paid campaigns. After all, if it stopped plenty of people scrolling in their organic feed, surely it’ll work as an ad too?

5. Consistent imagery

How consistent is your Instagram feed? Uniformity goes a long way to attracting followers and even getting more engagement.

People often follow accounts, especially business accounts, precisely because they have an appealing and consistent aesthetic.

Consider this feed from @Riverford, an organic veg box supplier based in the UK.

RIVERFORD organic Instagram feed

Although their feed isn’t all the same image, you know that by following them, you’re going to get some useful cooking tips and some great #foodporn too.

They have a regular ‘veg hacks’ post, which crops up every few days, and images of their location and products.

6. Consistent branding

When building brand visibility on social media, don’t forget to display your branding!

Although this means splashing the logo occasionally, you don’t necessarily need to have the logo in every post. Using your brand typeface, company colors, or tagline also counts towards branding.

How does this help you stop those thumbs from scrolling?

It doesn’t.

But it builds awareness of your branding, even if you’re not thumb-stopping. You may not be gaining likes, clicks, or comments from this campaign, but your branding is still working its way into the users’ orbit.

7. Use Facebook’s lookalike targeting

Despite being severely impacted by Apple’s changes to ad permissions in iOS14.5, Facebook Ads, including Instagram ads, remains an effective ad channel.

And, as Silvia points out, lookalike targeting is one of the best ways to maximize your ad exposure.

“If you have the Facebook pixel on your website, Facebook’s targeting can do the work for you. They want you to succeed and to keep spending with them, and lookalike targeting is how they help you.”

You can set up lookalike audience targeting when setting up your Instagram ad campaigns.

Within Facebook ads manager, you will need to go to the audiences page:

  • Go to ‘Create Audience’ and then select ‘Lookalike Audience’
  • Use an Engagement Custom Audience as a source for your lookalike audience
  • Customize your audience location and size
  • And that’s it… Click on ‘Create Audience’

8. Block fake users

When it comes to capturing the audience’s attention, there is a demographic that will never convert: fake users.

In fact, it’s estimated that of the 1 billion users on Instagram, 95 million are not real – roughly 10%. These automated (bot) accounts are often operated by click farms and are hired to inflate engagement on social media.

Check out our guide to bots and fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram

Bot accounts are generally hired to post comments, like, follow, and generally boost views. And if they are exposed to your ads, they are logged as an impression – costing you money.

CHEQ Essentials is one of the only click fraud prevention solutions to block fake accounts on Facebook Ads, including Instagram Ads.

So, if you’re hoping to do some thumb-stopping on Instagram, make sure you also do bot blocking.

If you’re running Instagram Ads or Facebook Ads, run an audit with our free trial.

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