Study Shows that Instagram Users Distrust Traditional Ads

August 22, 2019

With more than 1 billion photo-obsessed users, Instagram has become a trusted destination for marketers looking to get their products noticed. According to a recent study, though, people on the picture-sharing platform don’t trust ads that look like “ads.” Instead, they prefer promotional spots that seem like something that their friends would post. For instance, a brand like L’Oreal would likely get more attention with a selfie of an influencer applying makeup rather than a  glamorous, magazine-like ad.

In a study published by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 482 participants reacted to three types of content: posts from friends, ads that looked like posts from friends, and traditional ads. They then ranked their friends’ posts as the most trustworthy, followed by the ads disguised as content from people they knew. The traditional ads came in last, but not because participants simply recognized the posts as blatant attempts at marketing. After all, many could also tell the difference between their friends’ posts and the ads meant to imitate those interactions. The distinction is that most participants compared themselves to people in the disguised ads.

“If they related to the people in the ad more, they had more positive views of the ad and the brand.” said Benjamin Johnson, an advertising professor who led the study. “Feeling that they were being sold to was less important.” As a result, the researchers concluded that companies don’t need to be so deceptive when developing ad campaigns. Instead, they can be “honest and transparent” while still communicating effectively with consumers through relatable content. 


  1. Why are Instagram users likely to distrust traditional advertising more than ads designed to look like their friends’ posts?
  2. How do you think companies can become more “honest and transparent” with their Instagram marketing strategies? 

Source: April Frawley Lacey, “Instagram Ads Disguised as Friends’ Post Still More Credible Than Traditional Ads, Study Finds,” University of Florida News, April 10, 2019.