And So It Begins…
A few months ago I heard Instagram would start advertising within its newsfeeds. I was uncomfortable with the idea not just because it felt intrusive, but because it would be a complete disruption in the experience. Whereas I’ve learned to zone out Facebook side bar ads or sponsored content, the simple design of Instagram meant sponsored ads would be unavoidable as I used the app. But, like every other change to our social media platforms, I complained silently and continued to use it just as much as I did before.
For those who aren’t familiar with them, advertisements feature a “Sponsored” burst that, while recessive, does stick out more than the grey time stamp you typically see as you’re scrolling. You can tap the “…” button to hide the ad or provide feedback about what you didn’t like so that Instagram may better target you in the future. Instagram explains it uses information gathered from both its own app as well as Facebook (its parent company) to cater its ads. Instagram claims,
Our aim is to make any advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands.
The first brands to introduce ads with Instagram include adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Burberry, General Electric, Lexus, Levi’s, Macy’s, Michael Kors, PayPal and Starwood.
A Pleasant Surprise
Last week, as I was really getting into the holiday spirit, I scrolled through my Instagram and saw this:
I smiled, double tapped, and kept scrolling. It wasn’t until a minute later that I realized, “Hey, I don’t follow Banana Republic!” After all the hints in my blog posts, here’s the big reveal: I have a pet that is more of a stuffed animal than a dog. He’s the cutest. And I do things like take photos of him in flannel pajamas to entertain myself (and annoy anyone who follows me on Instagram).
So naturally, I follow an embarrassing number of dog accounts. I didn’t even pick up on the little “Sponsored” icon that appeared at the top right of Banana Republic’s #HolidayTruth post. The brand’s logo, content, and caption were recessive and just flowed into my overall feed. I was so impressed that I pointed it out to my friend. “Look how well done this Instagram sponsored post is!” After one semester in Social Media for Managers, I’ve officially become a social media nerd…
Some Not-So Positive Experiences
I think part of my surprise to this post was due to the terrible experiences I initially had with the advertising.
Example 1: McDonald’s
I can’t remember the last time I ate fast food. I hate bacon (I know, I’m the only person in the world who hates bacon). I follow accounts like Bon Appetit and Smitten Kitchen. So when I was interrupted by the golden arches, a flashy image of a big burger, and a #Bacon hashtag this summer, I have to admit that I felt invaded. With all the data out there, McDonald’s really thought I was a target for these ads?
Example 2: Lexus
I had a similar experience with Lexus. I’m the furthest thing from a car aficionado. I currently drive a Hyundai Elantra and thought I was really treating myself to luxury when I bought it (it has heated seats and a sunroof, folks). So when I saw a fancy car in my Instagram feed, it stuck out awkwardly. It looked something like the image to the left (full disclosure: my first thought seeing this is “That’s a terrible color!”).
The photo sat awkwardly in my feed of puppies and donuts.
An Exciting Turn of Events
I recently read about an Instagram ad that I’m actually looking forward to seeing in my feed. Stella Artois just announced that it will be the first beer company to start using sponsored ads on Instagram.
Given the commitment to artistry and sophistication that defines the Stella Artois brand, we thought featuring imagery supporting the brand’s holiday campaign, ‘Give Beautifully,’ would be the perfect fit.
-Lucas Herscovici, Vice President of Consumer Connections, Anheuser-Busch
Unlike the McDonald’s ads that seemed forced into a platform, Stella is relying on their foodie vibe to appeal to the typical Instagram user. The company is also leveraging Facebook data so that it will only appropriately target users over 21.
So what made Banana Republic’s ad work on me? What makes Stella’s advertising sound cool? Here are a few things I think are important to a successful Instagram sponsored ad:
- Design it with followers in mind. Look at what is trending on Instagram. Does it align with your consumer? Don’t force your brand into Instagram if the app’s culture doesn’t work with your brand.
- Don’t overdo the branding. Keep product placement and logos recessive to make the experience less intrusive. If a consumer likes the post, rely on the content to bring them in further.
- Drive engagement. I liked how Banana Republic started a fun hashtag that encouraged users to engage, either with their own posts or by liking the sponsored ad. It gave a clear CTA to click through if you wanted to see more of the campaign.