When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, it was no secret that soon Instagram would have to start making that investment worth it. We all assumed that monetization process would involve native advertising, and we were right.
Starting Friday, Instagram began rolling out its first stab at introducing ads into users’ Instagram streams (the Michael Kors image above was the first), hoping the gentle intrusion won’t send users running towards Flicr or Snapchat. It’s important to get this right because by 2017, nearly half of all digital display advertising spending will be targeted to mobile devices. Oh, and 18 percent of mobile users use Instagram, according to Pew.
Will Instagram steal user-generated photos and turn them into ads? No, according to an Instagram ad FAQ launched to answer this question and other related concerns from users.
Out of an abundance of concern, Instagram is beginning its ad infusion slowly, with only ten brands to start - a strategy that an industry analyst described to ABC News as “hyper cautious.” The design team has even gone out of its way to assure users that you can hide ads that you think don’t apply to you, and give Instagram feedback that will help them better target ads in your general direction.
Brands have become an important part of Instagram’s content even before this roll-out of native advertising. They have even launched an Instagram for Brands blog for business-conscious users to follow for the latest news and developments in this area.
So, which ten brands are they starting with? Ten brands with pre-existing Instagram accounts that are being managed by people who instinctively understand the visual and interactive nature of the platform. This way, Instagram and Facebook hope that when the ever-dreaded “sponsored post” frame starts showing up in everyone’s feed, the reaction will be less revulsion and not even ignoring them (which is the most that some advertisers can hope for). Instead, the goal is for seamless integration that leads to maximized integration with sponsored content, complete with high levels of user interaction.
Here are Instagram’s first 10 advertisers and how they're using the service:
With over 1,000,000 followers on Instagram, it’s clear that this 157-year-old luxury brand is more of an aspirational lifestyle brand for many of its followers than actual shoppers. (Have you seen what they charge for some of that stuff?) But that’s OK, apply a filter to a snapshot of a gorgeous model strutting along a stone-paved street in Burberry gear, and that’s Instagram gold.
This fashion brand beats even Burberry with nearly 1.3 million followers. In addition to posting photos of its high-end merchandise in real-world settings, like this handbag on the Brooklyn Bridge, Michael Kor’s is also engaging its followers to help stop world hunger, which is nobel of them and might be good for a few extra followers, too.
With 587,000+ followers, Adidas is no slouch as an Instagram brand. With glamor shots of RG3 to post to its followers with the #TeamAdidas hashtag branded across the front, it’s no wonder that this marketing team has secured the spot of the only active wear brand to advertise on Instagram.
Ben & Jerry's
With more than 267,700 followers on a mere 640 posts, it’s clear that Ben & Jerry’s is a brand that understands Instagram. Or maybe that Instagrammers love some ice cream. Maybe both. But with seasonal themed posts like this one, how can you go wrong?
So your brand is as old as the NYSE itself and your products are generally considered to be old and unsexy? You have no excuse since General Electric has nearly 149,000 followers on Instagram from 288 posts. So your product isn’t sexy, have you tried to market it as nerdy? On Instagram, nerdy works.
With 125,000 followers, Levi’s is a classic American clothing brand with an easy path to Instagram integration. With photos of catalog-style shots of product combined with lifestyle shots of attractive people in Levi’s gear, it would seem that Levi’s is well on its way to a strong foothold in dominating the demin niche of the Instagram native advertising space.
The only car-maker allowed in the first round of Instagram ads, Lexus with its meager 21,504 followers is set to make a splash when native ads start rolling. Its photo stream appears to be almost exclusively slick shots of sleek cars, but almost no people. It could learn from some of these other brands how to better integrate actual people into their brand narrative. Note: Lexus is at Instagram.com/LexusUSA; the Lexus account belongs to a young woman from Colorado with 599 followers.
PayPal is an unsexy brand; it’s like a public utility of the Internet and not a visual medium, either - which might be why it has fewer than 6,000 followers. So what to do? Take a bunch of adorable photos of rescue dogs to remind users that they can donate to animal rescue when they use PayPal.
With 87,263 followers, Macy’s Instagram feed sticks -- for the most part -- to classic catalog-style photography of individual items for sale in a showroom context, which is fine when you’re selling high heels like this.
The Starwood Hotel and Resorts chain has only 1,587 followers at its StarwoodBuzz account on Instagram, so they still have a ways to grow. But for the moment, they are the exclusive hotel brand on Instagram. Maybe it’s because of shots like this?