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An E-Commerce Giant Viewed Through a Filter – How Instagram Slowly and Safely Grew Into Its Advertising Clothes

It comes as no surprise that popular social media sites run advertisements. Why shouldn’t they? Millions of people spend hours per day browsing social media sites without fail. Social media gives people the chance to waste large amounts of time stay constantly connected to the world around them, which includes other people as well as brands.

Enter: Instagram. They are just now entering the expansive social media advertising landscape, but more important than when they opened up their doors to advertisers is how they went about it.

06/20/2013 – Instagram Rolls Out Video

Instagram announced the long-awaited ability to both shoot and upload video to the very popular photo sharing app, opening the door for users and companies alike to capture and share more than just still-life images. The announcement generated more than excitement amongst those who felt their stunted creativity was finally being freed from its single-frame jail cell, but it also caused murmurs that something a touch more business-y was afoot.

10/03/2013 – Ads Are Coming

Via their blog, Instagram announced to their millions of users that they would (very cautiously) begin to introduce both photo and video ads to their feeds. They begin with a (very selective) certification process and require those brands that will be allowed to run ads to adhere to very strict content and style guidelines.

Essentially: “Sure, you can swim in my pool, but only in my handmade exotic wool bathing suits and for only, say, 3 minutes per week. And you have to wait 6 months after eating. Have fun!”

11/01/2013 – Michael Kors Breaks the Water and It Was…OK?

Fashion giant Michael Kors runs the first ever ads on Instagram and results were varied. The high “Like” count indicated increased engagement, while the general distaste communicated in the comments was very hard to ignore. Introducing ads onto a platform that has operated for years without them will obviously bring on some initial backlash, but with never before seen “Like” counts, this maiden voyage certainly gave the head honchos a lot to digest.

12/19/2013 – Ben & Jerry’s and Levi’s See the Light

Well-known brands Ben & Jerry’s and Levi’s reported much better results than what was seen with Michael Kors’ initial run of ads. Ben & Jerry’s saw a recall lift of 33% while reaching an audience of 9.8 million American users, while Levi’s experienced a 24% recall lift from an audience of 7.4 million potential United States customers. (Side note: Increasing the sales of ice cream and jeans? Now there’s a conspiracy theory that has my attention.)

04/27/2014 – Instagram Hits the Lab

With the growing popularity of video ads across other platforms, Instagram begins testing a handful of sponsored video advertisements from its most trusted brands. With the familiar and stringent guidelines we saw with initial ads (only fifteen approved advertisers so far!), it could be easily inferred that we wouldn’t actually see video ads for quite some time.

10/01/2014 – Mercedes Go Exploring

Mercedes is the first brand to run simultaneous ads on two social media platforms owned by Facebook: Instagram and Facebook. They report 54% more traffic when compared to a test group that was not shown the advertisement and provided some credit to the famous theory that if you annoy people enough, they will eventually buy a very expensive luxury car*. This campaign to leverage the strengths of the two different social media sites showed great results for the auto industry giant, ultimately increasing website visits by 580%.

*Your face isn’t a famous theory

10/30/2014 – The First (Few) Video Ads Arrive

Extensive testing led to the official introduction of 15-second video ads from Disney, Activision, Lancôme, Banana Republic and CW. The “Stingy Pool Party Host” persona is still very much a part of the process, which explains the low number of brands that will be running these innovative ads. Instagram wants brands to focus on only bringing fresh and dynamic content to their users feeds, not just a short clip from a commercial they’ve seen two thousand times.

03/04/2015 – Instagram Finally Introduces (Two) Options

Instagram announces two new features for advertisers designed to help the brands provide more content to their followers, as well as helping direct traffic back to their website. Ads can employ a fun carousel option that lets users scroll through multiple photos instead of just one. At the end of the photo stream, users will have the chance to click a link taking them back to the brands website. This is the first opportunity brands will have to actually drive traffic from an Instagram ad back to their website, leading people to believe that there was still more to come.

04/10/2015 – Stuart Weitzman Breaks New Ground

Building on the success that Mercedes saw running the same ad across two platforms, fashion designer Stuart Weitzman goes a step further by running video ads on Instagram, then sponsoring product posts on Facebook targeted at the audience that viewed the Instagram ad. A second successful ad campaign that used the best of Instagram and Facebook? Kinda makes you think…

04/13/2015 – Send Them Where You (Actually) Want to Send Them

Instagram finally allows for advertisers to run ads with links to product pages. Banana Republic was initially granted the ability to link to buying pages from the links positioned at the end of their carousel ads, but this new introduction allows for links to buying pages to be placed on the standard ads. With more brands getting a bite at the cherry, it was apparent that Instagram wasn’t done here. And then…

06/02/2015 – The Floodgates Are Open

After years of slow and methodical progress, Facebook-owned Instagram finally announces it will be removing the training wheels and opening its advertising platform to anyone with the budget. Businesses across the nation will be able to purchase ads and then target who sees the ads based on certain factors, just as you would with the also Facebook-owned Facebook! They will also be toying with shopping links on ads, allowing users to take action directly from the ad. “Install Now” and “Sign Up” and “Buy Now” will flash across the screen of your smartphone, enticing you to do just that, and it seems the bigger idea is for you to be able to make purchases without even leaving the Instagram app.

While such innovations could be just around the corner, we should be keen to remember that this major breakthrough was almost two years in the making. Instagram has a “play-it-safe” philosophy when it comes to advertisements, and it has shown to be a refreshing break in the current digital media landscape that seems to move at 100 miles a megabyte.



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