Instagram’s Journey from Design to Dollars

As a self-proclaimed Technocrat, I spend great portions of my day finding and curating the tech. Whether that is a gadget or an application (app), I have a passion for it. One app that I was drawn to from day-one is Instagram. The visual focus of it and the key-types of users that it drew (young/novice snap-n-send or adult/professional photographer), attracted me to the app as much as its technical prowess of filters and cropping. It was a beautiful way of communicating with people and best of all, it was free. No app purchase cost and no “in-app purchases” either. The entire experience cost absolutely nothing, and it was amazing. It seems in the early days, Instagram had no real plan for commercializing the app and felt no pressure to. The non-Wall Street world was okay with that, personally, I was overjoyed with it. Alas, nothing last forever.

April 2012 Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion. The hearts of many, including mine, sink wondering how this behemoth is going to change this visual storytelling app and insert Candy Crush Saga ads. Sidenote, commercialization in that form would have changed the entire look and feel of he product. Insta-death would have been the heralded new name. Whereby changing the audience and implicitly its consumer base, any sales or ad targeting goes out the window. Instagrammers breathed a sigh of relief when the CEO said that they would be taking no major realignments and that any ads would fall within the parameters of the Instagram mission. They took it slow.

Introducing ads by selection limited the types of ads that Instagram’s audience would see. Also knowing that the audience was accustomed to safe-space so to speak, they smartly decided to roll-out the feature after introducing :15 second video to consumers. Testing the receptivity of the idea. I must admit at 150 million users (in 2013) it was a smart way to pilot the advertising program.

A few years later and they are gearing up for the next level of advertising offerings. Consumer facing ad changes include a “carousel” ad unit. Instagram’s global head of business and brand development James Quarles said,” …carousel ads were an answer for advertisers looking to do deeper storytelling with their ads…”. Under the hood business ad-tech changes include clickable ads allowing consumers to see a visual and click through to the actual product, frictionless and very smart. In addition, a new open API(application programming interface)…say goodbye to pre-selection. Both necessary to grow, and with particular regard to an open API, not evil to the creative product.

With the latest addition of the open API I’m really interested to see the direction of the brand takes. Will it go full-throttle Facebook, come-one come-all type fashion and allow an advertisers like Time Warner Cable or Comcast to have call-to-action ads with 8o0 numbers attached? Or will it inch the door back slightly and allow Banana Republic to put a winter sales ad through with a beauty shot? I vote the latter, it would be sad to see the artistic and creative element be placed by an ad to lose twenty pounds in a week.

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