Brands are still getting Instagram wrong

Instagram has now turned on its advertising API but we’re still seeing advertisements and gimmicks on a platform built entirely for something else.

When the first cars hit the road in the age of horse-drawn carriages 125 years ago we could not quite understand these new automotors without comparing them to their predecessors. Whilst car manufacturers replaced the horse with an engine, they did little to change the form of the “carriage” with the result that early cars looked almost exactly like horse-drawn carriages. Little suprise that the public took to calling them “horseless carriages”.

Benz “Velo” model (1894) by German inventor Carl Benz [Wikipedia]

Marketing is the same. We’ve always had an issue with new media. We put radio ads onto TV, then we worked out how to create TV ads. We put TV ads online, then we worked out how to make websites. We put websites into Facebook apps, then we worked out how to create content. And we’re still trying to shoehorn old formats into new media and Instagram is no exception.

On the left is a TV ad from Catalunya Experience. In the middle Turkish Airlines is genuinely asking “Would you like the excitement of a pad thai in your life?” On the right Audi’s promoted post carousel takes you to their YouTube channel. (Even if the video worked, why would you take an Instagram user to a YouTube channel to watch a TV ad?)

None of these brands have managed to produce Instagram-worthy content to promote. These posts are a manifestion of foisting the marketing these companies do understand into a medium they don’t.

Beyond this we enter a far scarier world of shoehorning weird and wholly impractical use cases into Instagram. For example, Land Rover’s choose your own adventure…gram, featuring such thrills as...

Mat Morrison posted an impressive rundown of this campaign: “I spidered the network and found that it consisted of 150 nodes (Instagram accounts) and 220 edges (links between those accounts in the form of tags.) If you were going to map the journey, it would look a little like this.”

Spider map of #adventuregram campaign courtesy of Mat Morrison

This was clearly a time consuming and complex undertaking for Brooklyn Brothers and Land Rover: was it worth it? Did Instagrammers enjoy it? Did it travel? Did people talk about it? Did it do what it set out to do? Before we answer that I have outlined what the campaign demanded from an Instagram user…

Sure, some people click on a profile or a hashtag on occasion, but Instagram is a heavily used platform where users spend 21 minutes each day drilling themselves into the same behaviours and these behaviours are dominated by the home feed, not surfing around profiles.

Ballantine’s Instagram “magazine” relies on a similar use case. [Image: Fast Company]

Let’s return to the Land Rover results: was there merit in demanding an alternative use case for Instagram? We can make these campaigns look sexy and get very excited when a commentator calls it an “An Interactive Instagram Adventure” but ultimately, as Morrison points out, very few people engaged with it: “a month after its launch, I found 460 unique accounts who had liked at least one photo” compared to a global account with just under a quarter of a million followers. Total engagement was poor. What about the engagement rate? “The 150 photos that make up the Adventuregram network received around 15 times fewer likes than the average photo posted by Land Rover.” What’s more one third of (a total of 14 — yes fourteen) accounts tweeting about #adventuregram (*shudders*) are from people in PR/marketing/sales. Marketers and we agency bods are the ones who make the hype and believe it like a large industry ouroboros.

With results like those, we would hope to learn that we don’t need to innovate the platform use case. However, the marketing industry and arguably creative awards framework is hell bent on “firsts” and “innovation”.

There’s plenty of room for innovation in wider digital spaces but within key social platforms, we are placing our efforts where they simply aren’t needed.

Reebok’s treasure hunt to win a pair of Pumps relies on a similar machanic.

Instagram is a wonderfully simple platform, so why swim against the tide? Instead of trying to create new behaviours on such a simply used platform, Land Rover would have been better off simply creating innovative content. Not innovative ways to use the platform. After all, if adventure is their purpose, others have proven Instagram is perfect for that kind of content.

The answer to creating great Instagram content and campaigns, is simple — so simple in fact that a shiny agency widget may seem far more impactful, though it’s really not:

Create great content, not tricks, for the platform and only for the platform.

Sounds easy right? It really is:

  1. Identify why people would care to follow you. Engagment rates may show you that this is your product, but on Instagram it really isn’t. What’s your purpose? What side of your brand do you want to expose?
  2. Organize how you are going to capture that content. If you are a large brand harness the power of your network so you can create and capture content from anywhere—neither community managers nor brochure photoshoots are going to deliver Instagram photography.
  3. Promote and measure the impact of your content using Instagram’s recently opened API that now gives you Facebook’s targeting on Instagram platform.

This is Instagram’s handbook for brands in which the San Francisco team selected the best brand profiles in their opinion. (If you cannot get your hands on one of these, you can find a summary here.) You’ll note that none of these brands post TV ads, press ads, choose your own adventures, treasure hunts, magazines or product catalogues to their profiles. Admittedly, it’s not easy being an agency strategist or marketer and we are under constant pressure to “cut through”, “create fame” and “generate conversation”; however for Instagram the answer is a case of Occam’s razor — create fewer complications and make fewer assumptions of your audience because the simplest solution is probably the right one.

If you liked this, please hit “Recommend”. Thank you.



Stories that aim to affect a real change in how brands use social media

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store