Instagram rolled out ads for the first time this October, offering a unique opportunity for brands to reflect on their image and engage with users. Unlike when Facebook introduced Sponsored Stories and Twitter launched Promoted Tweets, it’s not a free-for-all; Instagram is only allowing a few select brands who are already superstars on the platform to participate. Users will be able to hide and reject ads, creating more incentive for brands to deliver sponsored posts that Instagram users actually want to see.
Michael Kors was the first to unveil its attempt at an Instagram ad this past month to mixed mixed reviews. The ad showed a close-up shot of a gold watch amidst colorful macaroons in the background with the caption “5:15 PM: Pampered in Paris #MKTimless.” Hundreds of users responded with complaints like “No ads” and “Why am I seeing this?” However, that’s not to say that the ad was ineffective. Analytics show that the ad brought 33,000 new followers and attracted 370% more likes the average non-sponsored post. Similarly, Lexus’s first ad garnered hundreds of hateful comments, but also over 28,000 likes.
Ben and Jerry’s has seen up to 350,000 likes on their sponsored posts compared to 25,000 for an unpaid post, leading to a 20% increase in followers since they started their Instagram campaign. But even the beloved ice cream brand has seen some negative comments (though less than others). It just goes to show that, regardless of the quality of the ad, it is only natural that there will be initial backlash from users accustomed to ad-free feeds. In fact, the negative feedback has been more directed towards Instagram than brands.
These pioneer brands are riding out the storm, and once that storm subsides, Instagram is likely to open the ad gates to more brands. That’s why at Fetch, we’ve put together five key tactics that brands should keep in mind as they start to plan their approach:
1) Create ads that blend in with your brand’s Instagram profile in order to maintain consistency.
Instagram provides a great way for brands to engage with users in a dynamic way through visual storytelling. Ads shouldn’t change that, and brands should make sure the difference between their sponsored content and regular content is negligible. The same Instagram best practices still apply.
2) Provide entertaining engagement opportunities for users that are not followers of your brand.
Instagram ads will be displayed to users that are not necessarily following particular brands. For this reason, brands should think about messaging and content that will need to appeal to a new audience and drive engagement. These new ads will also provide an opportunity to test and learn strategies that work most effectively, including campaign concepts, images/videos and call-to-action.
User-generated content campaigns are one obvious and effective strategy. Canadian clothing brand Aritzia encourages their followers to tag photos of themselves wearing their products with the hashtag #myartizia. Chosen photos are reposted on the brands account, keeping users interested in checking the brand’s profile to see if their photo has been chosen.
3) Deliver ads with a specific objective in mind and customize content based on a measurable goal (i.e. attaining more followers, promoting a product).
Brands unveiling ads on Instagram should attach their business objectives to Key Performance Indicators such as impressions, likes, comments and followers. This is a second area for brands to test and learn, via different combinations of call to actions and goals, to see what users respond to best. Elements to test within the ad unit itself can range from product placement and copy, to time of day and frequency. By doing so, brands will learn valuable insight about their users and get a better idea of what they can accomplish with Instagram ads.
4) Develop a hashtag strategy that can categorize your ads, messaging and products in a beneficial way.
Hashtags have proven to be a useful way to search for content as well as categorize it. For example, during the holidays, Marc Jacobs asks Instagram followers to share their family moments with the hashtag #marcfam. Then, they take the campaign one step further by aggregating the tagged images and posting them on the official Marc Jacobs blog, allowing followers to feel as if they are an active participant in the brand’s identity.
5) Incorporate brand-specific features.
Brands would be smart to incorporate their brand identity within ads. To promote the launch of their new collection of Commuter cycling clothes, Levi’s partnered with VSCO, the popular photo-editing app, to create a limited edition pack of custom filters inspired by classic film. Users could download the pack for free on the app store and were invited to share photos of their commute by using the hashtags #VSCOcam and #commuter. Engagement rates were high — in fact, the brand saw a 22% increase from previous campaigns. Campaigns that can be associated with a particular brand will improve recognition, as well as brand affinity. As long as the content is great — that’s rule #1.
Guillaume Lelait, North America VP at Fetch, is responsible for leading operations and growth of Fetch in the United States. Guillaume is a veteran mobile marketing expert with deep expertise in mobile ideas, strategy and execution. Guillaume relocated to the US from Fetch’s London office, where he served as Group Account Director for several award-winning clients including eBay, Hotels.com, William Hill, Debenhams, Supercell and Sony Music. Prior to joining Fetch, Guillaume managed creative efforts for PhoneValley in the UK, working across the Digitas and Razorfish agencies in mobile and providing strategy to brand innovators including McDonald’s, Nissan, NSPCC, Pfizer, Purina and Shell. He holds a Master’s degree in Marketing from Reims Management School.
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