By Ben Popper and Ellis Hamburger
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom has repeatedly emphasized that a big focus for the company is to "keep the standard really, really high" for its first ads — something Facebook and mobile ad networks like AdMob perhaps missed the boat on. But how will brands know how their "rich" ads should look? Instagram today gave brands their first hints.
The company today published The Instagram Handbook for Brands, a book profiling 11 companies that it thinks are doing a great job posting content on Instagram. Example posts come from the likes of Patagonia, Chobani, and Disneyland, and are accompanied by tips like "share experiences" and "find beauty everywhere." The posts Instagram highlights in its book, and in a series of blog posts starting today, are markedly different from the ultra-composed and polished ad made by Michael Kors that tested back in November. Perhaps Instagram learned that ads would need to feel even more authentic and user-generated to avoid alienating users. User comments on the Kors post were scathing.
A Chobani photo Instagram highlights in its book (left) versus Instagram's Michael Kors photo ad (right)
Instagram's brand tips are offered up as "tools" for marketers, but there's very likely another agenda at play here. By training top brands to imitate Instagram's wholesome effect, they'll perhaps submit better ads when Instagram rolls them out on a large scale.
This kind of hands-on approach is in some ways the opposite of the tactic used by the self-serve ads Facebook helped pioneer. Facebook needs to find new ways to boost its revenue, but is leery of cramming too many ads into users' news feeds, as it perhaps did on its website. Instagram, which has until now only tested a small number of ads, is poised to be the next cash cow for the company — and Facebook doesn't want to blow it. The social network's business has always been about using personal and social data to target ads, but with Instagram, where users can hide behind pseudonyms and little personal information is required, the business will have to be structured a bit differently. Even with 150 million active users — 128 million more than when it was acquired — the app is still mostly a blank canvas for ads.