Instagram is looking to become a firm fixture on brands’ media schedules in 2015 as it continues to roll out advertising in users’ feeds.
The commercialisation by the photo-sharing app remains a delicate balancing act as it seeks to retain high creative values and a strong sense of community while ramping up ad revenues.
In the UK, advertisers on the social platform since September have included Burberry, Pepsi, Channel 4 and Cadbury – but also more mainstream brands with an older customer base such as Mercedes-Benz, Waitrose and John Lewis.
Instagram presents itself as a digital equivalent of a classy magazine, which gives it an upmarket positioning. But Tracy Yaverbaun, its head of brand development for Europe, wants to dispel the notion that the platform is just for youth and luxury brands.
"It is not just for kids," she says, stressing it can be used to target over-35s. She adds: "We want to work with everyone. Any brand that has a visual representation of themselves – we would love to see them on Instagram. Even brands with low interest."
She notes that financial services have advertised on Instagram US and singles out GE’s "most amazing ability to do things with photography".
James Kirkham, the global head of social and mobile at Leo Burnett, is among those who think Instagram ads that feature images without text could offer big creative possibilities. "Atmosphere in social is important and users need to feel comfortable," he explains. "There might even be a return to the sophistication of some of the British cigarette advertising of the 80s and 90s, conveying Silk Cut without saying the words."
Instagram has a creative team that works with brands to ensure advertising matches its high production values. For this reason, Yaverbaun says the company has never had to turn down any ads. All are ultimately signed off by the co-founder and chief executive, Kevin Systrom. Users will see only one execution a day "for the moment", Yaverbaun says, and can provide feedback or block them.
Some might find the idea of Instagram as an everyman ad platform surprising given its strong appeal to young females – its user base has a 60 per cent female skew. Marketers have a tendency to jump on bandwagons and some will likely demand an Instagram presence – but will it be right for every brand?
Nick Palmer, the head of content strategy, EMEA, at MediaCom Beyond Advertising, warns marketers not to assume Instagram is for them and believes media agencies need to be careful about advising brands to run campaigns on social platforms, whether that is Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook or Twitter.
"We are going to end up with agencies looking stupid, advising brands to go on a platform that is not suitable," Palmer says. "I don’t see Instagram as a mainstay on media plans for the year."
Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion and it has grown strongly since. Before Christmas, the site reportedly overtook Twitter, reaching 300 million monthly active users worldwide. One source estimates that it has 11 million monthly active users in the UK – so the platform could soon become a mainstay on media plans.