Imagine launching a media network in the UK using only images, and with no indication about how much it costs to advertise or how many people you can reach. Welcome to the age of Instagram.
The international roll-out of an ad service on Facebook’s photo-sharing app began in earnest this week, with a limited UK trial soon to be followed by launches in Australia and Canada. The closest official indication you’ll get to its scale is the 200 million global users reported six months ago. When pushed, executives talk of 65 per cent of users being located "outside of the US" – which, the last time I checked, is fairly expansive.
Actual user numbers in Europe, let alone the UK, is not something Instagram is willing to share just yet. It seems, true to form, in its quest to "make the world more open", Facebook is keeping its cards close to its chest.
One hopes Omnicom Media Group has been privy to this information, as all the trial brands have come from its agencies. It stems from one of those uber-tech/agency group deals announced in March, about which little is known other than talk of a year-long commitment from Omnicom to spend up to $100 million. In exchange, agencies are likely to receive real-time data for their brand pages and first-mover bragging rights.
'OMG agencies are likely to receive real-time data for their brand pages and first-mover bragging rights'
So it is up to Starbucks, Cadbury, Channel 4, Rimmel, Estée Lauder and Waitrose to test the waters. As soft launches go, that’s not a bad client roster.
The potential for ads on Instagram has been noted ever since it was acquired by Facebook in 2012. Not only does it index strongly among the young and creative, high engagements levels and the app’s stickiness are also well-documented – most Instagram users visit it every day.
Instagram’s potential also lies in its ability to share user data with Facebook. In the US, where ads have run for the past year, Mercedes-Benz ran a campaign that cross-referenced users with those on Facebook to serve a different creative. It suggests huge potential for targeting with enhanced user data.
And let’s not forget Instagram can now host short videos too. Although not part of this roll-out, it’s surely only a matter of time.
As Instagram evolves, its biggest fear is a user backlash. Hopes to combat it rest on strict quality control.
James Quarles, its global business chief, assured me: "Partners will work closely with brand teams to create beautiful, high-quality messages that people will want to share."
This premium mobile space, driven by images and tapping into passions, could become a big media player.