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Instagram Ads Play It Safe On Location Targeting, For Now…

The Facebook-owned photo/video-sharing app wants to position itself as a brand-friendly platform first and foremost; but uses of location data will have an influence behind the scenes.

Instagram's Jim Squires
Instagram’s Jim Squires

Ad agencies and brand marketers have been waiting years for Instagram to introduce a formal ad platform that would help connect them to the app’s estimated 200 million active users. After a brief contretemps over whether its members’ photos could be used for advertising purposes in late December 2012, Instagram enjoyed a worry-free plunge into the ad world in early March when it struck a deal with the ad holding company Omnicom Group — one that AdAge valued at $100 million in spending commitments.

In a presentation at AdAge’s April digital conference, Jim Squires, Instagram’s director of market operations, offered advice to advertisers and agencies about how to use the app to maximize its branding potential, while diminishing fears of alienating users with intrusive marketing ploys.

Treading Lightly on Location Data

The natural location-data functions of any Apple and Google Android phone app provide great interest to geo-targeters. A year ago, Instagram gave its users an additional option with its Photo Maps feature, purported as a new way for members to browse others’ images – and vice versa – based on where the photos were taken.

Squires acknowledges the value of the geo-data that Instagram possesses from the roughly 55 million images uploaded daily (more than half of them from the US), but how the company would deploy such data for marketing makes has him circumspect.

“I think that overtime, [location data] does fall into the targeting realm,” Squires says. “I think there will be interesting things that we can explore there, but for the purpose of the way this particular ad product was designed, it’s less relevant because we’re trying to connect advertisers to a mass audience. I do think it’s great information that can be leveraged in future products.”

Scaling Instagram ‘Art’

For now, Instagram’s ad targeting options are meant to mirror the broad choices available to TV advertisers, such as age, gender, and demographic attributes. The reason is simple: the categories are so broad, the kinds of privacy issues that often raise concerns for digital advertising won’t be an issue. Safety questions aside, the other reason for invoking TV ad standards of targeting is simply that it attracts the biggest spending.

For an app that commanded a billion-dollar acquisition from Facebook, the pressure to justify itself could come into play. The challenge not to drive off its millions of users is yet another weight on its still very young shoulders. So, this early ad strategy Instagram is establishing should help it realize the one desire that has tended to escape most interactive ad platforms: audience scale on a massive level.

By elevating Instagram’s user-generated photos and videos as “art,” Squires incorporates markets and their visuals in a way that plays to the app’s inherent attraction and strength. For example, the app is egalitarian (“everyone on Instagram is an artist with unique point of view”) and rarefied (“these images are carefully crafted and curated cover images of people’s lives”) in its appeal.

“[Instagram is composed of] a highly engaged, passionate group of individuals, and what’s interesting is the mindset that people are in when they’re using Instagram: they come to Instagram for inspiration, they’re looking for new ideas, to see the world in different ways,” Squires says. “If you’re a marketer, you want people who are open in this way.”

Instagram is a marketer’s dream because it’s first and foremost about imagery; words are an afterthought. Secondly, there are no small strips of banner ads obscuring or attenuating a marketer’s message. Everyone on Instagram has total share of voice once an image is placed into the feed.

Instagram For Marketers

Squires points to three specific elements that make Instagram a strong marketing platform. It starts with the community, which is still growing globally; it’s then extended to its value as a purely visual medium; lastly, the notion of the environment where everyone is trying to show off their best imagery raises the bar when it comes to quality.

“At the end of last year, we launched our ads product and we’ve been very methodical, very deliberate in how we’ve rolled that out,” Squires says. “The product is designed for high-impact, high-end brand campaigns. We’ve been working with a limited number of partners to establish a great ad experience for brands and the rest of the community. As we increase availability of our product, we’ll expand our focus on a few things.”

Two of those things: creative development and measurement. Once the measurement is refined over time, other tools like geo-data can be brought in to bear on marketers’ campaigns.

Instagram Amplifies Major Media

In his tips for how all marketers can use Instagram to best effect, Squires refers to several campaigns that had been running over the past several months.

The fast food chain Taco Bell had hoped to use Instagram to draw interest in its new breakfast menu. The challenge was both simple and steep: let Taco Bell patrons know the franchises are now serving breakfast – but would even fans of the brand be interested in eating breakfast fare that’s typically thought of as lunch, dinner or a late night treat?

As part of a wider media campaign dubbed “Wake Up Live Mas” in support of the franchise’s 5,500 US restaurants, its agency, Deutsch LA, worked images of the new Waffle Taco and Taco Bell Beach for over two months across Instagram and its video-based Twitter-owned rival, Vine.

“People were encouraged not to just take pictures of the Waffle Taco[but to] capture moments,” Squires says of people taking photos of fun times at a California beach where Taco Bell had set up shop.

In Ben & Jerry’s cross-promotion for the comedy Anchorman 2, the ice cream makers turned to Instagram to feature images of its “Scotchy Scotch Scotch” flavor inspired by the Will Ferrell character, Ron Burgundy. The ads for the movie launched on Instagram on November 1, 2013.

“We looked at traditional brand metrics,” Squires say of the Ben & Jerry’s work. “‘Likes’ and comments are difficult to factor into results of brand lift, so we focused on reach, frequency. The ads reached nearly 10 million users and resulted in a 33-percentage point increase on ad recall, with a 17-point increase in awareness. Those are metrics that reflect and complement what can be done in terms of the scale and value generally associated with major media advertising programs.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.