POV: Instagram Photo stream ads

MINDSHARE POINT OF VIEW – Instagram has announced it will release photo stream ads in the US only. This follows a recent similar ‘limited’ release of a new ad product by Pinterest.


Last year Facebook purchased Instagram at a reported cost of $1bn. The move received mixed reviews; at the time Instagram had no way of making money and Facebook was about to head into its IPO. However, considering the success of Instagram’s mobile app, the richness of data Instagram likely added to Facebook and of course the future advertising revenue potential, the purchase made more sense the longer you looked at it.


People have now become accustomed to ads in their online social space, even if they don’t necessarily like them. From a consumer point of view the implications of the addition of ads to Instragram are no different to existing social ads, they’ll learn to ignore them, and occasionally they’ll pay attention to a relevant one. Because Instagram is a purely image based network you are unlikely to see too much evidence of peoples dis-likes, it’s unlikely that many people are going to write down a list of their irritations with the new ad product, take a photo of the list and ‘gram it’. From an advertiser point of view it means another way to reach consumers in the ‘native’ environment.

According to Instagram’s company announcement the ads will slowly trickle into US based users’ feeds and will promote brands you may or may not follow. Ads will be both image and video based and only from a handful of brands that already have a strong Instagram presence. Importantly users will be able to hide and provide feedback. Ad placements are as yet unconfirmed, but could appear within Instagram’s Explore tab, which shows people which images other users are interacting with.  Alternatively they could appear when users search for a specific hashtag or picture as sponsored or promoted links. 

Instagram’s public announcement said: “Our aim is to make any ads you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands. After all, our team doesn’t just build Instagram; we use it each and every day. We want these ads to be enjoyable and creative in much the same way you see engaging, high-quality ads when you flip through your favorite magazine.” 


Advertising on Instagram should be approached as a “light and always on” model similar to other social feeds. Over time nuances in how people respond to this new advertising format will be identified. In the meantime, existing native content learning from Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter should be applied to any advertising, e.g., historical image posts that have really resonated with fans and followers.