The seven UK advertisers are trialling Instagram’s new “Sponsored” paid-for ad unit to increase the reach of their content on the platform, which now has more than 200 million monthly active users.
The Facebook-owned photo app first began trialling the format in the US in November.
The units are charged on a cost-per-mille basis and brands can currently choose to target audiences by age, gender and geography. A threshold has not yet been set for the number of ads a user is likely to see on any given day, but this is likely to remain minimal as Instagram continues to roll out advertising “deliberately slowly”.
Waitrose was interested in being among the first brands to trial the format because it believes Instagram can help the retailer build on its already-existing “Love Food” brand platform in a highly engaged social environment, Rupert Ellwood, Waitrose head of marketing communications, told Marketing Week.
He adds: “Our social strategy has always been about engagement and developing good relationships with the community. Being relatively new to Instagram, the advertising campaign will help us develop a community to share our love of food.”
James Quarles, Instagram global head of business and brand development told Marketing Week the company aims to make the advertising experience on the platform “a premium brand experience” akin to a flipping through a glossy magazine.
As such, each separate Instagram ad must adhere to strict guidelines so as to make advertising as natural to the platform as organic content. Guidelines include avoiding text overlay, too much white space or overly-edited images. Each ad is currently given final sign-off by Quarles and Instagram founder Kevin Systrom and the entire campaign process from concept to delivery usually takes about two weeks.
Instagram hopes that by placing an emphasis on the creative, it will prevent backlash from users. It posted its own Sponsored ad on the platform last week to inform UK users of incoming advertising, which was met with hundreds of negative comments.
Quarles said: “That post was important to set expectations for the community, allowing users to understand the ‘Sponsored’ tag and [their ability to provide] feedback on each ad, giving them control over the ads they see.”
He points to results from US campaigns, in which the platform has used in-app user surveys and some third party research to determine uplifts in brand metrics such as recall and consideration as underlining the value of Instagram as a brand marketing platform users are not opposed to.
For example, yoghurt brand Chobani looked to Instagram to help shift consumers’ consideration for yoghurt from being a breakfast food to a treat that could be enjoyed throughout the day, with a series of paid-for posts showcasing recipe and meal ideas. The brand saw a 7 point uplift in users considering the yoghurt outside the breakfast mealtime, Instagram claims.
Elsewhere, Instagram found Ben & Jerry’s campaign that simply showcased high-quality images of its ice cream, led to a 30 point lift in ad recall among users that saw the photos. A Taco Bell Instagram drive saw a 29 point incremental lift in ad recall for people repeatedly exposed to the campaign, four times higher than the control group.
However, it is likely marketers will need to see more robust results to be convinced to shift spend towards Instagram, according to digital marketing agency iProspect’s head of paid social Stuart McLennan.
He says: “Instagram has the potential to be more powerful than the bulk of web products out there but we would want to see more results before we committed to a sizeable partnership. Only certain clients will be willing to commit budget when they are required to change their creative mindset and dedicate such time and resource, especially without proof [of return] in more case studies.”
The first UK Instagram advertisers are all clients of Omnicom Group, which in March signed a global deal with Instagram committing to spend an reported $100m (£61m) on the platform over the coming year.
Instagram campaigns consisting of between four and six posts are being sold to marketers at a cost between £50,000 and £60,000, a source told Marketing Week.
Instagram says it hopes to open up ad units beyond Omnicom clients in the coming months. Marketing Week understands a number of UK brands have been added to a list of interested parties, although there is no timeline for when they will begin advertising.
In July Facebook credited its second quarter 67 per cent year on year jump in ad revenue to $2.76bn to marketers beginning to treat the platform in the same creative way they do with TV.
OPINION – Lara O’Reilly
Users are never likely to break out the bunting when their favourite online platforms announce they will begin to incorporate advertising, but the efforts Instagram is undertaking to ensure brand ads do not detriment the creative integrity of the platform will go some way to ensure the community does not migrate away either.
Instagram’s decision to position itself as a branding platform means it will remain a premium environment for the time-being, which means inventory is likely to be limited and only select brands will be willing to experiment.
The fact that an Instagram campaign requires a sizeable amount of budget and resource to reach a smaller potential audience than with the likes of its owner company Facebook or YouTube and Twitter won’t be overlooked. Nor will the fact that the majority of its success stories to date appear to be based on in app user surveys, rather than independent third party research.
Instagram will need to hone in on its points of difference, such as its comparatively high levels of engagement and attention to detail – where else does the founder of a major internet company sign off every ad? – if marketers are to move beyond experimentation and look to Instagram as a serious contender for their digital ad spend.