More than a pretty picture

With its millions of picture-sharing users, Instagram is an attractive platform for advertisers. But the rewards are greater when they use it creatively.

by Mark Tungate , Adforum

Compared to Facebook and its reams of fake news and Trump-haters, Instagram is a relative oasis of calm. The tone of the picture-sharing service is generally positive. In fact, some of its more expert users have been criticized for putting an unrealistic gloss on their lives, making the rest of us feel shabby and unsuccessful.

But while Instagram is a useful branding tool for individuals, it’s also becoming prized by mainstream brands. Ads now regularly crop up when you’re spooling through your feed, usually fairly well tailored to your interests. (Apparently I’m into hotels, wine and expensive watches.) As usual, though, some advertisers are smarter than others.

A case in point is the “Check it before it’s removed” campaign from last year. This played on an Instagram (and, admittedly, Facebook) penchant for removing images of naked breasts from the feed. On International Women’s Day, Pink Ribbon Deutschland used this trait to remind women to test regularly for breast cancer. It asked 17 women to post pictures of themselves with one breast bared, accompanied by the caption: “Check it before it’s removed.” Supporters rushed to share the images before they were censored. One by one, the breast were removed from social media, but by then mainstream media had picked up the story.

The best Instagram ads use the service’s built-in quirks in a creative way. For example, everyone knows about “filters” like the iconic Lo-Fi, which can turn boring snaps into works of art. In an outdoor campaign from The Corner, British beer brand Fuller’s challenged people to Instagram an apparently blank poster and then adjust their filters until the found a hidden image of a pint glass. They could then tag it to enter a competition.

Somewhat more complex was a campaign for home improvement brand Lowe’s from BBDO New York. It used the fact that the Instagram screen is locked when you turn your phone – so the image stays put – to run split-screen images showing what happens when you neglect your home, or get busy fixing it up. Flip your phone to see both sides of the story.

Even the more irritating aspects of Instagram have provided some creative terrain. It’s true that some of us (clears throat) are getting a bit tired of people snapping and sharing absolutely everything –including their lunch – rather than just enjoying life in the moment. Audi and Åkestam Holst in Sweden used this insight to challenge drivers to find places in the country that had never before been Instagrammed. “Catch the place no-one likes,” read one of the call-to-action print ad.

Talking of lunch, Havas Chicago and Reynolds Kitchen played on the app’s foodie culture to provide some rather nifty recipe ideas, by giving individual dishes their own feeds.

Want something to wash that down? Difficult to resist this idea for Smirnoff from Special Group in New Zealand. Like all great notions, it’s relatively simple: Instagram the contents of your fridge, tag it #purepotential, and Smirnoff’s “online bartenders” will suggest a drink based on the ingredients they see.

Most brands, of course, hope they won’t have to work that hard. What they really want you do to is Instagram yourself with their product, give them a name check and then share the results with all your friends. Especially if you’re an “influencer” with thousands of followers. Jack Daniel’s and Arnold Worldwide summed the process up quite well: “Toast. Snap. Post.”

Getting sloshed is all very well, but Instagram can also be used as a learning tool. Interlingua, for example, used its tags to help people improve their English vocabulary.

Finally, let’s take a look at a spot for Instagram itself. And it’s rather a good one, made by Marcel and celebrating the diversity – and occasionally downright strangeness – of the images you can find there.