Adstagram, coming soon to a mobile near you

Mark Pinsent

01 October 2013

I know it's entirely idealistic, but sometimes I really wish that great digital stuff didn't need to be 'monetised': that things that were just a brilliant idea could remain unadulterated by the need to generate income and, ultimately, profit (like I said, entirely idealistic).

I thought that about Twitter for a long while. Twitter was a stroke of genius that quickly became an indispensable tool for millions of people. Of course it could be argued that one of the reasons it became so popular so quickly was that it was given away for free. Had we been asked to pay for it - say £5 a month - its adoption would have been much slower. And for a long while it didn't look as though Twitter could be monetised. The first attempts at promoted tweets - priced as they were at hundreds of thousands of dollars - weren't a great success, and it was difficult to see other revenue models beyond advertising. Certainly, as Facebook has found, if Twitter is heading towards an IPO, it really needs to sort its commercial model out.

Next up on that road appears to be Instagram (a particular fondness of mine, if you hadn't noticed). You'll all remember that Facebook paid a billion dollars for Instagram. A billion dollars! My favourite quote at the time to try and justify the price was that Facebook had "bought a slice of the world's visual memory". I really liked that, but for a quoted company like Facebook, it's probably not quite enough.

There has been an assumption that Instagram's video functionality - specifically allowing people and brands to upload 15 second videos to the platform - sat quite neatly with Facebook's rumoured plans for TV-style video ads (as covered previously by my colleague Coren).

Again, however, it seems that Instagram is going to have to earn its keep in a more traditional way, and that very soon we'll see advertising within Instagram itself.

As ever, Instagram will be trying to balance the integration of advertising into a user's stream with the overall quality of user experience. Hopefully they'll be able to use the experience of the parent company (though many would argue that Facebook has yet to crack it) and that there's enough data in a user's Instagram profile to ensure that ads are relevant. A lot of Instagram users geo-locate their images, which is always useful for targeting, and the use of hashtags to attach specific images to topics and trends is also prevelant. A quick scrape of the data on my Instagram profile would probably have me down for ads from Ryanair and cycling brands (and misdirected ones from cloud service companies).

In terms of the ads themselves, logically they're going to take the form of an image or video which a short description and call to action. I just hope the advertisers embrace the inherent creativity of the platform and don't simply produce square banner ads. A lot of brands are already engaging people on Instagram through great content, so I'm guessing that 'promoted pics' will be one of the ad options, which will hopefully mean less intrusive marketing messages.

What I'd really like to see, however, is a brand that truly tries to incentivise Instagram users creatively, perhaps by running a competition for people to create ads for the brand in an 'Instagrammy' way. The Coca-Cola logo drawn by a damp finger on the side of a red London double-decker bus, for example.  That's the sort of campaign I could get behind.

The smart brands will be the ones that realise it's possible to build a following, involve people and generate advocacy without doing so through 'traditional' advertising methods. In fact if you take the original digital marketing poster brand Burberry as an example, the first campaign that truly made its name in digital and social, The Art of the Trench, would have been perfect to execute through Instagram, had it been around then.

More of that please.