Since taking his post as the head of Facebook in New Zealand, Spencer Bailey has become accustomed to fielding questions about when Facebook-owned photo-sharing app Instagram would be opened to advertisers in the local market.
Asked how many times he’s had to sidestep the question since January, he gives a wry smile and says: “Just a few times … every week.”
Well, the wait is finally over. Facebook has announced that advertising will now be available to Kiwi advertisers on Instagram.
“We’ve only been in seven markets until now and we are now going into 30, so this is really the global launch,” says Antonia Christie, the head of communications for Facebook across Australia and New Zealand.
The platform will offer a new suite of features, including more action-oriented ad formats, landscape images and videos, and increased targeting capabilities facilitated through Facebook’s ad-management technology.
Until now, Kiwi Instagram users have only seen house ads designed to inform them of the imminent arrival of broader advertising, but from today sponsored posts from launch partners Burger Fuel, Sky TV and Air New Zealand will start infiltrating the feeds of local users.
“We’re doing a two-wave approach [during the launch],” says Sophie Blachford, the Instagram business lead across both sides of the ditch.
“From 10 September, we’ll be launching in New Zealand and 30 new markets globally with a select number of advertisers. We’ll be working with those key launch partners to get some stuff out onto the platform to show the market what great Instagram ads are and how to interact with them. Then from the 30th of September it will be rolled out to all advertisers.”
This is a relatively short testing period for a so-called global launch, but Blachford says the team is confident that the rollout will go smoothly.
“From the branding business side of things, we have over a year and half of learnings from markets globally, so we’re taking all of that in. Also, some of the new products that we’re taking in have been in an alpha and beta test phase in those markets, so we know that the systems are robust and ready to go.”
Awaiting the outrage
When Instagram first released its ad platform in the United States, launch partner McDonald’s received severe backlash from Instagram users who were annoyed that sponsored posts from the fast food chain were appearing on their feeds.
So how does Blachford think Kiwis will respond to ads in their Instagram feeds?
“We expect something similar over here, but we also know it’s something that dwindles over time,” says Blachford.
“The US was the first market that saw the ads. We were very lucky when we launched in Australia and this applies here as well, because we can now anticipate what’s going to happen since we’ve seen it before. If you look at the comments that people were putting on there, they weren't negative about the advertiser but rather about the platform running ads … As [the advertising] became more frequent, [the outrage] dwindled over time.”
Blachford also makes the point that social media comments provide little indication of the effectiveness of a campaign.
“This is why we’ve had such a strong focus on measurement. It shouldn’t just be about the comments and what people are putting there. This is really such a minimal thing compared to the reach that you’re getting, and the shift that we saw (via Nielsen) in terms of brand favourability and purchase intent. Once McDonald’s saw these results, they went on to become one of our biggest partners globally. So they’ve definitely weathered the storm.”
Comparing the early ads released by McDonald’s in the States to those more recently released by the brand in Australia, it’s also evident that advertisers have adapted their approach to the platform.
Whereas the early US ads featured burgers prominently throughout the posts, the more recent Aussie ads employ greater subtlety in their product placement (however, this didn’t stop the negative comments).
“It’s worth noting that the creative bar will be a little higher on Instagram,” says Gavin Carver, a creative strategist at Instagram’s Creative Shop. “We really want to protect that community. The onus is still on the advertisers to make that content as relevant, useful and entertaining as possible, because they want that positive engagement and sentiment with the community.”
Carver compares Instagram to a magazine, saying that an almost editorial approach should be applied to the creation and curation of ad imagery for the platform.
“It’s like the outside back cover: 100 percent real estate, 100 percent share of voice, visually led and made with a lot of craft ... That’s how much attention should be going into it.”
He also says that the high creative standard provides an opportunity for creatives to really bring their craft skills to life.
“What I love about creating content on Instagram is that it’s kind of the golden age of craft for creatives. It’s all about the composition and the storytelling and the visual language, and it’s so much fun. Normally, you get a brief and there are like 20 mandatories, but here you can use that space just to tell a visual story. Creatively, agencies have loved the sandpit.”
Instagram has been integrated into all Facebook advertising systems, meaning that media agencies and advertisers will be able to buy ads across both platforms through a single ad-management platform.
“What it means is that we’re not expecting the media industry to pick up a whole new set of skills in terms of executing on the platform,” says Bailey. “They already have all those learnings from the Facebook platform.”
Advertisers will also be able to tap into Facebook’s huge data sets, which provide pinpoint targeting capabilities.
Until now, many brands have launched Instagram accounts, and their posts are now seen by followers around the world. And while this is testament to using the platform well, it does little to target those in a certain vicinity or age group.
So, the real value of the Instagram ad network lies in the fact that brands on the platform will now be able to distribute their content to consumers in a certain age group or location.
That said, Netflix vice president of product innovation Todd Yellin recently told Warc that demographic data isn’t all that useful from a targeting point of view:
"Everyone's instinct was, 'Yeah, if you find out their age and gender data, that's fantastic.' But what we learned is: it's almost useless … Because, here's a shocker for you, there are actually 19-year-old guys who watch Dance Moms, and there are 73-year-old women who are watching Breaking Bad and Avengers."
And while interests aren’t dependent on age or location, Instagram has also accumulated a mass of data on what interests its users.
The choices people make in terms of who and what they follow on the platform provide a direct link to what interests them. And if brands can use the platform to integrate themselves into those interests, then this could provide a very useful marketing tool.
No buy button
Blachford says that the aim is to make Instagram a “full-funnel” marketing interface that takes the user from initial interest to final purchase.
This alludes to the introduction of a ‘Buy Now’ button, but this is yet to be introduced in the local market.
For now, Instagram is relying on a ‘Shop Now’ button that forwards users to the brand’s website but keeps them in the Instagram app—thereby making Instagram privy to the sales data.
However, given that Facebook is already trialling a buy-and-sell button locally and that Instagram has already launched a ‘buy button’ abroad, it’s only a matter of time before Instagram launches something similar on this side of the world. And this means that Bailey’s days of answering questions that start with ‘when’ are far from over.