What Insta-ads mean for business

| 23 September 2015

By Craig Wilson

The world’s most popular photo-sharing platform has released its API and opened itself up to diversified advertising. What could it mean for you?


Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service, has released its API and marketers and advertisers are ecstatic. But why all the excitement?

By the end of September, any business in a region in which Instagram operates will be able to place ads on the platform (for a fee) using the service’s API. For small businesses this presents an opportunity to serve extremely targeted and demographically specific ads to some of social media’s most engaged users. But let’s start at the top.

API explained
What, exactly, is an API? An application programming interface (or API) is basically a set of rules that allow apps to interact with one another. More specifically, it sets the rules for interaction. So, for example, it allows people to build third-party apps that pull content from another service. By creating an advertising API, Instagram has made it possible for third-parties to interact more directly with the platform and to self-provision ads and other content.

On target
Another advantage of using Instagram for advertising is the level of specificity advertisers – whether agencies or small businesses themselves – will be able to achieve with their campaigns. Instagram is harnessing Facebook’s existing advertising tools, meaning it’ll be possible to serve ads to users who match very granular stipulations. Only want your advert served to 18 to 25-year old women who live in Johannesburg? That’s unlikely to be a problem.

This also opens Instagram up to both big and small advertisers. Previously, using the platform to advertise was costly and complicated, and required dealing with the Instagram team directly. This put it out of the reach of all but the largest businesses.

Engaged audience
Instagram is a primarily mobile service, with huge levels of engagement from users which means ads are less likely to be ignored or lost in the noise that’s common on websites served to desktops or laptops. Instagram’s layout means it’ll be tough for users not to see ads (though they’ll be able to ask the service not to serve them particular sorts of ads they don’t like or don’t feel are relevant to them).

Thanks to a recent update to Instagram, advertisers also have a range of content formats to choose from, rather than the square images or 15-second videos previously available. Ad content can now consist of portrait or landscape images, or videos up to 30-seconds in length (which is, of course, the same length as most TV ads).

Ad value
However, that’s not to say Instagram should be used by advertisers in the same way they use other digital platforms. What works on Facebook may not work on Instagram because they’re inherently different platforms. Advertisers need to keep this in mind and consider the culture of Instagram if ads are to succeed – that is, ads should be visually arresting, minimally branded, prize subtlety and focus on embodying the brand’s ethos rather than, say, deliberately and aggressively pushing a product.

These aren’t magazine or billboard ads, after all. Ad buyers, start your budgets.

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