Instagram Ads: the dangers and exhilaration of charting new territories

Seeing sponsored content on Instagram is awkward at first, writes Oliver Whone, so it could be a good thing that it’s taken eight months for Instagram advertising to launch in Australia. But now that it’s here, what are the implications for Australian marketers?


In recent weeks Instagram has announced the availability of sponsored accounts in three non-US locations: Canada, the UK and, sit tight… Australia.

With Instagram ad accounts at our fingertips, I’m glad that it’s taken only eight months since launch in the US for the service to arrive in Australia. But now it’s time to take a step back and become aware of the implications that come with charting this new territory on the social landscape.

Introducing sponsored posts will initially feel unpleasantly interruptive. This means that it will be up to content managers to ensure the process runs smoothly and that the audience appreciates the interruption, well as much as possible anyway.

Paid content advertising has been on Facebook for years, but I’m certainly not the only content and community manager who still gets the occasional ‘Why is this showing up on my newsfeed? I never liked that page to begin with!’ comments on my brand pages. Similarly, when brands in the US launched their own Instagram advertisements last year, there were crucified by segments of their fans.

Car manufacturer Lexus USA and the first Instagram advertiser ever, Michael Kors, are still memorable examples. While their promoted content received massive exposure and, along with it, positive engagement, the number of negative comments weren’t just unusually high, but also unusually harsh. The folks at Instagram were aware of the dangers of the new territory. And so back in 2013, they stated: “Seeing photos and videos from brands you don’t follow will be new, so we’ll take it slow.”

Lexus and Michael Kors Instagram advertisements

The big advantage in the Australian market is that we won’t be the first to experiment with paid advertising on Instagram and users here could already have been exposed to these adverts. Learning from the experiences of the first advertisers in the US as well as pairing it with our own knowledge of Australian audiences gives marketers here the edge in creating effective interruptive content.

Interruption always has been, well, interruptive. But two considerations lead the way to effective interruption which will no doubt assist us in Instagram’s new territory:

  • How do you interrupt? and
  • who do you interrupt?

Some of our most common social media practices allow us to deal with these considerations in the most valuable way:

  • As always, ensure the delivery of top quality content: aim for a piece of content that would’ve ‘taken off’ organically, and
  • get your audience right – in other words: very precise advertising targeting is crucial. We’re yet to see the ins and outs of what Instagram will provide marketers in Australia in this regard, so no doubt it will be a learning process for all.

We’re treading on new territory, so expertise will be key in minimising adverse reactions. We must deliver value, not ads. After all, we are going to be viewed as a guest into someone else’s Instagram feed.

Lexus USA and Michael Kors both felt the wrath of the ‘interrupted user’ with their promoted content pieces. But at the same time their promotion boosted their engagements by a stunning 100%, as opposed to organic post engagements.

The goal should always be to captivate, engage and spawn a conversation. It should never feel like an interruption. The new opportunity with Instagram will allow us to scale up the volume and ideally connect to many more people who want to hear from us.

Oliver Whone is content and community manager at We Are Social.