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10 huge marketing wins on Instagram

10 huge marketing wins on Instagram Michael Estrin
It took about a year for Facebook to turn its Instagram purchase into an advertising platform. Initially, there were complaints from users who didn't want to see brand ads mixed in with filtered photos of friends, food, fashion, and bling. Then again, there were complaints when Facebook launched ads, which wasn't all that surprising considering the fact that backlashes are par for the course for some users whenever a free product turns to advertisers to monetize its service. In Instagram's case, the complaints didn't last long. In fact, six weeks after launching ads, the first crop of participating advertisers was claiming success.

Today, with 200 million users, Instagram is hard for brands to ignore, especially with many experts pointing to the fact that Instagram has outpaced Twitter for the attention of mobile users. Even more encouraging, Instagram was called the best platform for brands, and early data point to both growth in followers as well as engagement.

10 huge marketing wins on Instagram

So what's working when it comes to Instagram marketing? As it turns out, there's a lot of strong brand work on Instagram. And it's not just from food and fashion brands (although both categories are incredibly popular because they easily lend themselves to the image-driven medium). We've put together some of our favorite Instagram wins to showcase quality work and inspire the next great campaign to be given the Instagram treatment.

"Bad Words"

That's the trailer for "Bad Words," a dark comedy that marks actor Jason Bateman's directorial debut. To promote the film, Bateman looked to Instagram, using the platform's video capabilities to turn followers into participants in a slightly dirty interactive spelling bee.


Most Americans probably don't give much thought to the TSA outside the airport. And chances are that when we're in the airport, our thoughts about the TSA aren't all that positive. After all, for most of us the TSA guards are the people who make us wait in long lines, remove our shoes and belts, and rifle through our bags. Then again, most of us aren't trying to smuggle dangerous items onto planes, which is exactly why the TSA's Instagram account is so compelling. With photos of seized items that range from knives to hand grenades (!), the account is a visual expression of what the TSA does and why its mission is so important.


When you double your followers in three months, you're doing something right. So if you're looking for the secret sauce to making a big splash on Instagram, it's worth checking in with Adidas, which is quickly proving itself as an Instagram all-star.

So what makes the Adidas account, which is closing in on 1 million followers, so powerful? According to a report in Wired, Adidas is making a lot of smart moves, chief among them being the brand's strategy of cross-promoting its photos on platforms like Twitter and Facebook in addition to Instagram. That gives Adidas a massive social reach. But the real insight to draw from Adidas is that the brand doesn't use filters very much. That might sound crazy for a platform that's practically synonymous with filtered photography, but according to Wired, the decision to go filter-free is actually about showcasing quality photography.

"This is most likely because the majority of Adidas' content is clearly marketing collateral that they've repurposed for the network," wrote Wired's Kevin Shively. "When you have professional photography, editing and graphics, there's not much of a need to add a sepia mask."

In other words, if you plan to use Instagram to repurpose your content, think twice before you apply a filter, because you might just be stripping your image of its appeal.

Ben & Jerry's

Ben & Jerry's is a content marketing juggernaut on social media, so it's not surprising that the ice cream brand has gotten a lot of early praise for its work on Instagram.

The Ben & Jerry's account has a strong following, but what makes it such a hit is its ability to capture the spirit of both the brand and its products through fun, joyful photos, many of which come from the brand's legion of fans.

Taco Bell

Waffle tacos are one of those things you need to see to believe. To promote its new breakfast mashup, Taco Bell did all the usual things, including a really cheeky TV campaign that featured real-life spokesmen who all happened to be named Ronald McDonald. But to make sure that its message connected with Millennials where they live online, Taco Bell used a number of platforms, including Vine and a Reddit AMA. On Instagram, the brand used stop motion and a little humor for a short but sweet introduction to the waffle taco.

"Star Wars"

There's a dark side to Instagram, but if you're the "Star Wars" franchise, that's a good thing. With a single selfie of Darth Vader, the brand announced its Instagram debut and captured a ton of earned media.

Of course, the "Star Wars" account isn't just a showcase for evil selfies. Since its launch, the account has managed to span the "Star Wars" galaxy, giving followers looks at a wide range of images, from old publicity stills to trading cards and even some downright silly shots.


Call it a creative media buy. Late last year, Toyota made headlines by using Facebook to distribute its Instagram video ads. While the media plan gets points for trying something new, the brand should also be proud of the creative for the 15-second spots, which promote the 2014 Tundra with an intriguing stop motion style.

Here's a video from Moontoast, one of the Toyota agencies that helped develop the campaign.


The Hooters brand is anything but subtle. Sure, it's a restaurant with wings and beer, and there are big-screen TVs where you can watch the game, but you'd have to be blind and willfully ignorant to argue that Hooters is about anything other than ogling the waitress. That's a great thing if you're a customer and probably a lousy thing if you're a feminist, but when it comes to marketing the Hooters brand, you have to tip your hat to the chain's idea for celebrating its 30th anniversary on Instagram.

Using the hashtag #stepintoawesome, Hooters invited 300,000 of its former waitresses back to the restaurant last October to celebrate with the chain and, yes, snap a photo of their visit.


You don't have to look very far on the internet to find nude photos. But recently, a group of British men took to Facebook, Twitter, and of course, Instagram with the rather self-explanatory #cockinasock hashtag. If that sounds goofy, it is. But it was also for a good cause -- to raise awareness about testicular cancer. Buzzfeed has some of the better photos here. They're not exactly safe for work, which may have been why Instagram first banned the hashtag and then, apparently, relented. Either way, the group certainly got its message out there, proving that an unusual call-to-action and the right hashtag can go for miles on a platform like Instagram.


Nike gets a lot of props on Instagram -- and for good reason. The sports brand is among the most-followed brands on the platform, and it has some of the strongest engagement to boot. But what makes Nike's Instagram account so compelling is that it represents the perfect extension of an image the brand has been cultivating for decades. Even outside of advertising industry circles, Nike has garnered a reputation for high quality content and striking visuals, and the brand's Instagram account represents an opportunity for fans of the Nike look to dig deeper and find photos that are every bit as strong as the visuals in the brand's television and print ads.

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Michael Estrin at @mestrin.

Darth Vader image source here

Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, Bankrate.com, and California Lawyer Magazine. But you can also find his byline across the Web (and sometimes in print) at Digiday, Fast...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Michael Estrin

2014, May 07

Thanks Ashley!
You raise a good point. But I'm not sure it's about innovation, honestly. Success on Instagram is about putting out great content. And after looking at nearly a hundred brand accounts, I can tell you that great content is harder to achieve than you might think. Some of these brands, like Nike, are absolutely trading on their brand loyalty, but that only gets them so far, right? They still have to show up day in and day out with content that moves their audience. Other brands, like the Spelling Bee movie, have zero loyalty because they're new. So they need to put out content that gets them noticed, and I think they found a clever way to do that because it 1) tied into the premise of the movie and 2) it had an interactive element. Then you look at the TSA. We all know who they are, but I'm guessing that when we think about them it's usually not all that positive because we're waiting in line holding our shoes and belts. So that content delivers because it forces me to rethink the TSA.
So like I said, I'm not sure it's really about innovation. It's great to innovate, but in the wake of that innovation, brands still need to deliver a compelling experience through great content.

Commenter: Ashley Edwards

2014, May 06

I love keeping up with lists like this, and certainly love following the brands you've mentioned in multiple social channels. To be fair--and I'd love to hear your perspective--I don't often see many of these brands necessarily doing any innovative, they primarily have strong followings simply because of brand loyalty.