Instagram’s First Ad, and Questions Worth Asking

Instagram’s first ad rolled out on Friday, courtesy of Michael Kors. Here are some interesting things to think about, and questions to ask.

1: How many new followers did Michael Kors get because of the ad?

At the time of writing, the ad got over 204,000 likes.

This is more than double any other post on Michael Kors’ Instagram page. New followers might be the best metric of long-term success of the brand, but I’m not sure if anybody was paying attention to Michael Kors before the ad, so it’s hard to say (unless Michael Kors reveals it themselves… which wouldn’t be in their interest).

Also, how much has their website traffic spiked?

How many new Wikipedia searches, Google searches? Google Trends for the search term “Michael Kors” show a progressive increase over the past few years, but it’s unclear if the latest news has affected anything.

Finally… how are their sales doing?

The biggest concern for the brand should be- did we do any damage? Looking at the rest of their Instagram feed, my unprofessional opinion is no, not really. They look like a pretty likeable brand. Nice pictures, positive messages, even humanitarian efforts. Stylish, classy and not at all needy. It’s a solid brand, as far as I can tell, and I imagine that their existing fans will continue to support them.

2: Does Michael Kors benefit from the media attention surrounding the ad? By how much?

Ever heard of the Streisand effect?

It’s what happens when the attempt to hide, remove or censor a piece of information has the entirely opposite effect. This happened most notably to Barbara Streisand, who tried to sue a photographer for taking an aerial photo of her Malibu residence. More recently, this happened to Beyonce after a publicist asked foran unflattering photo to be removed. (Ultimately that worked out okay for Beyonce- her fans were sympathetic because it made her publicist look bad, not her.)

There seems to be a corollary in advertising.

Make an ad (or otherwise do something) that’s newsworthy, so it’ll get shared far and wide… for free! The simplest example of this is to film and produce a controversial “Banned Ad”, then have it uploaded on YouTube. You’re not responsible for the ad- it was an idea pitched by an ad firm, and you turned it down- but it’s still free advertising for your brand. You get to inseminate public consciousness with your brand. More subtle versions of this include digital versions of “analog” ads going viral. (Coke does this to great effect.)

A less controversial way to do this is to simply be really timely about something.

The Oreo Superbowl tweet comes to mind. The ad agency that did it (360i) got lots of credit and accolades for being clever and gutsy. And Michael Kors is surely getting itself a piece of this action, simply by being the first advertiser on Instagram. Being newsworthy means getting free eyeballs- or at least, more eyeballs than you paid for. (That said, this is going to cost you, too. You need people who’re really sensitive to what’s going on, and you need to pay them to be on your side. So it’s still $$$.)

3: What about more subtle forms of advertising? How does it all come together?

Here’s a much more subtle Michael Kors ad that few people (if any) talked about.


It involves @MuradOsmann and @YourLeo, the stars of the now-famous “Guy Takes Photo Of His Girlfriend Leading Him Around The World”  photo series. Do you notice the watch? Maybe, maybe not. Most probably not. But a brand was involved, and this was a deliberate form of marketing. It was just less overt than literally buying an ad.

It’s clear that Michael Kors isn’t looking at sponsored ads as the main or only element in its marketing strategy.

That’s a good thing for them, their fans and their would-be fans. Too much overt advertising is unimaginative and uninspiring, and will lose support from the influencers that matter the most. That said, I’d never have noticed that theyworked with @YourLeo if not for the latest ad that they just did- so clearly advertising can be a good thing if it draws attention to the nice parts of your brand.

4: Do the haters actually matter to Michael Kors?

I’m guessing no.

As a luxury brand, they might even benefit from the hate of people who aren’t in their target market- it serves to make their brand look more exclusive, and in a neutral or positive way. I’ve noticed a few people intentionally pretending to misunderstand the brand (“Cartier? Nice!”), and while that is honestly quite funny, it’s not particularly damaging.

It’s not like people are actually going to buy Cartier to spite Michael Kors- that’s too cotsly an action.


Over 5 times what they’d normally get, and from a potentially new audience! There’s a scale here that’s quite difficult for most people to make sense of- it’s quite possible that this might be great for the brand even if there are more negative comments than you can read, because the Likes outnumber them 100x more.

5: Do the haters matter to Instagram?

A lot of the headlines written about this news mention the negative feedback from Instagram users.

“Mixed Reviews”, says Mashable. “Instant complaints”, said AdWeek.   But how relevant is this, actually? It might be that half of Instagram is going to quit tomorrow, or it might be that people are just making a lot of noise for the sake of it, and are going to suck it up and deal with it. Chances are… it’s the latter.

As long as the core service doesn’t get disrupted, most Instagram users should be too invested in the service to jump ship anytime soon.

Facebook got loads of hate over the years whenever it changed anything.

(“Move fast and break things” is one of the mottos that you’ll find displayed prominently in all of their offices.) Users eventually adapt and get used to it.

From an aesthetic standpoint, I’d much rather see a tasteful ad than somebody taking a selfie at a funeral. The ad looks no different from tonnes of user-curated content on, say, Pinterest. It looks to me like the Instagram users who’re against the ad are primarily against it for the sake of it.

Sensible voices of reason:

Relevant XKCD comic (titled “Instagram”):

I'm gonna call the cops and get Chad arrested for theft, then move all my stuff to the house across the street. Hopefully the owners there are more responsible.

Instagram users are still increasing in number.

Instagram will probably do the nice, sensible thing and do what it can to placate its angry users, but it’s definitely not going to take the ads down. They’ve surely done the cost-benefit analysis, and it’s almost definitely in their favor.

Complaining about Instagram ads is very natural, expected behavior- and it’s bound to happen any time a free service introduces ads. We do it to commisserate with others, to feel good about ourselves– but ultimately, as users of a free service, we have no bargaining power.

It would be interesting to hear these users suggest how Instagram ought to survive as a business.

Even more interesting, though, would be an intelligent and clear analysis about the rise and fall of various online platforms. What happened to Friendster, Myspace, Digg? Does anybody have any good leads on this? If not, we might take a crack at it ourselves.

Whatever the case, it’s very interesting to watch how all of this unfolds.


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