In a world where advertisements blast our everyday lives with images and videos that tell us what to think, how to feel, and where to shop, eat, sleep and play, everyone wants a piece of the market pie.
Since launching in October of 2010, popular photo and video sharing app and website Instagram has grown to over 80 million users, and has seen over 4 billion photos shared. This website has become an advertiser’s paradise. Just a little over two weeks ago, Instagram introduced “sponsored posts,” or, in less sugarcoated terms, ads designed to align with the interests of their users.
Throwing off many users and taking them by surprise, the sponsored posts are only showing up in the United States. According to the Instagram blog, the advertising blitz will have a slow and steady introduction, posting photos and videos of advertisers who are already members of the Instagram community.
In other words, we, as consumers of a free social media product, are slowly being spoon-fed adverts from companies we may have little to no interest for in the first place. A photo of a glitzy wristwatch from high-fashion designer Michael Kors is one example. Of course, free apps and websites like Instagram need to make money somehow. In order for it to grow into a sustainable business, we users need to suffer through an occasional post from a handful of brands. This will make thumbing through Instagram posts much like flipping through the pages of our favorite magazines and newspapers, where, more than ever before, advertisements are a staple.
Advertisements are nothing new to other social media networks. In the words of one Signpost staff member, social media is a whole new world for advertisers, who are creating ads for all platforms, but especially YouTube, Facebook and popular blogs. We could argue that the Internet was invented for advertisers because of how well they have adapted to the ever-changing market seen on the Web.
Facebook.com, the parent company of Instagram, has been leading the way for ad integration. On its mobile app, ads cannot be placed in a separate column like the website, so they appear in the user’s news feed. App aesthetics aside, ad integration is also a clever way of disguising the ad and getting more users to “like” or click. Very clever, Facebook app.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in 2012, “We think we’ll make a lot more money” from mobile use of Facebook than desktop use. This is probably due to the unavoidable flawless ad integration.
But we’ve seen the downfall of websites that have too much advertising or misdirected unsolicited ads. MySpace, which hasn’t seen the light of day since around 2009, is a prime example of an advertising blitz gone wrong. Ads depicting dating websites, outdated music releases and the like were popping up everywhere on the site and drove away users. Although experts have concluded that this isn’t the only reason for the infamous MySpace downfall, it was a vital factor.
Nothing is free, and everyone has an agenda. We as users of “free” social media sites are relentlessly exposed to ads that cost millions of dollars in order to get one more click, in order to sell one more of a product. There is no way of avoiding advertisers, who will stop at nothing to sell their goods, but at least Facebook and Instagram give users the options of which ads they want to see. Apparently, they DO have our best interests at heart.