It finally happened: Instagram is getting ads. And once everyone cools his or her melodramatically-inclined jets* a little bit, we all might find Instagram to be a pretty cool ad platform. But, as any content marketer knows, these things take time. When Facebook debuted ads in 2009, the ensuing pandemonium lasted months – if not years – before everyone calmed down. A similar uproar followed when Twitter added promoted tweets and hashtags.

Why Instagram Is Different

Like all the other social media platforms, Instagram promises not to steal your photos and turn them into ads; users can hide ads they don’t like; users will see ads relevant to them, etc. But here’s why Instagram ads will be different:

As the first visual platform to introduce ads, Instagram has to commit to an extremely high level of artistic integrity in order to please and retain its users.

Don’t believe me? Check out a few of the starring advertisers already known for their aesthetics: Levi’s, Burberry, General Electric, Lexus, and Michael Kors.

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Instagram Ads

(More sneak peaks.)

Instagram Ads: Sponsored Content v. Branded Content

So, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that the Instagram ads coming down the pipe are going to be 100% quality. Let’s assume they’re (1) artistic and attractive, (2) interesting, (3) informative, (4) not too pushy, and have a myriad of other fine qualities that are appreciated by all of us who are forced to look at advertising day-in and day-out.

If we can agree that this is the case – that this really is what future Instagram ads will consistently be like – then we must ask, “Why is an Instagram ad (or ‘sponsored content,’ as it’s called) better than general branded content?”

After all, branded content – one of the cornerstones of a content marketing strategy – is essentially free. You create the content, associate it with your brand, and then put it out there in the world where, in theory, it will get picked up, shared, and distributed before a bunch of viewers. Branded content does all this. So, why pay Instagram extra money to run an ad that doesn’t even really look like an ad?

Instagram Ads, The Million-Dollar Question, and Answer

Alex Fitzpatrick at Time magazine has it all figured out: “Nearly one in every five American adult cellphone owners uses the app (18%).” Even more impressive, is the fact that 43% of 18-29 year old cell phone users are on Instagram.

But statistics aren’t the only reason Instagram ads can work. Om Malik writes, “For ads to work on Instagram, the experience has to retain its current level of fidelity — too many ads, tasteless ads, or plain vanilla banner-type advertising is most likely going to not only fail, but it will also alienate and drive people away from Instagram.”

Precisely. Instagram ads are very much in the infancy stage. However, if advertisers commit to a high level of integrity, and if Instagram doesn’t overload users with too many ads, then sponsored content may soon outperform regular branded content on mobile devices.

* First Paragraph Endnote: See, for example, cringe-worthy headlines like “Pinterest Proves Ads Are Invading Your Social Life,” which followed Pinterest’s recent decision to monetize the company. How dare they!

What’s your take on Instagram ads? Good or bad for brands?