Everyone agrees that last month’s IPO was not Facebook’s most shining moment. Although this will not be the company’s greatest legacy, there’s one lesson we can all take away from the still-innovating social network and its recent maneuvers: The road to riches is paved with…pictures, images, jpegs, pngs, graphics and photographs. The acquisition of photo-sharing network Instagram and subsequent launch of the Camera app revealed to the world what the wizards of Menlo Park have known all along, that the way to keep users engaged is to give them lots and lots of photos to view, post, and share. Brands can leverage this insight to build their own image-powered engagement with consumers.
Facebook is not the only entity out there to realize that a picture is worth a thousand clicks. Let’s look at a range of models in the field right now – both the hyped-up and the lesser known – and see what they have to offer for smart marketers.
The Buzzfeed Model
This publisher has taken a deceptively simple model – ready-to-go-viral content – and built a Web and mobile entity with somewhere around 25 million unique monthly viewers and north of 100 employees. Buzzfeed’s mantra seems to be that compelling content (mostly image galleries), crafted into “sponsored stories” for brands, performs better than display ads. This is music to the ears of tuned-in marketers tired of .01% CTRs. “Banner blindness” is a real issue, with countless eye-tracking studies showing that consumers ignore standard ad units online and on mobile (when they’re not skipping ads on their DVRs).
The takeaway: Sponsored image galleries are the latest iteration of “ads as content.” Brands can use them to engage audiences in a new way that rises above the typical ad noise by providing clever (sometimes even edgy), entertaining, and shareable content. Bonus point: Buzzfeed president Jon Steinberg says his sponsored galleries perform well on mobile, too.
The UGC Model
You could call this the Facebook model, or the Instagram model, etc. Click on a friend’s photo on your “news feed” right now and what do you get? No prize for guessing which retargeted ad/tech-related advertisement I’m seeing. Facebook’s entire proposition is based on Users Generating Content. The recent Instagram acquisition and the unveiling of its Camera app may be attempts to make the company a stronger play in mobile; however, both moves are designed to get more photos onto your Facebook wall. And, as Buzzfeed has shown, no combo is more compelling than photos and mobile.
The takeaway: While UGC may not be for everyone, it simply makes sense for brands to dip their toes into the photo pool – for the sake of both scale and engagement. Of course, brand safety will always be a concern, but filtering technology is improving and (certain) brands seem by nature more willing to take risks. We’re betting that we’ll see others follow the example of Imgur and Lipton, who recently rolled out a pretty edgy campaign tapping some of the site’s billions of UGC images.
The In-Image Model
Why simply sponsor or present images when you can brand them? In-image advertising is fairly new but has been embraced by major brands such as Chrysler, Vodafone, and Nikon, who are attracted to high engagement rates and the ability to drive back-end results. The ads are a breakthrough placement, appearing where users are focused, which is contextually relevant to the content they’re viewing. What’s more, they’re attractive to brands because people actually want to see them – the in-image ad renders as a small, branded overlay on the bottom of a publisher’s brand-safe editorial image. Vibrant Media is a pioneer in this space, and we have seen that while viewers typically spend half a minute on a page, two-thirds of that time is spent on the content; and one-third of that is spent focused on one picture. In a recent research study conducted on behalf of Vibrant, 76% of respondents rated in-image advertising more positively than display.
The takeaway: In-image is an option for major brand marketers who want to attract consumers with ads that are relevant to the content they’re engaged with and that perform better than traditional display advertising – in a trusted environment and with qualified engagement.
The Pinterest Model
We couldn’t very well present this menu of options without mentioning the current darling of social media. The photo-pinning site has been hot for a while now and seriously showing some leg with brands. However, as countless others have already said so much about Pinterest, I’ll spare you my two more cents.
The takeaway: Like some of the other models above (viz UGC), the future of photo-pinning – its shelf-life for consumers and its relevance for brands – is not clear. However, the concept of User-Generated Curation is compelling and the barrier to entry for a brand is fairly low. The Pinterest model is certainly a surer bet for online retailers who want to monetize affiliate traffic from product images.
As we’ve seen, the world of images is huge and expanding with new platforms and possibilities. There’s no end in sight for the explosion of UGC and the phenomenon of “everyone taking pictures of everything everywhere all the time.” Smart marketers should embrace these changes and seek to engage people where their wants and needs converge. After all, we should always aim to create advertising in the interest of consumers, and consumers are clearly interested in pictures.