Promotional brand content is taking on a new look as it moves onto visually focused social networks like Instagram and Pinterest.

Promotional ads have generally been the bane of internet users’ existence, popping up as windows load and hovering over the content they really want to see. But thanks to visually focused sites like Instagram and Pinterest, we may be on the verge of a new era of ads in which consumers don’t mind – and maybe even like – the web content brands pay to promote. Marketers must consider how this evolution will impact their campaigns.

On one hand, it could significantly improve ROI if the ads truly appeal to target audiences. However, it also means brands will need to ensure their paid content is of the highest caliber. In this new era, marketers must approach sponsored campaigns with the same skeptical eye they take to organic efforts, wherein quality is the only way to win visibility and clicks.

Instagram ads challenge the way we think about online paid content.
Instagram advertisers = amateur photographers

Instagram recently announced it will display sponsored ads in search results, and users are now seeing the first round of brand content. Levis is one of the pioneers, with an image of two people looking out of a train at sunset.

The ad is clearly labeled “sponsored” and features the Levis logo in the header as well as a caption and relevant hashtags underneath the image. Noticeably missing from the picture are blatantly branded images. That is, the subjects aren’t wearing attire that bears the company name, nor are their clothes the focus on the photo. Instead, the sponsored content stays true to Instagram’s social network identity – it is sincerely a striking visual.

Picture-perfect Pinterest ads

Instagram isn’t the only image-centric network that’s looking to capitalize on commercial opportunities. Brafton covered the initial round of sponsored ads that went live on the Pinterest. The site made a promise to keep all paid posts in line with users’ expectations for beautiful and idea-inspiring images as a way to ensure the ads don’t disrupt on-site experiences.

Marketers will need to ask themselves: “Does this image convey the brand’s distinct identity without appearing branded at all?”

To be successful on Pinterest, Instagram and other social networks, marketers must consider the custom content they share with great discretion. Moving forward, they will be asking themselves more complex questions when creating digital strategies, like “Does this image convey the brand’s distinct identity without appearing branded at all?” “Does it encourage viewers to buy naturally?” and “Does it offer some sort of value in the form of entertainment, education or inspiration?”

Although challenging at first, this mindshift stands to improve the internet landscape and help brands garner stronger ROI. By creating digital content that consumers want to see, rather than tolerate in the gutters of newsfeeds and SERPs, companies can spark the kind of interest that translates to brand advocacy.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.