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THE DARK SIDE OF INSTAGRAM ADVERTISING

Reiva Trio

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

English 148

Walters

June 7th, 2017

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INTRODUCTION

With the progression of technology, advertising has transformed to target users not only on the Internet itself, but also within commonly-used phone applications such as Instagram. When Instagram first launched in 2010, no one expected the photo- sharing application to be one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. Today, Instagram has over 400 million daily active users around the globe.

has over 400 million daily active users around the globe. Because of its versatility and ability

Because of its versatility and ability to reach a multitude of people, Instagram has incorporated the ability for businesses to submit advertisements. Thus, companies are turning to Instagram as a marketing tool because they can connect with their existing consumers in new ways and, perhaps, extend their customer base by reaching new people (Long, 2011). Instagram in particular is unique because it allows advertisers to customize their audience and endorse celebrities to promote their products. However, if a company wants to submit an ad, they still have to abide by Instagram’s template (shown in the image to the left) for their ads.

Although Instagram ads may seem harmless, it seems as though these ads target common insecurities. Take, for example, the Kardashian family. Among pop culture, the Kardashian women are widely known for their hourglass figures. In their recent Instagram posts, they have been promoting waist trainers, which are bands of material that wrap tightly around the waist and

lower rib cage to provide an instant hourglass look. Celebrity endorsements are a commonly used marketing tactic, but the problem with this particular type of advertising on Instagram is that advertisers are inadvertently promoting the unrealistic expectation that women are supposed

to have tiny waists and accentuated curves. The Kardashian family promoting waist trainers is only one of the many instances where Instagram advertising has negative implications. In a way, advertisers are appropriating highly-unattainable and even unrealistic qualities that celebrities are known for in order on Instagram to generate revenue for their products.

“Companies are turning to social media as a marketing tool because they can connect with their existing consumers in new ways and, perhaps, extend their customer base by reaching new people”

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This problem is evident all over Instagram. While this area of digital marketing is fairly new, it is important to analyze because it is currently transforming the way marketers are reaching their audience. The purpose of this report is to analyze the effects of Instagram ads on consumer behavior and to provide recommendations for both users and digital marketers from the conclusions drawn.

METHODOLOGY

As stated earlier, I was limited in my ability to find research because Instagram marketing and advertising is a new concept. Instead, I conducted my own research. In order to discover how people felt about Instagram ads, I constructed an online survey for students at my university (Cal Poly) to take. The purpose of this survey was to see what type of ads students at my university see on their feeds and to see if they are actually influenced to buy products based on the Instagram ads. My hypothesis is that Instagram ads target people’s insecurities in order to generate revenue.

MATERIALS

 

For primary research, I constructed an online survey using SurveyMonkey, a popular survey platform known for its user-friendly platform and visual appeal. For secondary research, I utilized articles I found on Google Scholar and Premier because I anticipated that other databases would not include articles that were as up-to-date. All articles used are cited and referenced.

SUBJECTS

 

The link to the survey was posted on the Cal Poly Class of 2020 Facebook group to ensure that the answers were limited to Cal Poly students my age. In this group, there were 6,473 members ranging from 17 years old to approximately 20 years old.

PROCEDURE

This survey included 9 questions in which participants could answer based on their own Instagram use. The survey was anonymous in order receive the most honest answers and to make it more convenient for survey takers. The first question asked if the subject was male, female, or other (out of respect for gender fluidity) with the purpose of analyzing Instagram’s audience at Cal Poly. The second question asked how often participants use Instagram to gauge how often the participants would be exposed to ads.

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The third question asked what type of advertisements people see on their feeds. In order to come up with the categories, a group of three friends and myself decided to scroll through the application itself to take note of popular types that a typical Instagram user would encounter. In the survey question itself, I included categories of popular products celebrities endorse such as “FitTea or other weight loss teas” and more general categories such as “TV show or movie ads.” I allowed participants to check all that applied because people typically see more than one ad every time they use the application.

The last section of the survey was more complicated. I asked participants to agree or disagree with the following statements:

“Instagram ads make me more inclined to buy a product”

“Instagram ads have affected my ability to enjoy the app”

“Celebrity ads on Instagram make me more inclined to buy a product”

“Instagram ads target people’s insecurities to promote products I have bought a product because of an Instagram ad”

“Instagram ads target women more than men”

Each statement came with the option to select: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, or Strongly Agree. The purpose of multiple options was to allow participants a more open-ended answer to eliminate as much bias as possible. I also structured the question this way so that I could easily determine whether people generally agreed or disagreed with a statement, or if people were generally neutral about the statement.

LIMITATIONS

Unfortunately, online surveys are usually an unreliable method of conducting research for many reasons. Since participants take the survey at their own will, there is no way to ensure that the feedback that I receive is completely honest. Also, there was no way to ensure my population was randomized. Therefore there might have been bias. My goal in structuring my questions was to try and

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decrease as much bias as possible. Since I don’t have access to every single student’s contact information at my university, the results are only limited to those that responded to my survey in the graduating class of 2020 page, which leads me to the next problem. At this point, it is very rare that every single member of the Facebook page consistently checks the posts in the group. Since the feed works on a chronological time-basis, it is very easy for surveys to be looked over. Out of 6,473 members in the group page, I received 70 responses.

RESULTS

 

When it was time to interpret the data from my survey, I first analyzed my audience. Based on my survey results, 81 percent of participants were female while only 19 percent were male. Of all the

participants, 84 percent in total use Instagram more than once daily. Overall, the results of my

 

study were only slightly different than what I had originally

 

hypothesized. My original hypothesis was that Instagram

 

ads target people’s insecurities in order to generate

 

revenue, but based on the results, part of my hypothesis

 

was wrong.

 

“83 percent of participants reported that they have never bought a product from an Instagram ad”

The participants of my survey generally agreed with the

 

first part of my hypothesis, but surprisingly, they reported

that Instagram ads do not motivate them to buy products

at all. About 66 percent of the participants agreed that Instagram ads target common insecurities

to promote products, but 76 percent of participants disagreed with the idea that the ads make

 

them inclined to buy products. In fact, 83 percent of participants reported that they have never

 

bought a product from an Instagram ad.

 

Another interesting result was that most of the ads that people reported seeing frequently on

 

Instagram seemed to advertise products that are associated with common insecurities. As stated

earlier, one of the survey questions asked what type of ads participants have seen throughout

 

their Instagram usage. I allowed the participants to check all that applied.

 
The top 5 advertisements seen on Instagram by the participants of my survey are displayed

The top 5 advertisements seen on Instagram by the participants of my survey are displayed in the

bar chart below:

The top 5 advertisements seen on Instagram by the participants of my survey are displayed in

The Top 5 Ads Seen by Participants

Weight Loss Teas

 

64%

Clothing Brands

64%

Acne Clearing Products

 

54%

Teeth Whitening Products

43%

Waist Trainers

43%

0

17.5

35

52.5

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70

What was most surprising about this data was that almost all of the ads that people see on a

 

frequent basis included products such as weight loss teas, waist trainers, acne clearing products,

and teeth whiteners—products that are associated with common insecurities.

 

The results of this survey establish a need for deeper research in Instagram marketing. If

Instagram has such a large and prominent platform for advertising, why aren’t consumers

influenced to engage with these type of advertisements?

 

LITERATURE REVIEW

 

Countless research has been conducted on the effectiveness and implications of social media

 

marketing, but there is little research conducted about Instagram marketing itself. However, I will

utilize important articles related to the effectiveness of social media advertising in general that

 

will further contribute to my research.

 

One of the studies I analyzed emphasized the ineffectiveness of social media marketing on

 

buyer’s decisions. One of their most prominent findings was that there is a major incongruence between social media and marketing because “users go on social media to connect with people,

whereas marketers go on social media to sell things” (Y-Q. Zhu, H-G. Chen, 2015). This is an

 

important finding because Instagram users use the application to socialize, not to sell or be sold

to. The study further highlights the ineffectiveness of social media marketing because the

 

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advertisements lack the necessary components to satisfy various consumers’ needs. The study

 

analyzed that consumer needs can vary from the need for developing relationships, enhancing

 

self-presentation, or feeding self-esteem. An example of social media marketing this study

 

analyzed was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This social media campaign was successful in

 

raising money for ALS awareness because it encouraged users to record themselves or others

 

pouring buckets of ice water on each other to then post on their social media accounts. This type

of advertising was especially successful on Instagram because it allowed users to physically

   

participate in a fun and interactive way while also creating awareness simultaneously.

 

Two other studies I examined criticized celebrity-endorsed Instagram ads for negatively affecting

body image. As stated in the beginning of the report, celebrity endorsements by the Kardashians,

models, and various important figures on Instagram inadvertently create a negative side effect of

using Instagram. One of the study claims, “when Instagram users promote their body image

 

satisfaction in the form of Instagram selfie posts, conflict might ensue” (Ridgway, Jessica L. and

 

Russell B. Clayton). The other study claims, “exposure to friends or celebrities’ idealized body

 

images on Instagram may activate individuals’ appearance schemas to influence the process of

 

self-relevant info regarding appearance, thus leading to schematicity” (Ahadzadeh, Sharif, Ong,

2016). To put it simply, their study highlighted the idea that when people are exposed to

 

advertisements on Instagram, it affects the importance that people attach to their looks and

 

appearance.

 

DISCUSSIONS

 

Perhaps the two most interesting discoveries of my survey was that Instagram ads fail in

 

motivating customers to buy products and that these ads actually make their audience feel worse

about themselves. This is an interesting result because Instagram marketing does not seem to

 

influence consumer behavior at all, and creates a

 

negative side effect of using Instagram. This is an

important discovery because it exposes a major flaw in

 

how companies or business choose to sell their

 

products on Instagram.

 

“Billions of dollars are being spent on social media advertising, but these advertisements are not generating revenue”

Based on the results of my survey and the extensive

 

research I have conducted, Instagram marketing does

 

not work. Instagram is globally known for its sleek

 

design, and it is made for users to connect with each

 

other through the posting of photos. Although these ads are designed to fit Instagram’s unique

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template, the ads are noticeable in nature and users tend to scroll right by them. As previously

 

stated, 83 percent of the participants in my survey have never bought a product from an

 

Instagram ad. This is an alarming number, because billions of dollars are being spent on social

media advertising, but these advertisements do not generate revenue.

 

Another flaw is that Instagram ads negatively affects its users because the majority of the ads

 

target common insecurities. When Instagram allows a surplus of companies that advertise

 

products such as waist trainers, teeth whiteners, acne clearing solutions, and weight loss teas, they

inadvertently promote unrealistic body expectations. These ads are endorsed by celebrities and

 

popular figures all over media, and numerous people are being affected by these ads.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on the research I conducted, I have recommendations for marketers that hope to advertise

on Instagram. Because users are not buying products from Instagram ads, I recommend that

 

marketers implement more interactive ways of advertising such as creating campaigns for users

 

to actively participate in. Ads themselves on Instagram lack engagement, so as long as marketers

discover more interactive ways of advertising, the ads themselves will fail to generate revenue.

 

Also, I recommend that marketers steer away from promoting products that make their

 

consumers feel worse about themselves. These products, if anything, should not be promoted on

Instagram. Celebrity endorsements may slightly increase the likelihood of consumers to buy

 

products, but they also create a negative effect of promoting unrealistic body expectations.

 

The results of this study emphasizes the need for deeper research in this area of marketing.

 

Instagram is an incredibly useful platform, but advertisers need to be aware of the implications

of their ads and how they affect their consumers. If the ads don’t influence people to buy

 

products and also create a negative side effect of using Instagram, then adjustments have to be

made.

 

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WORKS CITED

Ahadzadeh, Ashraf Sadat, Saeed Pahlevan Sharif, and Fon Sim Ong. "Self-schema and Self- discrepancy Mediate the Influence of Instagram Usage on Body Image Satisfaction among Youth." Self-schema and Self-discrepancy Mediate the Influence of Instagram Usage on Body Image Satisfaction among Youth. N.p., n.d. Web.

Long, M. C. (2011). Beyond the Press Release: Social Media as a Tool for Consumer Engagement. In H. S. Noor Al-Deen & J. A. Hendricks (Eds.), Social Media: Usage and Impact. (pp. 145- 159). Lanham, ML: Lexington Books.

Ridgway, Jessica L. and Russell B. Clayton. "Instagram Unfiltered: Exploring Associations of Body Image Satisfaction, Instagram #Selfie Posting, and Negative Romantic Relationship Outcomes." Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, vol. 19, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 2-7. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1089/cyber.2015.0433.

Zhu, Yu-Qian, and Houn-Gee Chen. "Social Media and Human Need Satisfaction: Implications for Social Media Marketing." Business Horizons 58.3 (2015): 335-45. Web.

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APPENDIX

https://www.surveymonkey.com/analyze/ vxfe2mUaLnNmaVbWQ566IYxDj_2FtuC7sFWu9h0pd68Vk_3D

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Trio 10 ! APPENDIX https://www.surveymonkey.com/analyze/ vxfe2mUaLnNmaVbWQ566IYxDj_2FtuC7sFWu9h0pd68Vk_3D 


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