Ford's new #MustangInspires campaign hints at Instagram's advertising future, possible challenges

By Michael Carney , written on November 19, 2013

From The News Desk

It’s just two weeks since the first ad appeared on Instagram and the jury remains out on whether the platform will be effective as a marketing channel. Instagram – and before it Facebook (which is now Instagram’s parent company) – has long sought to convince anyone who would listen of the brand-building virtues of its platform. “It’s a means of starting a two-way conversation,” the company will typically say.

Generating advertising revenue is obviously the ultimate goal, especially now that Facebook is public and must bow to the quarterly pressures of Wall St. But, finding ways to make these ads work for both brands and users alike is an equally important challenge, and one with the power to dictate the long-term viability of the platform.

It was with this backdrop that Instagram and Ford gathered a small group of advertisers, auto enthusiasts and journalists this morning in a converted Los Angeles auto garage to announce a new marketing partnership. The #MustangInspires campaign, which begins officially today, will carry on to the December 5 unveiling of the 2014 Mustang – a date first announced via, you guessed it, Instagram.

The announcement says as much about the arrival of Instagram as a marketing platform as it does about Ford. Interestingly, it's not a paid campaign – at least not in the traditional ad placement sense. The companies would not reveal if there was any other financial arrangement to the partnership.

Facebook Head of Market Development Matt Jacobson addressed the way the two companies collaborated, saying, “We created an internal creative shop where we can ideate with brands. This is very much a proof of concept for us.” Ford EVP Global Marketing, Sales, and Service Jim Farley adds, “It was a very deliberate process. We learned a ton over the last five, six years that we were able to put to work this time around.”

Farley goes on to explain that Instagram helped Ford partner with 15 key influencers on its platform who will release a new short film – aka 15 second Instagram Videos – daily until the big debut, with the goal of capturing the way that Mustang has inspired people for the last five decades. Users are invited to upload their own photos and videos using the mustang inspires hashtag.

“Everybody has a Mustang story, and the emergence of social media has helped the Mustang community share and connect these personal moments in not just words, but photography and video,” Farley says. “Mustang is the most ‘Liked’ car of all time on Facebook, with more than 5.5 million fans. There is no better way to build excitement for what’s next than by encouraging even more sharing of the Mustang story through these very personal, emotional mediums.”

This is the 50th anniversary edition of the iconic American sportscar and will mark the first time that the Mustang is available outside the US – the car will be revealed simultaneously in Los Angeles, New York, Dearborn (MI), Barcelona, Sydney, and Shanghai. The new pony car will also be featured as the “hero car” in the upcoming Dreamworks film,  “Need For Speed,” which will be released in March 2014. The film’s trailer, which the companies screened today, features Michael Keaton describing the storyline as one of, “love, vengeance, and motor oil, all swirled together.”

Mustang may be the perfect brand to test Instagram’s brand marketing might. The #mustanginspires just kicked into high gear this morning, but search the hashtag on Instagram and you’ll already find 2,290 images uploaded in recent weeks featuring users’ personal takes to the iconic brand. And as Farley says, people associate Mustang and Ford perhaps more closely than any other sportscar and its manufacturer. Plus it’s more accessible to everyday consumers than many of its Italian, German, and Japanese competitors.

Other brands and agencies will be watching closely over the next two weeks to see how the new Ford campaign performs. They also be watching closely to measure the viability of Instagram for facilitating such campaigns. Brands have been on Facebook for years, and buying ads on the platform for much of that time. But Instagram is still more nascent as a marketing platform, whether the ads are paid, or earned, as they are in this case.

Facebook has dabbled in the creative agency space before, with the goal seemingly being to make sure that brands don’t fuck things up. As Erin Griffith wrote previously, the company spent the bulk of its fMC breakout sessions:

“...schooling the brands in ’best practices’ for marketing on the site. The topics were very much focused on the basic tenets of social media, as in don’t spam, don’t spam, and oh, don’t spam. The swag bag even included a poster that says “think, market, share.” Don’t market, marketers!”

Facebook learned the hard way that users are very sensitive to change and quick to backlash – see TOS-gate for evidence of this fact. They also know that the uber-valuable teen audience is particularly fickle. The challenges are the same on Instagram, only it’s earlier in the game and there are even fewer best practices in place.

"We had to respect the community – it can't be this overtly commercial activity," Farley says. "We did it old school, by getting in a room with  [Facebook's and Instagram's creative team], and talking about what users would want."

From this perspective, it’s not surprising that the company is working closely with Ford on this campaign. Given the overall popularity of the Mustang, it’s not hard to imagine it being successful. And whether campaigns like this can be delivered at scale and ultimately turned into revenue, remains to be seen. There’s little doubt that Facebook will do everything in its power to make sure that’s the case.

[Image via Instagram]