The 13 Best Instagram Marketing Campaigns of 2016
2016 was a big year for Instagram. This year alone, the rapidly-growing media-sharing app launched new features like longer video, Instagram Stories, zoom, Boomerang and mentions in Stories, and live video on Stories.
On top of that, the social media giant rolled out a new look, updating its icon and app design early on in the year.
This past year, Instagram was integral to marketing campaigns run by companies big and small around the world.
In this article, I’ve compiled the 13 Best Instagram Campaigns of 2016, featuring some crazy, clever, and even controversial campaigns.
Our first Instagram campaign comes from Marvel, promoting the second-highest grossing film of 2016, Captain America: Civil War. Though Marvel pulled out all the stops to promote their most ambitious production to date over a number of mediums, this post stood out in its uniqueness, its strong fit to the Instagram platform, and its viral nature.
For this campaign, Marvel put together a team of 10 graffiti artists to paint Civil War’s iconic airport fight scene across the side of a building, and documented it all to create a timelapse for Instagram. This is an exciting and unique marketing strategy because it goes beyond the usual billboard and TV advertising most films do - it’s a large-scale, real-world tactic that deserves a “wow”.
As a video timelapse, it fits the Instagram medium perfectly - it’s a strong piece of visual content and it stands on its own without audio, which is important for those browsing in public. Finally, I love that it has a longer lifespan than most Instagram campaigns. Because it’s a real-world fixture, people passing by the building will be intrigued.
A big part of marketing on Instagram is looking the part. Xbox took this advice to heart when designing one of their marketing campaigns for the Xbox Design Lab, which allows gamers to design an Xbox controller with custom colors.
Xbox shot a series of images in the popular “flat lay” style (also known as knolling) to show off various color combinations. The flat lay style has become ubiquitous on Instagram, primarily in photos of clothing, desk setups, and food, and Xbox takes this to the next level with this campaign.
These photos are great because they’re so Instagram. They don’t look like something copy-pasted from a Facebook post or some hero image on the Xbox site - they’re uniquely crafted for Instagram as a medium with the users in mind. Each photo is beautifully color-coordinated; even though the Xbox controller is central in each of them, it’s not overly emphasized. It’s just the right amount of promotional.
This campaign is also wonderful because it shows Microsoft understands their target demographic. Each of the posts addresses a specific subsegment of Xbox players, whether they’re athletes, gaming aficionados, artists, intellectuals, or speed demons. By targeting each demographic individually, Xbox found a way to maximize engagement on each of their photos.
Finally, Xbox used a hashtag, #MakeItYours, to tie all of these images together, creating a single cohesive campaign.
Batman v Superman
The other (admittedly less well-received) big superhero-versus-superhero movie of the year also found great success in its Instagram marketing. In the days leading up to the film’s launch, its official Instagram account posted several stills from the film with quotes from reviews by trusted publications like Rolling Stone, USA TODAY, CBS, and more.
This was a great strategy because it leveraged expert influence to generate and maintain social proof - basically, Batman v Superman used these experts’ reviews to convince more people to see the movie. By highlighting the publications and featuring their logos, the film’s account made it clear who endorsed the film to viewers.
Once the film was in theatres, the account went a step further and did the same thing with reactions on social media, quoting happy viewers’ Tweets to further cement Batman v Super as a great movie.
This is a particularly intelligent strategy when considering the context surrounding the film at the time: reviews were mixed and would-be watchers were worried about the film. By highlighting the positive reactions to the film, Batman v Superman worked to minimize consumer uneasiness to keep people watching.
Ah, good old celebrity endorsement.
Tesla - a company whose Instagram account is notably influencer-free for the most part - posted a few videos featuring happy new owners of its Model X SUV. These owners happened to be Eva Longoria and Harry Shum Jr., both of whom are well-known actors.
There are three main strengths to these posts...
The first is, of course, the celebrity and influencer appeal. Both Eva and Harry have millions of Instagram followers who look to them - consciously or subconsciously - for advice on things like fashion and lifestyle. Seeing celebrities happily endorsing products goes a long way towards getting their fans to hop on board the Tesla train.
Second, I like that Harry’s video highlights the Model X’s automatic doors. It does a great job of showing off the car’s unique features without being overly promotional or technical. His genuine reaction to it helps as well, and helps Tesla convey the joy a driver will get out of owning one.
Finally, these videos are reposted from Eva and Harry’s personal Instagram accounts. It’s always nice to see that a company is interacting with others on social (even if, in this case, they’re celebrities).
This is one of the most unique campaigns on this list. Co-promotions are pretty common, and are generally run by two or more companies who share a similar target market. Though GoPro has a pretty wide appeal, its roots are based in extreme sports. That’s why it was surprising to me that the camera giant ran a co-promotion with The Secret Life of Pets.
The short video highlights GoPro clips of real extreme sports followed by characters from the film “performing” the same stunts. It’s wacky, adorable, and somehow, it works - for several reasons…
First, we love that GoPro chose to partner with a brand out of left field. For smaller brands, it probably makes more sense to partner with a brand that shares a similar target market. However, GoPro is the undisputed king of sports-oriented camera gear.
Reaching out into a generally untapped market - younger users - is a great way for them to test other potential markets. On top of this, Secret Life of Pets benefits from being able to market through GoPro to a demographic that might not be the typical Pets watcher.
Finally, note that CTA in the caption - if you have a certain goal for your Instagram posts, a CTA in the caption never hurts.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The triumphant return of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, beginning with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was heralded by extensive social media marketing. One great example of an Instagram campaign for the film was the introduction of #WizardingWednesdays, a hashtag campaign that encouraged Potter fans to engage with aspects of the new movie by answering questions, taking quizzes, and more.
This campaign is great, especially when considering the Potter world - a large portion of its fanbase grew up with the series, and are highly engaged. This is a community with a rich network of fan-made content like drawings, fan fiction, and more. The Fantastic Beasts team showed with the #WizardingWednesdays campaign that they understand their target audience by encouraging them to engage.
Getting fans personally involved is a great way to improve your sales and conversion rates, whether it’s selling a product or getting people to watch a film. It creates a personal and involved connection that strengthens the relationship between brand and consumer.
With Nike’s constant dominance and Adidas’ recent uprise in the footwear world, the sneaker game has never been as competitive as it is now. Release after release, sneakerheads around the world line up - in stores and online - to get their hands on the latest sneaker.
For the release of the NMD Pitch Black, Adidas ran a contest on their Snapchat account, promoting it through their Instagram account, which has almost 16 million followers. Adidas hid a phone number in their Snapchat story and got entrants to text it to enter into a raffle for 1 of 100 pairs.
The company then posted a series of 3 photos on their Instagram profile: one to announce the contest, one with contest rules, and a follow-up post to remind followers to enter.
This campaign is great for a number of reasons. First, it’s a great way to direct traffic to another social platform. Adidas used this contest to drive their large and engaged Instagram audience to their Snapchat account, increasing their following and engagement on that platform for future marketing efforts.
Next, it’s a contest - and contests are one of the best ways to get your followers to engage with you on social media and to generate interest in your products. This campaign surely served to boost awareness not just for this release, but for future releases for Adidas sneakers as well.
October saw the launch of PlayStation VR, Sony’s own virtual reality headset. During the PlayStation VR launch, the PlayStation Instagram account took to Sony Square NYC, Sony’s new showroom in New York, to live-post the event.
Photos the PlayStation account posted from the event showed the venue, people lining up, people testing the product, the first buyer, and more.
Live-posting from an event on social media is a great way to switch up your content strategy and make local events feel like international expos. They’re effective because they help your social following feel like they’re part of any events you hold - this capitalizes on FOMO, or “fear of missing out”. This also helps to reinforce brand image by showing your customers the people on both ends of your business - your employees and your customers.
One thing PlayStation could have done better is to tag the people featured in the photos. Though it might not have made a big difference to a company as big as Sony, tagging users in your event photos can help to increase engagement and reach their friends and followers through the Explore feed. It’s a small thing that can make a big difference.
Political views aside, there’s no doubt that social media has turned into a major battleground for politicians to duke it out during election season. Of course, the 2016 presidential election was no exception.
Though both sides had their social media triumphs (and more often than not, blunders), one of the strongest ongoing strategies from Hillary Clinton’s social media team was the clever use of infographics to better convey statistics to Instagram users.
Statistics can be really boring - but sometimes they’re important. Infographics visualize data in a way that’s more accessible and easily understood. Best of all, they’re easily shareable. The infographics put together by Hillary Clinton’s team work to show the importance and magnitude of the issues they wish to highlight.
Though - as any political posts do - they received their fair share of controversy, I found these infographics to be informative and just right for a platform like Instagram.
To promote the newest iteration of their Civic Coupe, Honda looked to their fans for help in designing the world’s first crowdsourced stunt track. Filled with obstacles like bowling pins, pinball bumpers, and - strangely - donut cannons, the track was a culmination of suggestions from Honda fans all over the world.
Honda’s Instagram campaign comprised a series of photos and videos featuring a professional driver taking on the aptly-named Civic Dream Track to show off the Civic’s capabilities. This campaign does a couple of things well…
First, its crowdsourced nature engages viewers. Fans who took time to help Honda design the track will likely engage with and share this video, as it’s a result of the work of Honda’s loyal following.
Next, it’s unique! Having the “world first” of anything makes for a compelling caption and an enticing watch. On top of that, people in Honda’s target market for the Civic Coupe would likely be interested in stunt driving, which makes it the perfect piece of content. Even those who aren’t normally interested might watch to see a Civic take on things like a dragon piñata (don’t ask).
One thing Honda could have done better was utilize the #CivicDreamTrack hashtag to link the content in this campaign together.
Stranger Things was one of the dark horse hits of television in 2016 - it became a cultural phenomenon, due in no small part to the team’s aggressive marketing efforts. Here in Vancouver, all I saw for months were Stranger Things advertisements plastered all over public transit.
One of their best marketing campaigns, however, was a partnership with Google to promote both the show and Google’s new app, Google Allo. The campaign featured a hidden a Stranger Things vending machine in New York City, which could be found through Google Allo.
This promotion is great primarily because it’s one-of-a-kind. People were able to use Allo to control the vending machine, as if they were a character from the show. This kind of promotion is primed to go viral - you can bet it would have been huge if the team placed vending machines in more cities around the world.
Next, it’s a great way to link two properties from separate brands that one might not think would work together. Though both Stranger Things and Allo have a wide potential market, linking them helps reinforce their positioning and strengthen awareness in both of their target demographics.
Finally, it’s competitive. Because it was a hidden machine, you can bet people in New York tried their best to find it right away. Incentivizing people with a sticker pack was a nice bonus, as well.
I’ll admit I’m biased here. In terms of marketing strategy, Deadpool had my favorite one out of any movie in the last few years. It was aggressive, viral, and totally irreverent.
Don’t believe me? Check out these examples.
Truth be told, it’s hard to think of a singular thread linking all of Deadpool’s marketing, because it was so vast. The team behind the “merc with a mouth” covered so many different Instagram strategies: hashtag campaigns, infographics, video content, content relevant to current events - the list goes on.
One thing to highlight was lead actor Ryan Reynolds’ participation in Deadpool’s Instagram marketing strategy. The team decided he needed an Instagram account of his own, posting as if he was Deadpool to add to the film’s habit of breaking the fourth wall. Both the official movie account and Ryan Reynolds’ posted unique content promoting the film, and they hit it out of the park.
Something we can define about Deadpool’s marketing strategy, however, is that they decided on the tone of their marketing communications early and stuck with it all the way through. They modeled their edgy, often inappropriate tone after the titular character himself, resulting in a cohesive, hilarious, and memorable marketing campaign.
It’s that time of year again! Beyond the annual launch of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, Starbucks’ biggest cultural phenomenon is the launch of its iconic Christmas #RedCups.
This year, Starbucks first ran a “preview” campaign, teasing Starbucks fans with the mystery of this year’s design. Starbucks allowed fans to preview the cups by “unwrapping” them on their Instagram Story. This is great because it informs fans that Starbucks’ Story may be a place for promotions in the future, which is sure to increase views.
I love this strategy because it’s a wonderful way to generate excitement for the upcoming launch of the red cups. The next time you’re launching a new product, try running a countdown promotion to build hype. This might come in the form of a giveaway or even discount codes for early adopters.
Now that the cups have launched, Starbucks is running a series of contests to highlight the best photos featuring red cups from its fans. Each week features a different theme, like “home for the holidays” and “adventure”; three people will win a $500 Starbucks gift card each week. Throughout the contest, Starbucks highlights some of their favorite entries on their Instagram Story.
This is an even better way to promote your products, for a multitude of reasons. First, it’s a sure-fire way to generate high-quality user-generated content for your campaigns or for future marketing efforts. Next, Starbucks’ idea to use their Story to showcase good entries is a nice way to reward entrants, even if they didn’t win. Finally, I love that Starbucks chose to give away gift cards - that’s always the best prize you can give as it ensures entrants are people who are interested in your brand and products.
There they are: my 13 favorite campaigns of this past year. This isn’t an exhaustive list - I’d love to hear from you about which campaigns blew you away this year. Let me know in the comments below!
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