In the wake of the holiday season, brands across the UK are reflecting on the success of their advertising and marketing campaigns. Naturally, digital has grown to play an instrumental role in the way consumers discover research and shop for items. The festive period only supports this trend, with many consumers eschewing the chaos of physical stores for the ease of online shopping.

As part of the rise of digital, new social media apps like Instagram offer a unique and interesting way to approach and engage customers; recent statistics show 56% of consumers have purchased a product after seeing it on Instagram. As we begin to digest the aftermath of the Christmas season, let’s take a look at how big retailers have succeeded or failed to adopt one of social media’s hottest new platforms. 

A picture of the present

The release of Instagram’s brand new ad targeting tool in November, which ran until New Year’s Day, sought to make the platform an even more enticing option for brands. The tool allowed marketers to reach highly engaged users, targeting specific occasions such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas. While Instagram has been coy about the level of brand investment, the client spend for one social media agency in North America jumped “something like 11,000%” between Q3 and Q4, indicating a massive surge in investment in the immediate run up to Christmas. The self-serve element of Instagram’s new marketing tool ensured that brands of all sizes could afford ads, which opened up the platform for widespread, heavy investment.

Retailers: who bought in and who didn’t?

As we shift our attention to some of the UK’s most popular retail brands, we find there is quite a disparate level of engagement on the social platform. Certain brands have clearly appealed to Instagram’s massive daily audience, while others like Asda, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis have so far failed to land a meaningful presence on the photo and video sharing app. The statistics are quite revealing:


Asda - 29.5 thousand

Sainsbury’s -37.8 thousand

John Lewis - 72.4 thousand

Harrods - 790 thousand

Asos - 3.8 million

H&M - 11.8 million

*All Instagram follower statistics are accurate as of 04/01/2016

Big budget TV ads like John Lewis’ “Man on the Moon” and Sainsbury’s “Mog the Cat” showed how crucial the holiday period is for retailers, so it comes as somewhat of a surprise to see that certain brands seem not to have taken full advantage of Instagram’s untapped potential. 

Contrast John Lewis’ Instagram feed, for example, with H&M’s. Rather than act as a direct product placement page, John Lewis posts add little by way of product marketing, electing instead to develop an emotional connection with users. It’s a nice touch, but in this day and age a different approach to engagement is required.   

H&M’s feed, on the other hand, takes advantage of the striking visual elements that make Instagram successful, but do so in a clever and inviting way. This image, in particular, demonstrates a clever fusion between marketing and style. It sells the product in a subtle way without directly telling consumers “buy this!” The response says it all; with 109,000 likes, we think the engagement is top notch, and the spread from this image alone is worth its weight in advertising gold.

A snapshot into the future

Instagram is fast becoming an inspiring tool for marketers, with a growing audience of more than 400 million users. Part of Instagram’s appeal lies in the subtlety of its advertising; studies show that consumers find the platform’s ads more seamless and timely. With a bit of forethought and creativity, retailers can create an engaged community of fans and brand ambassadors. This, in turn, makes it considerably easier to convert marketing into sales.

For all of Instagram’s obvious benefits, there are still a few areas it can improve upon to increase wider brand adoption. The platform lacks a full commercial model and is yet to develop an analytics tool to track advertising with detailed ad targeting. The new ad targeting tool is a good step, but is only focused on specific days, which means it lacks an all-encompassing approach. Nonetheless, the future is bright if Instagram can solve these problems and instil more faith in the hearts of marketing departments.

The way we consume media is fundamentally changing; smartphones continue to revolutionise our ease of access to people, goods and information. As the holiday period showed, digital investment in Instagram skyrocketed, with the platform becoming an integral hotspot for modern consumers to discover, research and shop. Retail brands, in particular, need to recognise the significance of this shift and start investing in the future – today.