From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 6 NO. 1
Instabranding: Shaping the Personalities of the Top Food Brands on Instagram
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2015, Vol. 6 No. 1 | pg. 2/2 | «
Although marketing on this platform has been explored in the past, this study was the first to analyze Instagram’s five leading food brand accounts. One of the major themes found was product promotion by all of the brands, which dedicated a significant amount of their accounts to showcasing their products in appealing ways. These promotional photos demonstrate Goor’s (2012) finding that product-representation brands use persuasion strategies through applying branding to their photos, although the ways in which the products were presented in the posts varied among the brands. Photos that only featured products seemed promotional; however, when people were included, the photos conveyed a more inclusive and inviting feeling. This type of content highlighted the theme of socializing. Featuring people in the images offers a more organic approach of encouraging consumers to purchase their products. Brands that highlighted people socializing with their products suggest their values of promoting the social and cultural characteristics of food. These photos support Bui’s (2014) finding that brands should include social-integrative components in their posts to engage consumers.
Previous research suggested that brands should share a variety of relevant photo content to keep consumers entertained and connected. All of the accounts in this study shared content from multiple of the coded categories, suggesting that they stand for something more than just their products. This finding is evidence that the brands are using Instagram as more than simply a marketing tool.
This variety of content suggests that brands are using their personalized profiles to showcase their multidimensional personalities. Goor (2012) proposed that these identities are evidenced when the product, brand name and product related events are featured; however, this analysis suggests that it is possible to portray these attributes without featuring products, such as through lifestyle content. This type of content presents aspects of their brands that would not be seen through the product posts, and allows for further brand individualization. The lifestyle posts suggest a more in-depth depiction of brands’ identities by presenting content about their personal interests, values, and activities. Their accounts share a visual and engaging glimpse into the lives behind their brand names, presenting themselves as loyal friends, social butterflies, inspirational coaches, and quirky creatives. These findings highlight the theme of personification, suggesting that they are using Instagram to seem more “human” in the eyes of consumers. This approach creates the opportunity for a more genuine, relevant, and meaningful relationship to be formed with consumers.
Creating these identities suggests a theme of approachability, offering a way for brands to connect and communicate with consumers on a more intimate level: evoking emotions, laughter and curiosity. Through this emotional connectedness, the brands are able to form their own communities of followers within the platform. This sense of community suggests a way to gratify users’ socializing needs Gallion (2014) mentioned. Connecting with consumers on this level could ultimately influence their buying behavior and brand loyalty.
Key limitations of this study include a rather small photo sample size due to fact that some brands are relatively new to Instagram. A larger sample could have revealed additional effective photo elements that brands are using on Instagram. Future researchers should also take into account user engagement expressed through the number of “likes” and comments on each photo. Lastly, researchers should investigate whether brands are monitoring the types of photo content their target users are posting. This insight could present new photo elements that brands should incorporate into their posts to reflect the taste of their consumers.
The author is grateful for Dr. Glenn Scott, associate professor of communications at Elon University, for his guidance, inspiration and patience, without which the article could not be published. The author also appreciates Byung Lee, associate professor of communications at Elon University, and the anonymous reviewers who have helped revise this article.
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Figure 1. Photo elements featured in McDonald’s Instagram account.
Figure 2. Examples of McDonald’s cheerful and spirited personality.
Figure 3. Photo elements featured in Taco Bell’s Instagram account.
Figure 4. Examples of Taco Bell’s genuine and imaginative personality.
Figure 5. Photo elements featured in Shredz’s Instagram account.
Figure 6. Examples of Shredz’s tough and reliable personality.
Figure 7. Photo elements featured in Ben & Jerry’s Instagram account.
Figure 8. Examples of Ben & Jerry’s honest and light-hearted personality.
Figure 9. Photo elements featured in Oreo’s Instagram account.
Figure 10. Examples of Oreo’s genuine and imaginative personality.
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