What’s In Your Wallet?

How Capital One uses Instagram and user-generated content to advertise to millennials.

It was late 2013 when Instagram, the photo-sharing service owned by Facebook, first allowed ads from select brands. Since then, its ad platform has developed more capability: in early June 2015, it launched ads with Shop Now buttons and introduced a new software platform that lets marketing partners automate the advertising process giving marketers the ability to manage and measure marketing campaigns.

Instagram has 300 million active users. In 2015, it’s expected to generate nearly $600 million in ad sales, according to an eMarketer report. That same report predicts Instagram will earn $2.81 billion in ad sales by 2017, outselling both Google and Twitter.

One brand successfully using this platform is Capital One, the country’s eighth largest bank. In January, the bank and agency T3 experimented with a way to translate the brand’s ubiquitousWhat’s in your wallet? campaign on Instagram, leveraging user-generated content for marketing purposes.

We’ve found that Instagram is the place where most of the millennials are, and it’s a rich place to reach them, Noha Abdalla, Capital One’s senior director of digital brand strategy and social media, told Ad Week.

So for several weeks in early 2015, Capital One asked three popular Instagrammers Zach Rose, Kimberly Genevieve, and Paul Octavious to create ad content for the brand. Because this was for Capital One, the three photographed interesting things they kept in their wallets with the hashtag #walletstories.

Many people carry around a wallet that has something sentimental in it other than what’s functional, Abdalla said.


By my count, 12 pictures were turned into ads. According to Ad Age, the images boosted Capital One’s ad recall 16%. For those people ages 45 and older, recall increased 25%. Additionally, Capital One’s brand favorability shot up 3% for people between 21 and 24 years old.

Due to the success of the #walletstories campaign, Capital One will use user-generated content in multichannel campaign. For example, it is running a social campaign asking people to submit photos showing how they use their credit card perks. Those photos may show up in a print or out-of-home ad.

The brand also recently unveiled its Spark Plug initiative, a 150-advertisement campaign that includes print, out-of-home, and video ads. Essentially, Spark Plug ads are for small business and star their biggest fans.

Capital One Spark is a business credit card, but in the advertisement that information is withheld until the last seconds of the video. Instead, the videos are positioned as authentic testimonials from individuals who really do seem like the company’s biggest fans.

And authenticity is key. Without it, the ads fail, a sales pitch our eyes glaze over. With it, we’re legitimately interested to try the honey mascarpone fig from the Dolci Gelati truck.

The Potential Pitfalls

Andrew Watts, a 19-year-old University of Texas student, wrote a blog for Medium in January called A Teenagers View On Social Media. In it, he says that Instagram is by far the most used social media outlet for my age group.

Pew’s Social Media Update shows a strong and growing interest in Instagram among Millennials. More than half of Internet-using 18- to 29-year-old Americans use the photo-sharing service, up from 37% in 2013. Why so popular? Watt lists several reasons:

  • The feed tends to be less cluttered and of higher quality.
  • Liking posts is not broadcast as widely as it is on, say, Facebook.
  • The entire experience is more private.
  • There are fewer links on Instagram.
  • Not everyone is on Instagram, meaning it’s hip’ and cool’ to the younger crowd.

Everything about the application makes it less commercialized and more focused on the content, meaning more teens are inclined to visit it. When we do visit the application it is a much more pleasant experience so we are more inclined to Like and interact with the posts more. This increases our interaction with the application, meaning we will use it more, etc, Watts writes.

So as Instagram becomes more ad friendly, it’s important for brands to recognize what makes the application popular in the first place. It’s not a place to dump content with links to various products; it’s content focused and higher quality. Each picture is worth a thousand words and tell stories about the time and place in which they were taken.

That’s what Capital One understood with its #walletstories campaign. Adverting on Instagram isn’t about what’s in your wallet, but why.

August 13, 2015

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