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The Secrets of Being Instagrammable: How Environments Spark Indirect Advertising

Relevant topics Archive, Advertising

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Styling, props, and ambiance of physical environments influence the creation of indirect advertising through consumer-generated content on social media, providing insights into the design elements that prompt consumers to capture and share experiences.
  • Application:
    Leveraging environmental traits that prompt content creation and sharing on social media is crucial for marketers and businesses aiming to enhance consumer engagement and social sharing in physical spaces.
  • On a recent visit to New York City to explore the Trolls x CAMP experience with two toddlers, it was clear that nearly every adult armed with a smartphone would be sharing social media content to capture and share their memorable experience.

    Visitors were transported into the extremely colorful and playful world of the beloved Trolls franchise. As guests step inside, they are greeted by vibrant displays, whimsical decorations, and interactive activities inspired by the lively characters and enchanting settings of the Trolls universe.

    From towering installations of Trolls characters to themed play areas and photo ops with characters, every corner of the experience is designed to delight visitors of all ages. 

    The adventure was crafted to captivate children while also being highly Instagram-worthy for the adults in attendance, providing the business with free exposure from an army of ambassadors who excitedly shared the content of their children with their followers.

    As for the writer of this article? An Instagram reel or two may have been posted. ;) 

    Platforms like Instagram are just a tap away. The allure of Instagram's visual storytelling and social interactions often keeps us glued to our screens, whether waiting in line, commuting, or relaxing at home.

    Businesses and marketers understand the value of Instagrammable experiences and how they lead to indirect advertising opportunities, investing in environments designed to inspire consumers to create and share content.

    But are some aspects of the environment more effective than others? Do specific characteristics play a larger role in prompting social sharing?

    A recent study utilizing qualitative interviews with architects and designers alongside quantitative analysis of indirect advertising sought to investigate these questions and discern the components of environments that contribute to more Instagrammable experiences.

    What is Indirect Advertising?

    This study introduces a novel advertising approach called "indirect advertising," which blends aspects from consumer-generated content, atmospherics, and experiential marketing. Unlike traditional consumer-generated content advertising, where individuals are paid or rewarded, indirect advertising involves consumers spontaneously creating content without direct compensation from companies. This challenges the usual definition of advertising as paid communication aimed at persuading action. Indirect advertising is a new form of consumer engagement prompted by environmental cues, differing from typical outcomes like time spent in-store or purchases. It also diverges from experiential marketing, which focuses on immersion and awareness. The allure of creating appealing social media posts in environments conducive to indirect advertising suggests a valuable new form of advertising.

    Props, Ambience, and Styling: Keys to Inducing Indirect Advertising

    Following interviews with 14 commercial architects and interior designers, researchers found three vital spatial characteristics crucial to market-oriented spaces' experience: props, ambiance, and styling.

    The quantitative portion of the study focused on collecting images from Instagram, specifically targeting the visual nature and widespread use of the platform for social sharing. The study selected two prominent brands, the Museum of Ice Cream and the Color Factory. Both known for their purposeful design to encourage consumers to capture and share their content on Instagram. The examination encompassed 97 independent environments. From the New York and the San Francisco locations the Museum of Ice Cream and from the Houston and New York locations of Color Factory. The process involved extracting, sorting, coding, and analyzing data from these environments to understand the impact of various characteristics on the generation of indirect advertising.


    Props are spatial elements and stand-alone objects that enhance consumer immersion in an experience, allowing interaction and reaction. They can be categorized as static or dynamic. 

    • Static props give consumers input to react to but cannot be physically manipulated such as signs or wall paintings.
    • Dynamic props are objects that consumers can physically manipulate, allowing them to move, pick up, sit on, or play with them somehow.

    The props serve as signals of context and instigators of action within the space, collectively contributing to the overall experience of the environment. For example, an "Instagrammable moment" in a shoe store can be an environment where the customer can wear the boots and visualize themselves within a piece of the landscape.

    It seems that prop size and group usage have minimal influence on indirect advertising, possibly due to the limited interaction potential of static props. Surprisingly, props' ability to convey specific meaning has a negative effect on indirect advertising for both static and dynamic props, indicating that spaces with less specific meaning may be more intriguing to Instagram users. 

    Additionally, large dynamic props have a negative impact on indirect advertising compared to smaller props because smaller props in larger quantities are visually more appealing. 

    On the other hand, dynamic props designed for group use and immersive experiences positively influence indirect advertising, likely because posts capturing interactions among people and immersive environments are more engaging and creative.


    The researchers delved into the influence of lighting and ambiance on indirect advertising, particularly examining how these factors affect consumers' inclination to create content showcasing appealing settings. Their investigation revealed that environments featuring lighting engineered to enhance individuals' attractiveness tend to spark indirect advertising, as validated by the participants.

    Analysis of ambiance uncovered significant insights: brightness, colored lighting, and the variety of colors all exert notable positive effects on indirect advertising. These findings support existing research linking lighting to mood (Bordwell and Thompson, 2004).

    For instance, bathrooms, despite often lacking intentional design elements, offer lighting tailored for social presentation preparation, prompting numerous individuals to capture selfies. Moreover, colored lighting and a diverse color palette within a space elicited observable impacts, with abundant colors increasing the likelihood of indirect advertising.

    Interestingly, luminance shows no apparent influence, whereas saturation yields a significant negative effect on indirect advertising. While unexpected, these results may stem from the widespread availability of free photo manipulation applications that produce high-quality edits.


    Interviewees also highlighted the significant impact of an environment's styling on the creation of indirect advertising. Styling is pivotal in prompting people to document and share experiences via photographs and videos on social media, particularly when the environment possesses an aesthetic appeal that resonates with a collective unconscious. The composition and arrangement of objects within a space contribute to its attractiveness and guide user interaction.

    Insights from the interviewees from the study include the following:

    • Understanding people's visual norms and then intentionally deviating from them is critical to creating something attention-grabbing and thought-provoking. 
    • Certain styles, such as organic lines and complex 3-D spaces, elicit more positive reactions among consumers. 
    • Visual complexity, in particular, has been linked to increased engagement.
    • Environments with distinctive and compelling styles will likely attract more attention and elicit increased engagement, making them prime settings for indirect advertising campaigns.
    • Conversely, styling can also facilitate moments of quiet reflection within environments designed to inspire photo-taking, creating spaces where users can pause and contemplate amidst stimulating surroundings.

    The quantitative analysis of the research revealed that environments characterized as "glitterific" and "trendy" had a favorable effect on social sharing. This aligns with previous research suggesting that more eye-catching designs attract more attention and are often perceived as unique and cool. However, styles categorized as "stimulating" and "kinetic" surprisingly have significant negative effects on indirect advertising. Additionally, despite dynamic props being frequently shared, consumers may prefer capturing real physical action rather than simulated action portrayed through styling. It's worth noting that all other styling elements did not show any noticeable effect on indirect advertising.

    Be Instagrammable: Engage in Consumer Co-production in Advertising

    Traditional advertising models have long operated on a one-way street, with firms pushing ads to consumers. However, newer advertising theories acknowledge that consumers also play a role in shaping communication. While consumer involvement is evident in user-generated content, the study's results showed that consumer collaboration stimulates indirect advertising. 

    Small, dynamic props that encourage interaction were essential for indirect advertising. This indicates that in today's Instagram-centric world, people are drawn to environments where they can contribute to creating ads. This effect isn't just limited to physical spaces; it's also seen with branded Snapchat filters and TikTok challenges. Brands provide cues, and consumers run with them. The popularity of these examples suggests that indirect advertising is becoming more common.

    Moreover, the findings suggest that people prefer creating their own meaning rather than having it handed to them. Environments that come with prepackaged meaning are less likely to inspire indirect advertising. This implies that places with predetermined meanings might feel less genuine, which makes them less likely to be used in indirect advertising.


    This information is valuable for businesses aiming to boost consumer engagement and stimulate the creation of indirect advertising. Designing environments to cue indirect advertising offers several benefits, including amplifying brand awareness, educating consumers about brand attributes, and enhancing brand image. While early efforts to stimulate indirect advertising involved Instagram walls, styled interactive environments with malleable props and controlled lighting may be more effective.

    Additionally, employing computer vision technology and automated coding processes offers a convenient way for marketing researchers and professionals to analyze the influence of environmental factors on consumer behavior. This understanding can more effectively guide strategic decision-making and marketing strategies.

    Limitations and Future Research

    Firstly, although it analyzes a large dataset of publicly available Instagram posts, it does not include posts from private accounts, which are becoming increasingly common. Future research could investigate how users who maintain public accounts differ from those with private accounts.

    Additionally, this study focuses on extreme Instagram museums to illuminate effects, but it's crucial to recognize that these findings may only partially apply to more typical environments. Research conducted in more common retail and service settings could offer valuable insights. 

    While this research explores the impact of environmental characteristics on the sharing of indirect advertising, it does not delve into the underlying mechanisms. Future studies should examine how factors such as the presence of other customers or interactions with staff influence indirect advertising.

    Lastly, this research builds on previous work investigating interactivity and immersion in retail experiences, mainly focusing on how props in physical environments encourage immersion and subsequent social sharing. However, other elements, such as product interaction in stores, could also impact indirect advertising. Further research could explore how atmospheric aspects like sound and smell inspire consumers to create indirect advertising.

  • The Secrets of Being Instagrammable: How Environments Spark Indirect Advertising
  • Reference:

    Colin Campbell, Sean Sands, Matteo Montecchi & Hope Jensen Schau (2022) That’s So Instagrammable! Understanding How Environments Generate Indirect Advertising by Cueing Consumer-Generated Content, Journal of Advertising, 51:4, 411-429.


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