Co-branding in User-Generated Images on Instragram and Likeability

Written by: Lorena Garcia Rodriguez



Images have the ability to influence directly and are considered more credible than words spoken or written (Vilnai-Yavetz and Tifferet, 2015). Exemplified in the idiom: ‘an image is worth a thousand words’, which indicates images are able to convey many meanings that cannot be so clearly communicated in a simple text message. Currently, communication is driven by technology, which has consequently led to the social media rave. Images are being sent, posted and shared to a large extent through these means by people “seeking to construct an image of themselves” (Leary and Kowalski, 1990), increasing likeability and trying to create a desired impression (Vilnai-Yavetz and Tifferet, 2015). A key way of doing so, however, is by enhancing their status through their clothing and objects, which appear with them in their photos (Johnson et al., 2008). 

Subsequently, ‘63%’ of what is shared, posted or sent on social media are images (Citrix, 2014). Also, more than 50% of all Internet users have shared a personal image or video (Duggan, 2016) and the vast majority of these images tend to be newly reposted; much more than text-only posts according to this article (Cooper, 2016). Users tend to rely more on images on social media than on text, hence the importance of brands in mastering image-based content through these means, specifically, on Instagram. This social media mobile app, enables users to share and like images and videos with people that follow them (Lavoie, 2016). Many brands have started using this tool to advertise their products or services and, as you can see here, those with ‘more than 20 posts per week’, have, thanks to it, gained ‘1/3 more brand engagement’ (Kissmetrics, 2016).

However, brand exposure and engagement further on takes place due to consumer intent on sharing, reposting, liking, etc. the post containing the brand and not due to the audience size that experiences it (Fournier and Avery, 2016). In order for a brand to gain this exposure, it is essential for it to engage with the consumer on a more personal level (Lavoie, 2016), without seeming out of place (Fournier and Avery, 2016). They do so by participating in the user’s construction of an online identity and by becoming part of their self-expression to be further liked by others. 

On the other hand, brand exposure through Instagram combined with follower participation is considered an “instant brand marketing success” as measured on this recent Infograph (Kissmetrics, 2016). This article focuses on:

  1. How branding two brands simultaneously through user-generated images, works for both brands involved. 
  2. How co-branding appearing in user-generated posts on Instagram can affect brand likeability, awareness and engagement, due to this sort of non-intrusive advertising, or whether both variables would remain the same. 

Instagram. How it works for co-branding.

Co-branding is a result of the union of two brands to create a product/service or campaign featuring both brands (Wang and Muehling, 2010). This article delves deeper into how Instagram works and how brands can take advantage of this tool to create awareness.  Studies on social media per se have grown remarkably in the past decade and Instagram is still a recent topic (Lavoie, 2016). Many companies are still trying to grasp this social media tool and haven’t thoroughly understood the most efficient way of using this app, prime for their business’ reputation, likeability and success on this platform (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Activities depending on any social media app used differ depending on the primary function of the platform. In this case, Instagram’s function is mainly based on three important blocks: Identity, Sharing and Reputation (Kietzmann et al., 2011).

  • Identity: Refers to how users disclose themselves on the social media app. This can be done by revealing feelings, tastes, likes, thoughts, etc. to the rest of the followers (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Users create an identity on the way they describe themselves throughout it and connect with others (Jensen Schau and Gilly, 2003) via images or videos. When brands take part in this self-expression, it’s due to consumer likeability towards the brands and wanting to feel identified with them, along with expressing their actual selves through them (Ahuvia, 2005). The fact that users self-express themselves through co-branding on Instagram images, creates a more ‘powerful emotional response’, resulting therefore, in a stronger connection with the brands (Wallace, Buil and de Chernatony, 2014).
  • Sharing: Sharing images and videos is a very important block for Instagram users as well as for brands seeking to increase awareness and, consequently, engagement. Since we are referring to ‘social media’, the term ‘social’ implies that users share liked content between them (Kietzmann et al., 2011). On Instagram, people share their identities through photographs, images or videos with the rest of their followers, receiving a rating system as an exchange. In this case the currency being used are likes. This action helps users build their reputation, which is the third relevant block to be considered when using this platform. Due to the fact that a consumer is utilizing brands for self-expression, this indicates a strong connection from his or her behalf, which directly increases positive word-of-mouth (WOM) within its followers (Wallace, Buil and de Chernatony, 2014) and hence, heighten brand awareness. Users sharing brand content and expressing themselves with it, subconsciously tend to try and influence others about ‘brand choices’ (Wallace, Buil and de Chernatony, 2014).

    Brands through co-branding, on the other hand, should focus on how to increase customer satisfaction and in reshaping products/services when gathering inputs, which can be easily gained on social media (Kietzmann et al., 2011). How to do so however, is easier said than done: it is prime to not seem excessively persistent and leave consumers to include the brands in their social conversations, like these examples of brands mentioned (Gower, 2014). Brands should take the risk and confide in the users to create their added online value through their images. 


  • Reputation: Reputation implies how a person is rated on Instagram, and how followers identify the user’s standing (Kietzmann et al., 2011). The content published plays a major role on the user’s established reputation. The metric that evaluates a user’s standing on Instagram, as stated before, is likes (Kietzmann et al., 2011). On the other hand, for brands it is possible to track down how the reputations of these are going through this social media platform. Search engines such as Social Mention, can analyse how many times the brand is included in user-generated content, as well as measuring: mentions (indicating the ‘strength’ of the brand), whether these mentions are mostly positive (the ‘sentiment’ involved), how regularly users talk about the brand (‘passion’) and the amount of times users talk about the brand divided by the amount of times brands are mentioned (‘reach’) (Kietzmann et al., 2011). These variables determine the reputation of a brand on social media, which can help determine whether the brand’s awareness is increasing and, consequently, its engagement. 

While some companies struggle in grasping Instagram’s three functional blocks, other brands have learnt how to manage this app effectively and to take advantage of user-generated content including it also on their websites, also mentioned in this Infograph (Kissmetrics, 2016). Nevertheless, there are other ways of generating ‘brand conversation’, like these other brands, (Kissmetrics, 2016) through Instagram images that would not only help a brand’s business but also save costs and enhance awareness. One of these ways is co-branding.  

The Perks Of Co-branding on Instagram

On Instagram, many co-branded products are physically represented through user-generated images and enhanced with the description beneath the image or with hashtags, creating also positive WOM. This could also be considered a form of co-branding advertising for the brands involved, where users promote these brands for their own purposes and share them with their followers (Fournier and Avery,2016).


Left Nike and Michael Jordan, right: Fiat and Gucci

The primary objective of co-branding advertising is for both brands to take advantage of the ‘strengths’ of the other one involved in the same image (Wang and Muehling, 2010). However, when both brands appear on an Instagram image, the user, who has generated the content through self-expressing photos, often selects one brand to be enhanced over the other through the description below. The brand that has been enhanced is what’s called a ‘focal brand’ whereas the other brand acquiring less attention, the ‘peripheral brand’ (Wang and Muehling, 2010). On one hand, the focal brand (the ‘strong one’) would receive all the attention, whereas the second brand in the image would take advantage of this attention held, also leveraging its position and awareness. 

Nonetheless, which brand is enhanced over the other depends on the user and which brand they like more. In the images below, Coca-Cola receives all the attention on Picture A, whereas in Picture B, the user chooses to enhance Moschino. It all depends on how the user would like to identify him/herself with the co-branding involved and with which brand precisely. 




                                 Picture A                                                        Picture B

Nonetheless, what perks can be found from co-branding in images on Instagram that can’t be found on other social media platforms? As already mentioned, images show more credibility and are relatively more eye-catching and liked than words or text. Instagram is a visual platform, which has tripled its users in that last 2 years and has brands posting more regularly on this app than on other social media platforms, as seen here (Kissmetrics, 2016). Brands such as Nike, Starbucks and Zara, have also increased fans remarkably due to user-generated posts and hashtags, resulting in a ‘26% brand fan base’ increase (Kissmetrics, 2016).

In light of this, it is proven that Instagram is a success for brands that know how to get consumers to include them in their WOM. However, incorporating co-branding through products for consumers to ‘become co-creators of the actual advertising content’ (Gower, 2014) not only would result in lower overall costs for each brand but also in bigger audience coverage as shown in McKee’s article here (McKee, 2009). It is a prime way of making one brand familiarized with the ‘loyalists’ of the other, especially when those are somewhat fond of the brand co-branded with their favourite one in the same image (McKee, 2009). Therefore, when the right collaborations are made between brands, this increases likeability, which later on results in positive WOM and their image being remarkably enhanced within the social media platform, as shown in ‘Back to Marketing Basics’ (Hausman, 2016). Having the advantage of creating nonintrusive brand awareness, also in a more extended audience, gives the chance for potential consumers to discover more about their ‘peripheral brand’, increasing the chances of brand engagement. Therefore, co-branding is a low cost and effective way of not only maybe increasing virtual Instagram likes, but both brands’ likeability. 

Furthermore, there are other Instagram user-generated content and co-branding forms that can be further researched. One example could be by studying two brands, without actually presenting a co-branded product, can effectively advertise together in the same image without seeming intrusive. Along with this one can study which elements have to be included for that phenomenon to occur effectively. Understanding consumer likes as a reputation metric, however, would also require further in depth study. Another focus of study can be whether these consumers feel identified with any of the brands presented in an image as an expression of the inner self, or whether it has to do with other elements such as the social media platform, or other psychological attributes involved. Either way, in order for co-branding promotion to work effectively on this social setting, both brands have to appear authentic and left for the user to include them in their social conversation (Fournier and Avery, 2016). This must be done without seeming too artificial for other followers to construct the wrong image. Mostly then will there be more chances for the brands of being fully accepted, liked, enhanced by WOM and have subsequently, increased consumer engagement.

Keywords: Co branding, brand, Instagram, Social Media, Like, Images, User












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