Brand strategy for cultural moments
How Flickr responded to a change in the Instagram algorithm

I was recently asked if knowing a brand’s values really sways consumers into buying a product. There are a lot of stats out there to suggest that consumers do care about a brand’s values and initiatives. But, whether someone picks one brand of toilet paper over another solely because of their green initiatives is something I still debate. One notable impact of conscious consumerism is the demand it puts on brands to be authentic. When cultural moments arise, it presents either a risk or an opportunity for brands to participate in the narrative. We’ve all seen it done poorly: Pepsi’s commentary on police brutality with their “Live for Now” ad starring Kendall Jenner or Volkswagen advertising “clean diesel” engines when in reality they were releasing up to 40x the permitted amount of pollutants.

When cultural moments arise, it presents either a risk or an opportunity for brands to participate in the narrative.

Brands that participate in an authentic way will draw attention. Brands that participate in an inauthentic way will also draw attention. With social media and Cancel Culture a normalized feature of society, there is pressure on brands to make sure any cultural participation is appropriate. At Teak, we’ve had plenty of conversations with clients assessing whether it was appropriate to run a campaign or launch a feature in response to a particular cultural moment. To be honest, we’ve often advised against it. If it doesn’t feel completely aligned with the company and there isn’t a meaningful takeaway, then it’s not always strategic to make your voice heard at that moment. That being said, that wasn’t the case recently for our client partner Flickr.

Instagram Reels Spark Concern Among Photographers

At the end of 2021 Instagram announced that it would focus its platform on its video features such as Reels and move further away from photos. Put simply, their community wasn’t happy. Celebrities like the Kardashians spoke out and hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition to “Make Instagram Instagram Again”, emphasizing that “There’s no need to overcomplicate things… Let’s go back to our roots with Instagram and remember that the intention behind Instagram was to share photos.” The change got so much attention that Instagram released a statement and back peddled a bit on deprioritizing photos.

Instagram photographers speak out
Once it became clear to Flickr that they must participate in the dialog, we partnered to deliver a campaign in less than 10 days from ideation to launch.

Despite Instagram’s response, the impact had gotten the attention of photographers. Flickr realized that this community was upset that their work wasn’t being seen or prioritized. Photographers were having conversations about where else they could go to have their work seen and their livelihoods respected. Together, Flickr and Teak watched the dialog carefully as the conversation grew in import for photographers globally. Once it became clear to Flickr that they must participate in the dialog, we partnered to deliver a campaign in less than 10 days from ideation to launch.

Understanding the Narrative

Flickr has been a platform solely dedicated to photography since 2004. Prioritizing photos and the photography community is core to the brand’s values, so when backlash arose against Instagram it made sense that Flickr would participate in the conversation. To figure out how they would participate, we quickly dove into a strategic analysis to understand where the audience, the larger culture and market, and the brand shared a common interest.

We started by diving into chat rooms and interviewing photographers who were talking about this issue. What we found was they were upset, with notable tones of frustration, and that they were already comparing new platforms, including Flickr.

Pulled from our initial strategy deck

Outside of the audience, we took a greater look at why the Instagram community was upset. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a cultural truth that felt important to honor which is that brand authenticity matters to its users. When you try to be someone else (like Instagram was trying to be TikTok), you risk diluting your credibility and losing that spark that drew people in initially.

Flickr Stands for Photography

The takeaway from our research was that photography doesn’t need Instagram. In fact, it’s the opposite. Flickr wanted to boldly remind the world that a thriving photography community already exists, without all the ads, influencers, or algorithm changes. But, as with most cultural moments, time was of the essence. Over the course of a week, we put together an awareness campaign including several creative executions that embodied this message. Here are a few samples of our initial thinking:

Initial campaign creative development

The Photography Community Responds

After settling on a campaign concept called “Photography doesn’t need…”, we ran the creative as video ads…on Instagram.

A couple of executions from the final concept

And people noticed. The response was immediate with dozens of comments in the first couple of days applauding the message:

Responses to the campaign creative

Ultimately, the goal of the campaign was to get people to think and talk about Flickr. While a handful of the comments were unflattering, the majority were positive. In a world where ads are often ignored, we were thrilled to have sparked conversation. To be able to generate conversation while still being authentic to the brand and the moment was a success.

Eli Becker is the lead creative strategist at Teak. Her passion for storytelling inspired her to write these interviews alongside her other storytelling platforms like her band, Eli and the Approach, and her passion project,

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