The Art of Instagram: Can awareness outweigh integrity?

This weekend I had a genuinely delectable dining experience.

The food was Persian, modern, and perfectly-portioned for a pair. The menu was small; with the heavy presence of pistachio and rose, as I anticipated. But what I couldn’t have anticipated was the polished approach to a Scandinavian-Mediterranean hybrid of pale salmon walls, a wall-length booth made of olive green velvet, twenties style lighting hanging prominently over the bar– discouraging drinkers yet exuding nothing but an elegant trendy capital M-O-O-D “mood”.

I questioned the relevance. Is it passé to illustrate cultural clichés at restaurants nowadays–especially where foreign cuisine is considered? Is it politically correct to depict one nation in a city that is an amalgamation of so many? And how much of the effort that went into this aesthetically-pleasing design was a marketing strategy, developed to entice the “nano influencers” that we seemingly ALL are?

“[Instagram] is making the client really aware of the importance and the power of design, whether it’s in way-finding or branding or experiential design.” says Laureen Moyal, founder and partner at the branding and design studio Paperwhite.

Angus Pride, manager of Evelyn’s Café Bar in Manchester, mentioned in a Guardian article titled “Is Instagram changing the way we design the world?”, that his café puts a premium on design that has “longevity over something more contrived for the purposes of social media”; this despite the café’s innate Instagram appeal.

Of course, there is the authenticity argument especially pertaining to influencer marketing, where genuine content wins big, and sponsored fluff gets pummelled for its lack of transparency or the convenience of affiliation. This is especially relevant now in content produced by travel or experience-led brands—you can learn more about this in our latest report. If that doesn’t satisfy you, simply google “Instagram vs. real life” and prepare to lose yourself in the meme ether.

However, is it not still true that if our favourite “content creator” is generating said content in front of an aesthetically pleasing assemblage of hague blue, monochromatic line drawings and eccentric foliage, it’s more likely to take our fancy (if that genre floats your boat). Especially if there’s some ambient bounced lighting and an appropriately applied filter present, that led to our choosing its thumbnail amongst the other curated crap in our feeds. The threat of insta-worthy content is that if it is produced JUST for the platform, while it might attract customers for the photo, if the visual isn’t overtaken by the experience (the food, the smells, that intangible atmosphere), the only takeaway might then be “been there, done that [just for the gram]”.

Effective social media marketing, especially where Instagram is concerned, has to prove genuine. If the food or service is high-end (but actually), then that warrants luxurious interiors. If it’s not, embrace your rustic or kitschy aesthetic. Customers are more likely to question brand authenticity, so while designing to please Instagram may not always be the most noble of causes, if done right, it can turn snap-sneekers into regulars.

But of course, this isn’t a restaurant review, and I’m no food critic.

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