One Stat that Explains Why Instagram Is Adding Ads

Nearly one in five adult cellphone owners uses the app.

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Fellow Instagrammers, the day we’ve all known has been coming is finally upon us: Instagram ads are here, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them. Whether you think they spell the end of times for the photo-sharing app, have accepted them as an inevitable way for Instagram’s new Facebook overlords to monetize the platform or are an advertiser yourself excited for the new revenue stream, there’s one new statistic from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project that helps explain why Instagram is finally monetizing: Nearly one in every five American adult cellphone owners uses the app (18%).

Let that sink in for a moment. Go ask five random people with cellphones (so pretty much anybody, considering 91% of American adults own a cellphone), and at least one of them is likely to say they use Instagram. That’s an absolutely mind-boggling penetration rate for a single app that doesn’t come pre-installed on the vast majority of devices.

You say you’re a brand looking to advertise on Instagram? Pew’s got some data you should find quite interesting: Nearly half (43%) of cellphone owners age 18-29 use Instagram, but that percentage drops precipitously in the 30-49 bracket (18%) and 50-64 group (6%). Targeting millennials? Instagram away. Going for an older crowd? Look elsewhere.

So things are looking pretty good for Instagram, except for one problem: it isn’t the only big photo-sharing game in town anymore. Per Pew, 8% of cellphone-owning adults use SnapChat, which lets users send self-destructing selfies and other dissolving doodles. SnapChat is a much younger app with a less clear path to monetization (perhaps brands could pay to send users Sponsored Snaps), so it’s not yet a threat to Instagram’s new advertising push.

However, breaking down the data by age shows a trend that should alarm whoever’s job it is at Instagram to keep young people using the platform: 26% of cellphone owners aged 18-29 are using SnapChat. Instagram still dominates that age bracket, but it’s a fair guess that if Pew were to ask even younger kids about their Instagram vs. SnapChat use, the gap would close quickly. SnapChat is popular among smartphone-wielding teens for obvious reasons: Kids have and will always love sending secret messages that most people — especially parents — can’t read.

Of course, there’s no rule against using more than one photo-sharing app, but technology users — particularly young ones — are fickle, and they’ll go with whatever the crowd considers the app of the minute for any particular purpose. Instagram is wise to strike while the iron is hot.