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Instagram is scary good at selling us stuff. Can the app keep it up?

May 20, 2020, 12:32 PM UTC
The Facebook-owned app has managed to toe the fine line between art and commerce. Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images
Thomas Trutschel—Photothek via Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! An animal health CEO says new coronavirus pet owners shop differently, Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford talks to the MPW community, and we wonder how Instagram got so good at selling us stuff. Have a great Wednesday. 

– Doing it for the ‘gram. Have you been spending a lot more time on Instagram since we’ve been stuck in our houses and apartments? I have. It’s been a great way to keep tabs on family and friends, do home workouts with the instructors from my gym, and pick up quarantine cooking tips from my favorite chefs. And it’s also inspired me to do my part to keep the economy going, prompting impulse buys like a windowsill herb garden and a comfy pair of WFH joggers.

In Fortune’s latest issue, I had a chance to write about the way the app has and continues to change the way many of us shop. The reason that’s a Broadsheet story—aside from the ‘women be shopping!’ jokes—relates to both Instagram’s audience (according recent stats from Pew, 43% of U.S. women are IG users, compared to 31% of men) and the brands that are succeeding in capturing users’ attention (the top categories followed on the app are beauty/cosmetics and women’s apparel, according to Cowen).

What most intrigues me about the platform is how carefully it walks the line between art and commerce—despite being owned by Facebook, which doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to that kind of subtlety. (One of the more surprising stats I ran across in my reporting: in a 2019 Pew poll, just 29% of Americans correctly identified Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp as being owned by Facebook.)

The question, as Instagram grows—and as it becomes more and more essential to Facebook’s future—is whether it can keep its feet on that very narrow tight rope.

Fellow Instagram devotee? You can read my full story here.


On a separate note: Fortune gathered the Most Powerful Women community yesterday for a conversation with Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford. It was a lively and wide-ranging discussion, touching on the supply chains that are failing to connect farmers’ wares with U.S. consumers, the ways rural America is facing the pandemic, and the farmer-owned co-operations’s decision to ditch its old “butter maiden” packaging.

For me, the real takeaway came near the end of the call, when Ford focused in on central the leadership challenge of the moment: taking care of the people who work for you.

“If you are not putting the focus on your team right now,” she said, “you’ve lost the narrative if you’re not focusing on that as the primary issue.”

You can read more and watch some of the video from our gathering here.

Kristen Bellstrom

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


- Talc turnaround. Johnson & Johnson will stop selling talc-based baby powder in the U.S. and Canada. Lawsuits have alleged that the product caused cancer, disproportionately affecting black women. J&J says it "remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder" and still stands by that claim, but blames "changes in consumer habits ... fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product" for decreased sales. CNBC

- Dog days. In the latest issue of Fortune, writer Anne Sraders interviews Kristin Peck, CEO of the animal health company Zoetis and one of the new female chief executives on the Fortune 500 this year. The socially-isolated who adopted or fostered animals during the coronavirus lockdown are approaching pet ownership differently, she says. Fortune

- Tiananmen lockdown. The extension of social distancing guidelines in Hong Kong, led by Carrie Lam, has effectively banned the upcoming annual ceremony honoring the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The gathering is usually the only commemoration of the event allowed in China. Activists object to the extension of the rules, which will allow school and religious activities to resume but not political rallies. Guardian

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Chicago's WBEZ named Andi McDaniel, chief content officer at WAMU/88.5 FM, president and CEO. Kira Wampler, operating partner with Redesign Health and former Lyft CMO, joined Doximity's board of directors. 


- Flip-flop. The new FX documentary AKA Jane Roe comes complete with a bombshell. Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, famously changed her stance about abortion and became an anti-abortion activist in the 1990s. Before her death in 2017, she said that she was paid by anti-abortion groups to switch to their side of the issue. LA Times

- Streaming to the top. Fortune's Aric Jenkins provides some insight into the career of Rebecca Campbell, Disney's new head of streaming. The 23-year Disney vet, who spent most of her Disney career in TV, is now moving from the parks side of the business to its streaming venture. Fortune

- Back in action. Suze Orman was finally retiring when the coronavirus pandemic upended the financial lives of millions of Americans. Now the personal finance guru is back in business for this critical moment. New York Times


Hey, newscasters: You should cry more InStyle

What's next for Tiffany Trump? Vanity Fair

Two coasts. One virus. How New York suffered nearly 10 times the number of deaths as California ProPublica

How would Nora Ephron handle all of this? Vogue


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