The ‘Mean Girls’ of Instagram acne ads

High school, frenemies and acne: for teens, the struggle is real.

But real-life teen dramas don’t unfold in theaters as much as they do on social media small screens. Which is why pharmaceutical giant Galderma’s over-the-counter acne medicine Benzac’s latest campaign is a cheeky teen-based mini soap opera on Instagram.

The 22-episode series by Deutsch New York will roll out on Instagram over a period of three weeks starting today, and it chronicles the lives of four high school friends “Ivy,” “Cam,” “Essy” and “Oak” in the fictional East Sandalwood High School.

Designed to engage and educate (as well as entertain) teens, the story will be stitched together using more than 80 pieces of original video and photos. While the primary plot line will live on the handle @benzacacne, the individual handles of the main characters will have bonus content from their perspectives too. Viewers will be able to easily navigate through all the various accounts and content using Instagram’s tagging feature.

“Each of the characters in the world of the Benzacs represent everyday teen archetypes, making them easy to relate to,” said George Decker, group creative director at Deutsch NY. “Rather than traditional messaging coming from the voice of the brand, we used a representation of the target themselves to deliver the message.”

Every 15-second-long Instagram video episode takes viewers through the friends’ attempts to become more like “the Benzacs” — the flawless, popular, acne-free crew of their school. The series will kick off from where the campaign’s TV spot — launched last month —  ended. It served as a trailer to the narrative that will unfold on Instagram, introducing the popular Benzacs as well as the foursome that wants to be more like them.

So far, the teaser spot has amassed over a million views on YouTube.

There is no shortage of over-the-counter products available for teens with acne problems. Neutrogena, Proactive and Galderma-owned Cetaphil are all big players. But while Galderma is the leader in prescription-based products, it is hoping the Benzac Instagram series will help it break through the clutter in the over-the-counter category and resonate with teens.

Instagram is extremely popular among teens: A Piper Jaffray survey from fall 2014 revealed that 76 percent of them have accounts on the platform. And videos on Instagram are set to autoplay and loop, which has been a boon to brands on the platform: The Gap, along with Wieden + Kennedy, was one of the first brands to run a micro video series on Instagram in early February, taking advantage of the feature. The looping feature helps viewers pick on new details with each subsequent replay, allowing brands to add several layers of information to each video.

“There are a lot of disengaged teens out there,” said Miles Harrison, vp and general manager of U.S. self-service at Galderma. “Through Instagram, we are not only where they are but are also using the autoplay feature to connect with the on a very personal level.”

Still, Rachel Spiegelman, president of agency Pitch, said the campaign doesn’t come without risks. While discussing human truths like acne in a cheeky tone is smart, brands that rely on stereotypes run the risk of being offensive or, even worse, tone deaf.

“With teenagers being savvier and frankly snarkier than any generation before them, it might fall flat,” she warned.

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