Coming soon to Instagram: Square milkshakes from Sonic

Instagram gained fame on the back of its square format and photos of food. So why not combine the two and put square food there, too?

Fast-food restaurant Sonic will debut this month a new line of “Square Shakes,” made for Instagram and designed by Instagram celebrity chef @ChefJacquesLamerde. LaMerde, whose real name is Christine Flynn, is an executive chef at Toronto’s iQ Food Co. She has created a line of creamery shakes to fit squarely within Instagram: served in a square cup, with a square straw and with square versions of ingredients.

If you want to try one yourself, the shakes will only be available for order on Instagram. The brand will make available the shakes via “Shop Now” sponsored ads to Coachella festival attendees at the festival grounds on April 16. Attendees can order shakes and sample them right then and there. Margaret Johnson, executive creative director and partner at GS&P, which created the campaign, said that the idea came out of a quarterly hackathon at Facebook. “Taking pictures of food on Instagram is such an obsession; we all do it. So, we thought, let’s create a product entirely designed for Instagram and available for purchase on the platform,” she said.

The content push comes as Sonic wraps up a buildout of its new digital and content team started by chief marketing officer Todd Smith. The brand, which previously had no digital-specific people in its marketing team, today has about eight employees doing mobile and digital development and six people doing content. Smith said that in January, the brand also folded marketing and technology into the same department — rare in the space — in an effort to make sure it was looking at user experience and technology and marketing together.

The brand has a history of combining the feel of a 1950s-style drive-through with a decidedly digital mindset. The brand, for example, premiered mobile, touch-screen menus and screens that suggest food-pairings. The systems provide customized greetings to customers and also capture e-mails. But bringing the marketing and tech teams together, said Smith, has made the UX conversation totally different: The brand will soon debut the next evolution of its screens to its 3,500 locations that are a direct result of those teams working together, he said.

The square shakes Instagram campaign also has the hallmarks of this new digital-first direction, said Smith. “We wanted to be the first brand in the world that will design a product on Instagram” said Smith. “So we worked with marketing, design, the platform, the chef and our agency to make it happen.”

Instagram’s impending algorithm is making brands think differently about the platform. More brands are being pushed to treat it in a less organic, more pay-to-play fashion. “They want us to have zero organic reach eventually, which I understand,” said Smith. “You have to expect platforms will change on you. We have to change with them.”

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