From promoting a pair of jeans, a $2.5 million company

‘Instabrand,’ founded by Joey Chowaiki ‘10, invites clients to use social media for advertising and to spread awareness.


Gaby Benelyahu

ORGANIC: Instabrand tries to make the advertisements on social media seem natural and interesting. Above and at left, promoters carry 40 pounds to raise awareness about water shortages in Africa.

By Nicole Soussana, Staff Writer

A man by the name of Cree Lane Jones posts a picture on Instagram of himself standing over the misty ocean, carrying his two children in a wide and rusty gray bucket. Why?

It’s an ad, but it’s not trying to sell anything. Around the world, 663 million people live without access to clean water, and in those places, women and children travel hours on foot each day carrying 40 pounds of water to stay alive. That’s about the weight of Mr. Jones’ children.  He and many others have posted pictures of themselves carrying something 40 pounds heavy to raise money to do something about it, through a company called InstaBrand.

It’s just one more way that people are using social media to make things happen, but in this case, the idea comes from Shalhevet alumnus Joey Chowaiki, class of 2010 and brother of senior Natasha Chowaiki. Joey started InstaBrand in 2013 with his friend, Alex Dahan.

The “40 Pounds” series is for charity, but most of InstaBrand’s clients are commercial, among them Disney, Calvin Klein, Pepsi, and L’Oreal.

“This truly is the future of advertising,” Joey said in an interview with the Boiling Point, “and it’s a fun way.”

InstaBrand is an advertising agency that concentrates on putting advertisers in contact with influencers — otherwise known as “promoters,” a term coined by the company. It works with all forms of social media, but primarily with Instagram.

“It’s like normal advertising,” Joey, “but instead of us going to banner ads, magazines, and billboards, we put it solely on social media.”

Joey was in his second year at Santa Monica College when he started his company. At the time, he was working with Alex, a childhood friend, on a line of denim products. The pair bumped into two peopled they were following at the time on Instagram, and recognized them instantly.

It occurred to them that if those two men wore Joey and Alex’s jeans on social media, it would be a great opportunity to advertise their product, as opposed to standard forms of advertising.

They proposed to pay them with free pants, and the deal was made. This resulted in thousands of their followers asking where they could buy a pair of pants like this.   

“That’s when it clicked in our heads — why can’t these be our billboards?” Joey  said.

Joey had been planning to study at SMC for two years and then transfer to UCLA to for a business degree. But no one was doing endorsements on social media at the time, and he saw an opening.  He decided to quit school and commit all of his time to business.

Unlike other kinds of advertising, social media makes it very easy to track customer engagement.  Also, advertisements are not being forced upon the viewers – d rather, people are choosing to see advertisements since they are following these influencers on social media. This results in viewers being less frustrated to see an ad in their feed. Additionally, the InstaBrand team works on making the ads not so obvious.

“We advertise very organically,” Joey said. “So, for example, it will look like they are just naturally drinking a Coca-Cola.”

Jesse Greenberg, InstaBrand’s talent coordinator and account manager, explained the water carrying campaign. Emergen-C, a company which produces powdered drink mix vitamin supplements, that was partnered with Charity: Water, sought to spread awareness about women in Africa who must travel long distances for clean water. Jesse’s task was to find the right influencers to post a picture on Instagram of themselves carrying something 40 pounds heavy, with a caption that teaches their followers about the problem while also challenging them to post a similar picture with the hashtag #40pounds.

The strategy worked. One influencer was Andrea Duclos, an Instagramer with 55,200 followers who received over 1,500 likes on her picture.

Another recent campaign was for Hollister Co.’s Spring Collection. Jesse found teen influencers with strong followings to post Hollister Co. outfits.  In their captions they spoke about different aspects of spring. An Instagramer who was a part of this campaign was Madison Pettis, an actress with 2.5 million followers on Instagram. Her picture received 84,200 likes and 479 comments.

Joey Chowaiki said that while his business is booming now – with an investment of $2,5 million from TI Capital in this year and offices in New York, Los Angeles, Milan-Italy, and soon London – starting your own business takes a lot of hard work and commitment. He and Alex were working an estimated 16 hours a day for the first seven months of InstaBrand, and were joined by Alex’s brother and his brother’s friend.

“It’s not something that happens overnight,” Joey said. He encouraged those looking to start a business to always accept help or advice.

After three years in business, InstaBrand now has various teams who communicate with the advertisers and pair them with influencers based on the targeted audience the advertiser desires, and regarding the specific campaign. For example, if an advertiser wishes to promote its rings, InstaBrand has the ring sizes of all its influencers in its database.

The next step is for the account management team to message all the influencers who will be participating in this campaign. Lastly, InstaBrand’s creative team collaborates with the advertisers for new and fun ideas, such as the “Share a Coke” campaign they worked on with Coca-Cola.

InstaBrand’s collaboration with Emergen-C and Charity : Water proved to be very successful. Thousands of people have posted pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #40pounds and Cree Lane’s photos resulted in a lot of positive feedback and publicity.

Comments included things like “Love this!” and “That’s Awesome!”  Which is a little like how Joey feels about his company.